Summer lettuce is not a specific variety of lettuce. Rather, it is the generic term for lettuces that tolerate the heat better than the others. Generally speaking, lettuce is a cool-weather crop that tends to bolt. Bolting is the plant’s survival mechanism to sun exposure and hot temperature, which usually starts at 80ºF. The plant quickly produces flowers and seeds, making the leaves bitter and eventually abandoning its growth. But, this doesn’t mean that we can only grow lettuce in spring or fall. Summer lettuce consists of heat-tolerant cultivars that can be planted during the summer season, provided that they will be planted in shady areas. Good locations include near a sun-blocking building, under a shading cloth with rolled up sides for air circulation, or beneath tall crops like pole beans and corn.
Species: L. Sativa
Binomial Name: Lactuca Sativa
Summer Lettuce Trivia
- Summer lettuce shouldn’t be stored near ethylene-emitting fruits like apples and bananas. Ethylene causes the lettuce to ripen and decay rapidly.
- Generally speaking, the darker the leaves are, the more nutrient-dense it is.
- In the 1930s, lettuce was nicknamed “rabbit food.”
Summer Lettuce Buying Guide
You can find different lettuce varieties that are heat tolerant. While they slightly vary in flavor and texture, here are some general guidelines on how to choose the best ones when buying in stores:
- Their leaves should be vibrant and crisp. Avoid the ones that are starting to wilt or have wilted, and discard the ones that have yellow or brown spots.
- Head varieties should also be firm and tight. Avoid the ones that are loose or are limping.
- If possible, buy organic lettuces. Organic ones might not be as perfectly shaped as the conventional or GMO ones, but they’re sweeter and more nutritious. Not to mention that they’re kinder to the planet too.
- As always, lettuces from farmers’ markets are better than the ones in stores. Here, the products are usually organic and you’ll be able to meet and help your community. You’ll also get the chance to know more about the different lettuces that might suit your needs!
Varieties of Summer Lettuce:
- Summer Crisp – Belonging to the family of crispheads, this lettuce is also known as “French Batavian” or “French Crisp.” In addition to being heat-tolerant, it’s noted for its juicy, sweet, and extremely crunchy lettuces that are so refreshing especially on hot summer months.
- Jericho – an Israel-native, neon green, and oval-shaped romaine lettuce that is bred for the desert heat. It’s known to retain its sweetness even when its cousins have gone bitter.
- Anuenue – a Hawaii-native romaine lettuce that is also bred to withstand hot temperatures. It’s noted for its crisp green leaves that never goes bitter.
- Craquerelle du Midi – a France-native romaine lettuce that has slightly taller leaves. The name is a French word that translates to “lunchtime cracker,” in reference to the fact that it thrives well in France’s midday heat. It’s noted for its rich and mild taste that is similar to a buttercrunch.
- Red Sails – This green and red-bronze leafy lettuce is noted for its melted butter flavor that never turns bitter even during summer. They’re popular for use as baby greens, and they contain more vitamins A and C than some standard lettuces.
- Black-Seeded Simpson – The ruffled light green leaves of this leafy lettuce are noted for their sweet taste and fast-growing capabilities.
- Kinemontepas – The pale green leaves of this leafy lettuce are noted for their capability to be braised or stewed.
- Royal Oakleaf – The tender and deeply lobed Royal Oakleaf is the improved version of the standard oakleaf lettuce. It’s noted for its excellent flavor, crispness, and tenderness that no other lettuce can beat yet.
- American Salad Bowl – The apple or lime-green rosettes of this leafy lettuce are noted for their mellow and sweet flavor that perfectly blends with their crisp and tender texture.
- Green Vision – The glossy dark green leaves of this leafy lettuce are noted for their mildly sweet or semi-bitter flavor, which is enhanced as they mature.
- Lollo Bionda and Lollo Rosso – The deeply curved leaves of this fancy leafy lettuce are noted for their tender, slightly bitter taste.
