Marvel of Four Seasons Lettuce

Marvel of Four Seasons Lettuce
Grown in 2013.
Packet = around 200 seeds
This red-tipped butterhead is a favorite for beauty as well as flavor, and has been for at least 130 years, back to its heyday in the bustling markets of 19th century Paris. The name speaks to the plant’s equanimity in extremes of both heat and cold. Thank you to all the generations of seed savers responsible for bringing this marvel to our tables.

Culture: Plant early spring through late summer. Slight frosts don’t faze it. Full sun on the coast or in cool weather, down to half day or filtered sun in midsummer heat.

Saving seed: Lettuce is primarily inbreeding. In an ideal lettuce season the flowers pollinate themselves before they open, so isolation distances are not an issue. However, if the weather is too cold (below 70 degrees Fahrenheit) the pollen may not form until the flowers open, and if it’s too hot (over 70 degrees) the flowers may open early, before pollination – in either case making them attractive stops for insect pollinators. Here, where summer nights are in the 40s and days in the 90s, I treat lettuce like a cross-pollinator just to be on the safe side. I grow only one variety for seed at a time, and am vigilant about pulling up any wild lettuce I find.

Lettuce is an ideal plant to grow for seed on the northern California coast, and I’d love to add coastal growers to the developing regional network.Email me

The seeds won’t ripen all at once, and ripe seeds are prone to wafting away on their little feather parachutes. You can harvest several times by knocking ripe seed into a paper bag – or if wind doesn’t seem to be an issue, wait until the stalks are topped in clouds of fluff to cut them, upend them into paper bags, and hang in a dark dry spot until stalks are crispy.

Cleaning the seeds is not easy, since they are light in weight and about the same size as the chaff. Winnow very gently. For small batches, spreading the mix on a shallow platter and blowing softly may be both easiest and most effective.