For many farmers, salad mix is the bread and butter of their market sales. But perhaps that isn’t the right metaphor to use for a group so devoted to their vegetables. Better to say that for many farmers, salad mix is, well, the salad mix of their operation; a key, if not core, part of their crop plan and their sales goals.
Creating a signature salad mix for your farm or your table can be a fun endeavor, can set you apart or inspire you visually, and will give you the greatest amount of control over what works for your growing conditions. As eaters, we’ve gone from iceberg – the first lettuce shipped across the nation – to locally sourced baby leaf lettuce mixes with an assortment of color and leaf shapes.
High Mowing Organic Seeds offers almost 30 different varieties of lettuce that are suited for baby leaf production. Factors to consider in selecting which varieties to combine in your mix are:
- growth rate,
- leaf shape, and
You’ll also want to consider if the varieties have any disease resistance. Lettuce grown in the fall, or through the winter in a high tunnel, can be susceptible to downy mildew. Many varieties are bred with levels of downy mildew resistance, and these will remain while other varieties might melt away.
Some varieties have a very narrow leaf attachment (the part where the leaf connects to the growing tip of the plant). This can be a desirable characteristic if you are planning for regrowth that you can harvest a second or third time. The narrower the leaf attachment, the smaller the surface area you are damaging on the plant when you make your harvest cut. So you’ll end up with less risk of bruising and possibility of disease than in varieties that have a wider leaf attachment. (See our Organic Baby Leaf Comparison Chart for varieties with narrow leaf attachments).
Different varieties also have differing amounts of loft. Loft means that the leaves fold in such a way as to hold air between them and sort of provide their own padding and protection, keeping them from becoming matted together during washing. Generally, the frilly leaved varieties have the best loft, and are good to incorporate into a mix for that reason. Loft also provides volume and helps fill up a bag or make a bag look voluminous and substantial for its weight.
Some growers plant each variety in a separate row or bed, and then create the mix during the harvesting or washing stage. This can offer greater quality control – if a variety grows slower or faster than the rest, or is for some reason off rhythm, it can be left out of the mix. Other growers combine different varieties at the seeding stage, so they all grow and are harvested together. If you’ve done a good job selecting your varieties and designing your mix, this can work well, and save time during harvest.
Comparison Chart of Organic Baby Leaf Lettuce Varieties
This comparison chart of all the baby leaf lettuce varieties we currently carry will help you select the best varieties, either to spike your existing mix or to create a brand new one. Ideally, you will have nice alignment in the Growth Rate column, a good sprinkling of diversity in all the other columns, and the disease resistance and price to fit your system. Experiment and enjoy!