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Lettuce breeding and seed saving advice  RSS feed

 
Heather Ward
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Hi all, I bought a mixed packet of non-hybrid lettuce from a supplier, and today in baking desert heat I still have five huge beautiful lettuces that show no sign of bolting and remain sweet. If I let these five go to seed, will I get lettuce worth eating next year? I have been told that in a home-breeding situation lettuces rapidly become bitter but I haven't heard from experienced Permies whether this is true or not.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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Lettuce is highly inbreeding. In my garden, even though my fields are filled with wild lettuce that is flowering at the same time as my domestic lettuce, I rarely find any crossed offspring. This year, I only found one obvious hybrid among many thousands of domestic and wild lettuce weeds. I found about 2 last year.

I expect that pattern to hold in most gardens. So you should be able to save seed for years with the same great results as you got this year... Just be sure to taste each plant before saving seeds from it. I tie ribbons to plants that I want to save seed from, or I put a stake by them. Then I try to weed out the non-desirable plants before they flower. Hybrids with wild lettuce look much different than domestic lettuces, so if any do appear, they should be easy to chop out early on.

Last year's possible hybrids.


 
John Elliott
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I'm into RED plants. I plant RED lettuces and RED chicories and RED okra and RED kale, that way I can see at a glance what's what. When things hybridize, as they often do, and they come up next year, I see RED mottling on the leaves and I can watch it further to see if it is a keeper or a discard.

One of these days, I'm going to have to look for some RED collards.
 
Heather Ward
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I would love to see your red garden, John.
 
Heather Ward
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Joseph, thanks very much. I feel reassured that the offspring of my best lettuces will probably be worth eating.
 
Casie Becker
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Okay, I've tried several years. Today I thinned my lettuce, pulling young plants up root and all and let them rest in a bowl of water where the roots pulled up more moisture and the thinnings became as crisp as possible. I just made a salad out of them and I still think the lettuce tastes bitter, especially compared with the rest of the greens we grow. I've had lettuce from the grocery store that didn't taste bitter to me, so I know there must be some way to avoid producing the bitterness, unless grocery store lettuce has gone stale and lost it's flavor. I'm not fond of the texture of such young plants either, but if I could get a palatable flavor, I know a mature leaf would have more substance.

These plants are grown in good soil, with ample water, sheltered from the worst of the weather and receiving full sun. I don't know what else these plants are looking for. I've spread the last of the lettuce seed I have in the garden and unless something amazing happens, I'm not planning on buying anymore. At one point I think I remember reading about someone else having a problem with always producing bitter lettuce, and they were also in a region with alkaline soils. Beyond changing the basic nature of my soil, does anyone else have any suggestions for how to grow non-bitter lettuce?

It won't be a huge loss for our garden. We already have many other species of greens that thrive in the same season. It's just frustrating to keep failing at what is such a basic garden plant.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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Lettuce at my place is bitter. Then when temperatures start warming up (above 70), it gets really bitter! One of my neighbors grows lettuce in an air-conditioned greenhouse. Growing it in shade would help to keep it cooler. Lots of water helps to minimize bitterness. Those conditions are too difficult for me to maintain, so the little bit of lettuce that I grow is too bitter for me to eat. Cooking helps to minimize the bitterness, especially if enough bacon is added.

 
Casie Becker
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I'll try cooking it, but I don't think that will be enough to save it in my garden. If it were a warm season plant, maybe. I only attempt it in early spring and winter.
 
Burra Maluca
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We grow lovely sweet lettuce over the winter, but it's inedibly bitter as far as I'm concerned in the summer. 
 
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