Evaluating Quick Lettuce Trials

Earlier in the year, I wrote about how we evaluate Tomato varieties with easy trials.

Our lettuce trials are even simpler!

Trial Goal

I wanted small dense lettuce heads that didn’t take too much space in the garden but gave fantastic salads!

That doesn’t seem like too much to ask for.

We went through seed catalogs carefully reading the descriptions and put together a list of candidates and ordered some seeds.

Trial Layout

We then planted 2 rows x 3 feet of each variety. The rows were on 9″ spacing.

That gave 8 heads per variety.

Of course, each variety was clearly labeled!

Evaluate In The Field

When the heads had formed, the Tourne-Sol seed team put on our evaluation hats.

To start off everyone was given some time to walk the block and choose their 3 favourite heads in the field. This was done simply based on looks.

We then gathered together and shared our 3 favourites with each other.

We discussed why and how we had made our choices. This helped us understand how each person was making decisions and got us in the mood to look at lettuce!

Now that we had oriented ourselves, we walked through the field together and discussed each variety one by one – highlighting what we loved and what we hated; what we though would be a great market stall lettuce; what would filled a missing niche in our current offering; what we just wanted to bite into then and there …

We harvested whole heads from each variety and headed back to the barn.

Evaluate The Insides

Back at the barn, we took apart the heads and looked at the inner leaves.

Doesn’t this look nice and buttery?

Evaluate How They Taste

We then tasted a lot of lettuce.

Cleansing our palates between varieties with the water.

We separated the heads into what we agreed we liked and what we didn’t.

The Final Verdict

Once we’ve gone through all these steps, we know what we like.

We always wind up with a few broken hearts. Something looked amazing in the field but in the end it tastes like cardboard.

Taste is a deal breaker.

And sometimes, something really ordinary looking tastes delicious and we’ll go back to the field to give it another look.

In the end, each lettuce is destined for one of the following fates

  • Never grown or discussed again
  • Put in another trial
  • Grown as part of an actual lettuce planting

What an exciting adventure!


What are you trialling this summer?


9 thoughts on “Evaluating Quick Lettuce Trials

  1. Thanks so much for posting this topic!
    Our market customers asked last year why we offered lettuce early, then cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers late. They desire complete, local salads.
    So we’re including our customers in our first summer lettuce trial. Taking at least a few of everything that grew, held well and looks decent to market. Asking our regular customers evaluate alongside us. We offer free a few heads of something new, one each for regular lettuce buyers. Most prefer to buy this extra head (their choice), and return with feedback.
    —Flavor, for some customers, is lower priority. Independent of taste, two of my customers are buying ‘Merlot’ every market, 2x per week, all summer long, for the color alone, even when the last few heads are bolting. One usually wears Merlot-colored clothes. The other also seeks out ‘Tom Thumb’ and ‘Anuenue’. For summer lettuces, crunch trumps flavor for some customers.
    —Heads or lower leaves of “Australian Yellow”, these are being bought by customers wanting a looseleaf to cook wilted lettuce. Subs well for “Black Seeded Simpson” sold earlier in the season.
    —Small romaines I apologized for at market; some guys prefer this size for grilling. Who knew…so am picking and selling ‘Jadeite’ and “Romaine des Melons” at all stages. That occasional romaine with tip burn still sells well for grilling…
    —Back to taste. I encourage any customer to taste a leaf before buying a new variety new to them. Some customers seek out a measure of bitter. So “Brown Goldring” and “Australian Yellow” even when overmature and becoming bitter, some still taste at market and buy them.
    —Field holding ability: even when obviously bolting, customers still buying “Mascara” and “Dubya Dapple Density”. ‘Anuenue’ and ‘Jadeite’ also holding well. These four I may be able to seed and plant out less often during summer.
    —Still learning, so asking with Alison that you post your favorites…

    We grow in Appalachian Mtns of SW VA. Summer temps upper 80s/mid-upper 60s, very humid.

    1. We are always trialling to see see what is bolt resistant and disease resistant.

      I have found that lettuce can be very site specific. So I would not recommend what works on our farm in Quebec without trialling to SW VA. Though upper 80s/mid-upper 60s, very humid does sound like us. My thoughts about SW VA were that it was hotter. Is that you are in a bit of altitude?

      On our farm we’ve actually narrowed down our market lettuce selection to what we know is reliable in specific seasons.

      We have a Red Oak Leaf that we initially got from High Mowing Seeds and has become our staple lettuce. High Mowing has since changed the strain they carry so we rely on seed we saved for this strain.

      Jericho is a large romaine we’ve found fairly reliable.

      The favourite from this trial was actually Jadeite. A second contender was Xeno’s density. We’ll trial these again this summer to see how they do in different weather.

      There are a few others that have joined our list over the years.

      1. As above, we’re in the Appalachian Mtns, in a valley about 1800 ft. We have Canadian plants such as red spruce and red currant atop the ridges a few miles away, and we make and sell maple syrup. So those temps are legit, and what works for you worth my consideration.

        ‘Jadeite’ lettuce continues to impress us, looks and tastes so good for so long. I passed on Xeno’s when ordering, but will try it next year.

  2. I’m enjoying reading about your trials. There has been a population of bok choy volunteering in our garden for 15 years or so. This is the year to narrow down and select for good flavor, pulling out early bolters and such.

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