One of our homestead goals for the near future is to be able to grow lettuce year round. That can be quite difficult with winter temperatures often reaching below zero. While we have not perfected our process yet, we have a pretty good plan to be growing lettuce year round by next year (hopefully).
Using Low Tunnels
We have had success the past couple of years using simple low tunnels. The key has been to start the lettuce and try to get it full-grown before the first frost in the fall. Usually that means that we plant in late August or early September. Lettuce likes the cooler weather, so we try to do our final planting when the soil gets cooler.
Once the weather gets cold, the lettuce does not grow much at all. It does fine out in the open as long as temperatures do not drop below freezing. My family really likes mixed baby greens, and they do not do well if they get a frost on them. We also grow romaine, which can handle cooler temperatures. Kale is hearty and can handle cold temperatures pretty successfully.
When the temperatures start dropping below freezing, it is time to cover the lettuce. We use the tines of an old hay rake to make the arches for our low tunnel. The cover is just a cheap piece of plastic painting dropcloth.
Bricks seem the best way to keep the plastic down. Our dogs will chew off any little piece that flops around, so it is really important to keep the excess tight.
On rare days when the temperatures rise into the upper 40’s or 50’s, we take the plastic off to let the lettuce get some air. This is nice on days we get a winter rain to wash it off a bit. Be careful though and watch the weather for dropping temps.
One thing we have added this year is a fence around the outside of our tunnel. In the past we have had some issues with the dogs wanting to run over them. This year, we have to increase security to keep the chickens out.
It amazes me how warm it stays under that little low tunnel. It’s 15 degrees outside here and the lettuce looks happy inside.
Our goal for next season is to add a high-tunnel hoop house where we can grow enough lettuce to last us throughout the winter. With our current setup, we can eat up our lettuce pretty quickly and it doesn’t grow back quite as well as it does in the spring.
A perk of having the hoop house is that you can put a low tunnel inside it, raising your growing temperatures even higher. I am hoping this will act more like a greenhouse so I can continue to start seeds throughout the season, and therefore have several plantings to eat from.
Have you ever tried growing lettuce in the winter? What was your experience like? Leave your comments below.