Bitter Lettuce

topic posted Sun, May 14, 2006 - 2:38 PM by  lori
I'm trying to grow lettuce for the first time. I started out with some in March and it was very bitter, I don't remember which variety. Is there any particular variety that's easy to grow? And what makes it bitter? Too hot? Not enough water?
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  • Re: Bitter Lettuce

    Sun, May 14, 2006 - 6:58 PM
    If you are growing lettuce for a home garden, plant a few every couple of weeks. As the flavor of one goes bitter, the next planting is ready to go. If you are growing it to head up, harvest the whole head by cutting the root attachment. Watch the center of the head for any signs of bolting. You can stick your index finger into the heart of the lettuce and feel the small stalk about a week before it bolts. When you can see the flower stalk, it's already compost. It is better to pick a head of lettuce a week early rather than a week late.

    I prefer to grow for daily mixed salads, sample a little as you harvest, if it has gone bitter, then move on to the next planting in your succession.

    Keep it small simple. Well watered with good fertilizer and you should be happy.
    • Re: Bitter Lettuce

      Sun, May 14, 2006 - 7:48 PM
      Thanks for the information Stan. My lettuce was less than an inch tall when it became bitter. I know heat can make lettuce bitter, is there anything else? Maybe,I just need to wait for cooler weather.
      • Re: Bitter Lettuce

        Mon, May 15, 2006 - 9:03 AM
        Lori, You do not have to wait for cooler weather. Lettuce grows best in warm weather. THe cool weather stuff is a myth. Look where they grow it commercially: Central California down to Blythe. It just needs lots of water.
        • Re: Bitter Lettuce

          Mon, May 15, 2006 - 9:18 AM
          I hadn't thought about watering, that may have been the problem. Have you found any particularly loose leaf to be easier to grow than others?
        • Re: Bitter Lettuce

          Mon, May 15, 2006 - 9:23 AM
          actually Stan, lettuce is a cool-season vegetable & most lettuces turn bitter and bolt in hot weather...especially crisphead lettuce which is intolerant of any heat. temps between 45-65˚ are ideal for growing harvestable sweet lettuce, and no amount of water will keep your lettuce from turning bitter and bolting to seed on hot summer days. Heavy mulching will help though by keeping soil temperatures cooler, thereby extending the harvest season of leaf lettuces. So will planting in partial shade in areas where there are very hot springs & summers. Successive sowing of leaf lettuces every week or so starting in spring can extend your harvest season well into summer. After the main heat of summer is over, germination rates of lettuce rise again (lettuce seeds won't germinate over 80˚), and you can start planting for fall/winter harvest. Too much water can make lettuce prone to leaf rot & disease, so be careful about overwatering, especially in the evening when water remains on leaves and does not rapidly dry.
  • Re: Bitter Lettuce

    Mon, May 15, 2006 - 8:21 AM
    besides growing it in cooler weather, there is also a "trick" to sweeten bitter lettuce:
    ~wash it, fridge it overnight~
    the "cold snap" sweetens up the lettuce
    • Re: Bitter Lettuce

      Mon, May 15, 2006 - 9:42 AM
      • Re: Bitter Lettuce

        Mon, May 15, 2006 - 10:00 AM
        Chili, If you consider Central California a cool summer place then you are correct. THe facts are the vast majority of lettuce grown and distributed in the US from April to November comes from Central California. Have you been in a lettuce hot house? They keep them around 80 degrees. If that's cool, again your right.

        Earthbound Farms is the largest organic lettuce grower/packager in the world. They go from Carmel Valley south to Mexico. Carmel Valley is not cool in the summer. Carmel is. The finest lettuce I've ever tasted was from Sky Hoyt in Lakeport, CA. It was grown in May with 80-90 degree days. It was grown outside without shade.

        I'll stop now. Lettuce growning debates are never ending.
        • Re: Bitter Lettuce

          Mon, May 15, 2006 - 2:03 PM
          I really like the mescalin lettuce mixes. They are varieties of loose leaf lettuces..and you can just pick what you want each day, without picking the whole plant.
          If the chickweed takes over the lettuce patch, i just eat the chickweed instead.
  • Re: Bitter Lettuce

    Wed, May 17, 2006 - 12:03 PM
    I love buttercrunch - black seeded simpson - for the texture, flavor, and slow-to-bolt habits.

    I would mulch with an insulating material like straw or hay to keep the soil temp down - plus it retains the water and helps keep the weeds down.

    Picking lettuce in the morning will prevent it from being bitter. I like the chill in the fridge overnight trick as well, but the leaves tend to be softer and a bit limp.

    Nothing like your own lettuce in a giant salad for dinner. That's what I am having tonight!
    • Re: Bitter Lettuce

      Fri, May 26, 2006 - 4:17 PM
      When lettuce gets too bitter to eat raw, consider cooking it. That's the way it's been used for most of it's history. It was cooked by the Greeks and Romans , and used by the French and Chinese that way today............and me. It's quite good.

      Water is key to sweet lettuce, and picking it in the morning is very good also, then wash and refrigerate before it warms up.

      Mulch is good, but then there's the slug factor to consider since mulch can make that a lot worse.

      Shade structures or shade cloth is very good for growing summer lettuce !!! Most market gardeners plant plug flats. That's the way i've done it. then all the plants are perfectly spaced, and had a very good start. Keep them watered and under partial shade and you can grow sweet lettuce even in the hottest part of summer.

      Some icebergs are bred to take the heat, and that's what you'll find in central California, and most of the lettuce americans eat is iceberg.

      But for the most part, it's a cool weather crop, and i've had best luck with it planting it in sucession for fall crops. There are special blends for spring, summer, and fall lettuces, and these are a good idea, as there are lots and lots of varieties and they vary widely in what conditions they like.
      • Re: Bitter Lettuce

        Tue, May 30, 2006 - 2:39 AM
        sorry: what are "plug flats" ?
        • Re: Bitter Lettuce

          Wed, May 31, 2006 - 3:52 AM
          Plug flats are flats with individual cells for the plants. Professionals use these. I haven't direct seeded things like lettuce or greens for many years, starting in plug flats WAY more economical of seeds, and plantings are full, evenly spaced and a lot more productive. I really believe in the speedling trays, because the cells are truncated and made in such a way that the roots can't spiral, and go to the bottom and air prune, which has them in position to really take off after transplanting. Speedling trays last a decade or so with care. the regular plastic plug trays work fine too and are cheaper and more widely available.

          Here is the company that makes speedling trays:

          Here is a retail source, Peaceful Valley. Located in california, they are a totally excellent source for all grower supplies.

          • Re: Bitter Lettuce

            Mon, June 11, 2007 - 7:49 AM
            one great way I have fond to grow summer lettuce is to plant a row of cucumbers in front of lettuce with a make shift trellus on about a 50 to 60 degree angle as summer heats up cucumber leaves grow up the trellus and shade lettuce works great and both are very happy and tastey
            • Re: Bitter Lettuce

              Fri, January 23, 2009 - 10:14 AM

              Great info... thanks for such data.

              I noticed some of the nurseries have been selling some small 6packs of mixed lettuces - mesclun mixes and others. I'm gonna try growing these along with starting some from seeds.

              Has any one ordered from Heirloom Seeds ?? They have a variety of lettuce seeds