Summer Lettuce Production & Farming in Texas
Summer lettuce varieties are heat-tolerant crops that thrive in the state of Texas. They are commonly planted in the summer, but there are still some common practices that need to be followed when planting them. There are three key elements to keep your summer lettuce productive: Shade, a drip system on a timer, and a good amount of mulch. As mentioned, a shade keeps the plant protected from direct sunlight. A drip system on a timer, meanwhile, evenly and consistently maintains the soil’s moisture level much better than hand watering. In spring, the timer is usually set once a day for 10 minutes. So, for summer lettuces that are planted in the summer, go for twice or thrice a day, with the same length of 10 minutes. Consequently, decrease the amount of water or times as the weather settles down. To check the moisture level of the soil, simply push your finger to it up to the second knuckle. The soil should feel spongy and moist. On the third note, a thick bed of mulch also keeps the moisture level at bay. While it is common to put around 2 inches of wood chip mulch, straw mixed with well-aged composts works just as fine.
Furthermore, it’s also important to use the “cut-and-come-again” method for harvesting summer lettuces since you’ll be able to harvest young leaves before the plant even has the time to bolt – if they will. This method can be practiced with any summer lettuce varieties. To do this, simply snip the baby leaves at least an inch from their bases. When the new leaves start to grow, pick the second harvest. For some varieties such as the Summer Crisp, replant them every 2-3 weeks for continuous harvests.
Conventional or organically grown, fruits and vegetables are essential components of a healthy diet. However, many of these contain potentially harmful pesticides, even after thorough washing, peeling, or scrubbing. Thus, what we can only do is to be aware of which items are the most or least contaminated.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is an American group that focuses on the advocacy of agricultural subsidies, pollutants, and toxic chemicals. They have created the Dirty Dozen List, which is being updated each year to rank fruits and vegetables that contain the highest pesticide contamination based on the samples tested by the USDA and FDA.
Generally speaking, leafy greens or lettuces are susceptible to pests. That’s why they are often grown with high amounts of pesticides. And, it’s not something that can just be washed away with water. Even after a thorough cleaning, residues remain on the crop. In fact, during the testing period for the 2012 Dirty Dozen List, they found 78 different pesticides on them.
Thus, it is better to buy organic ones or grow them yourself to reduce the amounts of your pesticide consumption.
Summer lettuces are heat-resistant crops that originated in different hot climate places like Israel, France, and Hawaii. Still, they are widely produced around the world, but China remains to be the leading producer of lettuces, accounting for 55% of the world’s total production by weight. In the United States, California and Arizona remain to be the two largest producers. California accounts for 71%, while Arizona accounts for 29% of the U.S. total production.
Just like all the other lettuces, summer lettuce varieties also come in loose plastic bags or containers. These are packaged and priced by the bundle or bunches. Some stores, especially in the farmers’ markets, also sell them by weight, either by the kilogram or pound. But, if you’re planning to buy on wholesale, go to your nearest local producer, and you can get these greens in bushels, cartons, and even crates. Meanwhile, you can also buy its seeds’ varieties that come in pouches.
Enjoying Summer Lettuce
Summer lettuce is traditionally eaten raw, either in the form of salad or as a filling or wrap to sandwiches, tacos, burgers, egg salads, cheese, and more. A salad that consists of summer lettuce can be topped with almost any nuts, fruits, or dressing. They are also popular to be used as a bed for cooked meats.
Speckled lettuce should be wrapped unwashed in a loose bag lined with a bunch of paper towels. They should be stored in the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator, with a temperature that ranges between 40 and 45ºF. Properly stored, Summer lettuce will retain its freshness for 3 to 5 days. If you dress them, however, they will only last for 1 to 3 days.
Although summer lettuce is best eaten raw, it can be used in many cooked recipes. You can flash grill them and serve them as an appetizer. Summer Crisp leaves make a great topper on stir-fries, pasta, and soup dishes as they improve flavor and color. In the case of Kinemontepas, meanwhile, you can braise or stew them.
Summer lettuces are generally low in calories. Not to mention that their calories are mainly composed of water and fiber – not sugar. They’re also low in fat and have a considerable amount of protein per calorie. But, these lettuces are mostly noted for their vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. They’re an excellent source of vitamin A, K, folate, fiber, copper, iron, potassium, and magnesium.
When Are Summer Lettuce in Season in Texas?
To find out when Summer Lettuce are in season in Texas, please check the seasonal chart below. Why is this important? We are rarely encouraged to think about the physical lengths our food travels before arriving on the market shelves. And all of this travel comes with a hefty environmental cost that is concealed from the consumer’s eye. One of the most salient benefits to eating seasonally is that you are effectively reducing your carbon footprint and supporting a more geographically sustainable food economy. Check other fruit and veg that’s in season in Texas now.