A few weeks ago, Mother Earth's intrepid editor-in-chief, Cheryl Long, told me about a study from Kansas State University in which good quality organic lettuce was successfully grown in high tunnels in July and August with the use of 40 percent shade. That intriguing tidbit coincided with visits to two local organic farms — Five Penny and Full Circle — that use high tunnels. It's hot in those things! Surely if lettuce would grow in a high tunnel in Kansas in August, I could work a similar wonder in my Virginia garden.
I began by starting seeds indoors, because lettuce germinates poorly (if at all) in hot soil. After the little plants gradually became accustomed to strong sun, I set them out under a shade cover made from a double thickness of black nylon net (75 cents at the fabric store) attached to wire hoops with clothespins. The cover provides about 30 percent shade, and the lettuce is doing great!
On very hot, sunny days, I add a lightweight piece of cotton sheeting to block even more sun, and the lettuce doesn't mind one bit. In Hawaii, summer lettuce is routinely grown under 35 percent to 50 percent shade.
How does it taste? The Kansas State study included customer surveys, and there were no complaints about the flavor. As for my experiment, I'm already calling it a success because I have garden-fresh lettuce for one of the season's most perfect foods — tomato sandwiches.
Contributing editor Barbara Pleasant gardens in southwest Virginia, where she grows vegetables, herbs, fruits, flowers and a few lucky chickens. Contact Barbara by visiting her website or finding her on Google+.
Photo by Barbara Pleasant