Plant Answers  >  Crawford Lettuce


If planted correctly Crawford lettuce can germinate in a hot soil right along with okra (center dark green plant)

What can you easily plant using seed in November. My favorite greens
crop is spinach planted using transplants in late October. I have
described how to use these in flower beds at:

as well as just planting them in a vegetable garden at:

sometimes spinach grows slow and transplants are hard to find. The next best greens crop is Crawford lettuce. Lettuce (Lactuca sativa) is without doubt the world's most popular salad plant. Both its common and its Latin name are based on an easily noticeable characteristic-it has a heavy, milky juice. The word "lettuce" is probably derived from the Old French laitues (plural of laitue), meaning "milky," referring to this plant. The Latin root word lac ("milk") appears in the Latin name lactuca. Although its culture was widespread in ancient times, it is neither so old nor was it so widely grown in prehistoric times as a number of other garden crops. Cultivated lettuce is closely related to the wild lettuce, L. scariola, from which it was doubtless derived. Wild lettuce is now widely scattered over the globe, but it originated in inner Asia Minor, the trans-Caucasus, Iran, and Turkistan.

Lettuce was doubtless among the first garden seeds sown in every European colony on this continent. Loose-leaf lettuces are still popular for home gardens because they are so easy to grow. Since, however, the loose-leaf form is highly perishable after harvesting, it is now rarely grown in the United States for sale. Lettuce is an annual plant that requires a relatively cool climate for good leaf and head growth. Hot weather causes it to become bitter and hastens the elongation of its stem into a tall seed stalk. The stems or "cores" of head varieties elongate too soon if grown in too warm weather, either preventing heading or causing the heads to be loose and of poor quality.

I mentioned the variety of lettuce named 'Crawford' because it had its beginning right here in San Antonio. At a monthly meeting in the early 80's, San Antonio Men's Garden Club Double Life Member Marshall Crawford stood up during a "Show-and-Tell" session with a lettuce plant he had just harvested from his garden, roots and all. Marshall said he had been growing this variety of lettuce for a number of years and he thought "it was a pretty good lettuce for the San Antonio area". It was named after Marshall Crawford and is a reliably reseeding lettuce for this area.

The 'Crawford' lettuce is an heirloom black-seeded romaine cos type lettuce that sports 10-inch heads of slightly savoyed green leaves with blotches of reddish brown toward the margins. It has a wonderful non-bitter flavor, loves the winter garden climate, stands up to heat well and will self-seed (for my brown-thumb friends, you must let the lettuce flower and form seed in the spring before reseeding will occur the following year!) and sprout the following fall when temperatures are ideal. Obviously, gardeners who want the lettuce to reseed cannot cover the area in mulch. If you use lots of mulch, you should collect the seed and sow them in the fall on exposed soil. 'Crawford' lettuce can be growing in pots and flower beds as well. When the lettuce finally bolts (flowers) and goes to seed in the spring, it is very attractive with the yellow flowers on a tall spike.

Marshall Crawford got the seed from his father-in-law John Wesley Van Houtan, a mechanic and long-time gardener from Tulsa, Oklahoma. Marshall's wife Irene said her father was born in 1900 and was a wonderful backyard gardener. He grew the lettuce and saved seed from the best plants each year for as long as she could remember. Irene is not sure where her father originally got the seed, but suspected it came over with her father's family from Europe and had been passed down from generation to generation.

In the October, 2005, issue of the Men's Garden Club of San Antonio monthly newsletter, Horti-Bull, was a write-up about how to best grow Crawford Lettuce. It read: The Chinese have been using similar seed germination methods in Yunan and Sechuan Provinces for over 40 centuries. Lettuces as a group are easy to grow and Crawford is both the easiest lettuce to grow and the best tasting lettuce, year in and year out.

Lettuce needs rich soil and plenty of moisture. Nothing much bothers lettuce in the way of bugs and disease as long as you remember to space the plants far enough apart and keep it growing rapidly by providing plenty of water and plant nutrients.

You should make three or four succession plantings to ensure a longer harvesting season. Make the first planting in early October to be ready for Thanksgiving. Make the second planting in early November to be ready for Christmas. Make the third planting in mid-January and the fourth planting in early February. The final two plantings may produce bolting plants from which seed can be saved. How soon it turns hot in spring determines when the lettuce will flower. Temperatures above 80 degrees F. induces seed stalk initiation and tends to cause bitterness.

Lettuce bed preparation is similar to that for any vegetable. Use 2-3 pounds of 19-5-9 slow-release fertilizer per 10 feet of row. Compost and manures can also be incorporated into the planting bed.

The books state that lettuce prefers 50-60 degrees F. for best germination. Well, kiss that idea goodby! This is South Texas. You are going to need a method that gives you a decent seed germination with soil temperatures approaching 90 degrees F. Here is how to accomplish

1. Level out the row with a rake. Rows should be a minimum of 12 and preferably 18 inches apart.

2. Dig a 3 inch trench down the middle of the row with a hoe.

3. Take a five gallon bucket of water, or a hose, and fill the trench with water.

4. Repeat step #3. This insures a complete soaking of the planting bed and pre-irrigates the bed so the seed will not have to be "watered in".

5. Rake enough soil back into the trench so the soil is level. You will need to do this while the trench is still soupy wet. Wait 5-10 minutes until the water has soaked in before you plant your lettuce seed.

6. Plant 3 or 4 seed (in clumps) every six inches down the length of the row on top of the wet soil. Just as you drop the seed, flick your wrist a little so the seed spreads out to about the circumference of a silver dollar.

7. DO NOT COVER THE SEED or it will NOT GERMINATE because the seed needs the exposure to the red light wavelength to germinate!!!! Covering is NOT necessary. DO NOT WATER!!

8. Press the lightly covered seed with something flat-bottomed like a pink mason jar to make sure you establish capillary action between the seed and the wet soil below the seed. (All theat water you poured in the row acts as a reservoir for the seeds sitting on top of it.) You do not want to water on top of the seed because crusting of the soil might prohibit maximum germination of seed.

Crawford lettuce seed will sprout in 3-7 days. At the 4 or 5 day point, if it hasn't rained, give the row a good watering. Once the plants are up, you will need to thin them to one plant every six inches. Well watered and well spaced lettuce growing in well prepared beds should have few if any problems. Around the 50-day point, you can start eating every other plant so the remaining plants are at least 12 inches apart. You will want to choose a couple of the best plants each year and save them for your seed plants. Seed plants are going to need at least 18 inch spacing. Always taste a leaf of each lettuce plant you are thinking of saving for seed and save only the best tasting, strongest, best looking plants for seed.


Crawford Reseeding Lettuce Seed Production

Crawford's of Crawford Lettuce

Copyright © 2024 - All Rights Reserved. PLANTanswers and are trademarks of Jerry Parsons.