Salad in summer

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    Questions from Sara in Cornwall:

    We are finding it much harder to germinate lettuces at this time of year – I guess because it is too hot in our polytunnel? I wondered if you find this is the case & do you sow outside or do anything else that helps?

    We are growing outside in our veg garden for the first time this summer & lettuces seem happier out there. Again, do you just grow outside at this time of year or in tunnels too?
    And finally any lettuces that do particularly well outside?


     Maybe your salads need more basil, tree spinach shoots, funky colours… or maybe they have them already and your restaurant chefs are too hard to please! 

    All my salad is outdoor grown now, and has been since May, apart from basil. Then I shall plant winter salad in the tunnels in early October (from September sowings in modules), after pulling out the summer crops of tomatoes, cucumbers, aubergine, pepper and basil.
    So I find all lettuce grow well outdoors – currently we are picking leaves of Freckles, Mottistone, Bijou, Bergamo, Chartwell, Rosemoor, Amorina, Campania, and occasional other varieties. Also there are the first leaves of endives Bianca Riccia da Taglio, Frenzy and Bubikopf, with chicories starting to grow for autumn hearts. Chinese cabbage is good to sow next week,  and then I shall be sowing oriental leaves in August, as well as rocket.
    In hot weather I germinate lettuce under my bench in the greenhouse for 3 days, then on top (in full heat and light, once the seeds have just sprouted) and they come up well, in seed trays of John Innes no.1 seed compost. Use any compost that is free draining because lettuce seeds, more than most other vegetable seeds, may rot if they lie too wet.
    But every year I come across bad batches of seed which barely germinate at all, alongside seed from other packets which comes up really well. It is worth sowing more than you need to be sure of having enough plants.
    Once the seedlings have two leaves i prick them out into modules filled with West Riding multipurpose compost, grow them on in the greenhouse, and they are then ready to plant outside about three weeks later in summer and early autumn conditions.
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