Ideal Season: Cool
Sun: Full Sun/Partial Shade
Ideal Soil Type: Sandy Loam Soil
Ideal Temperature: 50-72°F (10-22°C)
Maturation Period: 50-80 Days (depending on the variety)
What is Red Sails Lettuce?
I was attracted to this variety mainly because of its name: Red Sails Lettuce. My family loves to sail, so the name had me imagining a gorgeous red spinnaker at the bow of a boat.
Red sails lettuce is a type of looseleaf lettuce, meaning it won’t develop large, tight heads of lettuce. The leaves fan out into crinkled shapes, and the color develops from mellow greens to bronze-like red at the edges.
This variety matures within 66 days, and can be grown from seed during the early spring for an early summer harvest, and once more at the end of summer for an early fall harvest (West Coast Seeds, 2022).
If you’re like me and have a small amount of space and cannot use/do not have a greenhouse, cloche, or cold frame, the best thing to do is grow this lettuce during the early spring and at the end of summer since seedlings thrive best between 50-72°F (10-22°C) (West Coast Seeds, 2022).
Looseleaf lettuces such red sails are becoming some of my favorite crops to grow. In fact, I wish it was the first thing I had tried as a beginning gardener because it is surprisingly easy to grow from seed to harvest, does not succumb to many if any diseases, and can be harvested several times in a year.
Planting Red Sails Lettuce
Although it is ideal to start with “sandy loam soil with a high level of moisture-retaining organic matter,” lettuce does well in most soil types so long as the weather is cool (Doiron, 2010). This lettuce does well with full sun and partial shade, so long as the plant does not get too hot.
Personally, my gardening space is small, so I actually crowd my looseleaf lettuce so that I can obtain higher yields. The lettuce is supposed to be 8”-12” apart, but I managed fine with 4”-6” of space between rows.
Water the lettuce in the mornings to avoid slug damage, and check for caterpillar eggs, slugs, and snails. Once every one to two weeks, I use Neptune’s Harvest Organic Fertilizer to feed the plants.
Harvesting Red Sails Lettuce
Harvest the outer edges along the stem or cut the entire plant. I prefer to cut the entire plant and plant more seeds between harvests (succession planting). With this method, salad can be harvested until summer. By summertime (or when the temperature is higher than 72°F (22°C), the plants become too bitter.
Washing Red Sails Lettuce
After harvesting the lettuce, use a natural vinegar vegetable wash to remove any bugs, eggs, critters, and soil.
If you’re far removed from nature, it can be daunting to have to deal with wiggly things on your lettuce, but you do get used to it after a few harvests.
Soak the lettuce in the vegetable wash, rinse the leaves thoroughly to wash off the remaining bugs, eggs, critters, and soil. Cut off any bruised pieces and remove the stems (they are extremely bitter). Compost the scraps, and lay the lettuce flat onto paper towel to dry.
Store the lettuce in a container or baggie with paper towel or cotton cloth until ready to eat.
Lettuce is becoming one of the most reliable crops I can grow. Since I am having a hard time growing tomatoes due to pests, disease, and lack of space, I am learning to grow crops that promise food by harvest time instead of disappointment.
Red Sails Lettuce is one of my favorites because it is quite beautiful and tastes sweet and delicate as opposed to gritty and bitter like some store bought lettuce. This year, mine has grown olive green with flecks of red paint-like splatter.
I planted them late in early October, so they are just ready for harvest in April, which is far past the 66 maturation time. Perhaps this is because their growth slows during the colder months. Even though the winter this year was mild here in Southern Virginia, the temperatures averaged between 30 and 40 degrees.
I plan to harvest the lettuce as I need it, and replace the sections with other lettuce or dandelion seeds.
Eating Red Sails Lettuce
Red Sails lettuce tastes grassy and herbaceous. It starts off slightly bitter, but then gets smooth and slightly sweet.
I know there are various uses for lettuce other than for salad, but salad was the first thing I was excited to make with my fresh harvest. Chicken Caesar Salad is one of my favorite salads, so I made a special twist on one with these beautiful lettuce leaves.
I made homemade Caesar dressing, and topped my sliced leaves with sliced cherry tomatoes, chicken sautéed with garden herbs, garlic croutons, and grated parmesan.
This salad was super fresh! No bitter taste, crisp leaves, and gorgeous color!
Doiron, R., (2010). Grow Great Lettuce. Mother Earth News, 4(239), 54-58.
West Coast Seeds, (2022). Red Sails. Retrieved from https://www.westcoastseeds.com/products/red-sails#full-description-anchor
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