Maintaining lettuce and cabbage transplants / "I have seen them from seed to germination to their new home"

This chilly Labor Day found me up early and excited to clean my lettuce and cabbage transplant beds. My employer told me after I returned from vacation that 99 percent of these crops survived their transplant. (Transplanting is the removal of a crop planted in a container and kept indoors to the ground outside.) This was a big deal because so much are working against transplants -- the moving from a cell to the earth and the risk of damaging the roots in your disturbance of them, insects and other animals eating the baby plants, and the ever changing, unpredictable weather. I was also elated that so many survived because a few of the varieties I transplanted, I also saw being planted in the greenhouse; thus I have seen them from seed to germination to their new home outside. Clearly, there’s an extreme feeling of pride for the beginner farmer who sees their produce faring well. (And it certainly uplifts the Spirit.)

The varieties of lettuce we’re growing are Cardinale Batavian, Sierra Batavian, Summertime Iceberg, Flashy Green Butter Oak, Merlot Red Oakleaf, Cracoviensis, and Les Orielles Du Diablo as well as a Chinese cabbage called Fun Jen. Unlike the other salad greens that we picked as looseleafs (harvesting single leaves), these lettuces will be allowed to grow into full heads. The cabbage will grow into a head that can be cut from the stem. The Fun Jen variety, however, has a looser leaf and will not grow as compact as other varieties of cabbage. These varieties do especially well in cold climates and will thrive in the swift, autumn-like briskness that has approached our area.

Ensuring a high survival rate for your crop is difficult, especially when transplanted, but here are some general things a beginning organic farmer could do to protect their lettuce and cabbage heads:

1) Lettuce will not germinate in high heat; planting their seeds in a cool, shaded area first (if your outdoor temperatures are intense) is best before transplanting them outside.

2) Always weed! Be sure to pull from the bottom of the stem to remove the weed from its root. This will result in the weeds not returning as swiftly or as strong.

3) Placing a construction paper like cover (such as one from Weed Guard Plus, the only one certified organic in the U.S.), pre-punched, over the soil before transplanting can reduce weed overgrowth, and is compostable and 100% biodegradable.

4) If you are facing extreme heat or a major infestation of caterpillars or beetles, a shade tunnel in the crop’s early stages may reduce the damage. A common disease that afflicts lettuce and all aster plants is the “yellows.”

5) Cabbages are extremely susceptible to fungal diseases, harmful bacteria, and pests such as caterpillars nibbling away at their leaves. A dust or spray of bacteria that infects the caterpillars that plague cabbage is available and will not harm the crop.

6) A moist bed and a chilled climate allow these lactucas to thrive; autumn is a great time to begin planting these crops. The leaves are crisper for harvesting thus resulting in a heightened flavour.

7) Read more on what to expect growing your own lettuce and cabbage.

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by Sawdayah Brownlee (Intern, The Liberator Magazine)