Latuca sativa (46 days) This venerable and adored miniature butterhead was introduced in England by H. Wheeler & Sons in 1858. It came to the States ten years later. One customer wrote to Burpee’s in 1894, “It is just what the gardener wants…a good dwarf variety, a quick grower.” Staffer Heron calls it “fairy cabbage.” In the dewy cool of spring or fall, Tom Thumb forms its extra-early tightly bunched tiny head. With sweet buttery light-medium green outer leaves and creamy white crunchy centers, it’s tasty and attractive for early markets. Can be closely spaced as the heads seldom exceed 5" in diameter. Please do not attempt to grow it in warm temps—it turns into an ugly toad! ②
Days to maturity are from emergence after direct sowing; for transplants, subtract 20 days.
Culture: Direct seed outdoors as soon as ground can be worked and repeat every 2 weeks for continuous supply. Or start indoors in March and at regular intervals thereafter for early transplanted successions. Optimal germination temperature range 40–80° though many varieties won’t germinate in soil temps above 75° and most shut down above 80°. Thin sowings frequently and ruthlessly to a final distance of 1' for full heads. Heavy nitrogen feeders.
Hardy. All save icebergs tolerate heavy frost. Fall and overwintered harvests are becoming standard practice. For summer harvest, select varieties carefully: bolting, bottom rot and tipburn are problems if a variety can’t take the heat! Using shade cloth can keep lettuce tender and sweet longer into summer. Sesquiterpene lactones produced in the latex render lettuce bitter when it bolts.
Saving Seed: Saving lettuce seed is easy! Leave spring-planted lettuce heads to bolt. Flowers will become white tufted seeds. Once dry on stalk, rub seeds off the plant into a paper bag. To ensure true-to-type seed, separate lettuce varieties by 10 feet.
BOR: Bottom Rot
DM: Downy Mildew
LMV: Lettuce Mosaic Virus
PM: Powdery Mildew
Pest: Aster Leafhopper (vector for Aster Yellows disease) Cultural controls: control perennial broadleaf weeds near lettuce plantings, plow lettuce fields immediately after harvest.
Pest: Slug Cultural controls: avoid mulch or nearby grassy areas. Material: Sluggo
Disease: Bottom Rot Cultural controls: rotate with grass-family green manures, plant in well-drained soil or on raised beds, more upright varieties escape infection.
Diseases: Downy Mildew, Grey Mold, White Mold Cultural controls: rotation, reduce duration of leaf wetness, plant parallel to prevailing winds, use wide spacing, control weeds, use well-drained fields in spring and fall. Material: Actinovate
Mini lettuce heads are increasingly popular for wholesale accounts and winter harvests. Home gardeners with a succession of minis can reap quick single salads. You’ll find minis across the cold-hardiness and heat-tolerance spectrum. We’ve held these little class acts up against the expanding utility-patented mini-types and found comparable or better performance. While we do not intend to “go big” on tiny types, we add excellence as we find it. Here’s what we have so far: