Spring lettuce bed, mostly Black Seeded Simpson in front row, Allstar Mix in 2nd row, heirloom french lettuce in third row

One very important goal that I set every gardening year is having an uninterrupted supply of lettuce and greens over as long a period as possible. Even though I live in Zone 6a, I have harvested greens as early as February 26 and as late as December 18.

Extending the season to ten months involves several strategies. First and foremost is the use of low plastic tunnels. A low plastic tunnel will extend your season by at least one planting zone. If you add another layer of material, such as fabric row cover, you can simulate the conditions in two growing zones better than the one you live in.

There are actually two strategies at work here. First is the extension of the existing growing season by a minimum of two months. The second is overwintering crops in a low tunnel for consumption the following Spring. I use this second strategy for growing Mache, a European green that does well planted in October and harvested the following March.

Mache growing in a low tunnel in March

Getting started with low tunnels is fairly simple. You will need to purchase a pipe bender, some 1/2″ electrical conduit, some greenhouse grade plastic and plastic clips that hold the plastic onto the conduit loops. Most of these items are available from Johhny’s Selected Seeds. The electrical conduit is available at electrical supply stores and Big Box home centers. There will be more details provided in a later post.

Low tunnel with plastic pealed back exposing the conduit loops
Low tunnel with plastic pealed back exposing the
conduit loops


plastic tunnel clip
plastic tunnel clip

In addition to using season extending low tunnels, it is important to choose seeds that are best suited to a specific season. Some seed companies specialize in providing season specific seed varieties and provide charts and other information to help you plan for each season. I always start my lettuce season with “Black Seeded Simpson”, a variety known for it’s preference for cool Spring temperatures. I follow
up with various butterhead lettuces known for their particular seasons.

Mesclun is a mix of different lettuces and/or greens. Over the course of the season, I will plant a four foot band of mesclun every three weeks. My favorite is “Allstar Gourmet Lettuce Mix” from Johnny’s Selected Seeds. However, I am also fond of “Heat Wave Mix” from Cook’s Garden Seed Company. We’ve used Fall/Winter seed mixes as well.

Some other greens to consider are spinach, arugula, frissee (curly
endive), minitonia and claytonia.  All of these greens will grow in
cool to cold weather, especially when  protected by a low plastic
tunnel. Stay tuned. There will be more on this subject in upcoming posts.
Your questions and comments are welcomed and encouraged.

All the best,

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