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Picking the last of the lettuce from the garden

Bob Dluzen
Special to The Detroit News

It’s   December and we’re still harvesting lettuce and kale from the garden.

The salad greens are growing in a bed that is covered with a wood-framed chicken wire structure I built to protect the green-leafies from woodchucks, rabbits and other critters.

In the fall we covered the chicken wire with a sheet of plastic to give some protection against the cold and extend the season. We wanted to see how long we could keep the plants going before they finally froze and became inedible.

A simple structure like this will extend your growing season.

It doesn't surprise me that the kale is still going strong since it can withstand relatively cold temperatures. Lettuce on the other hand, while being tolerant to the cold, usually is frozen back and dead by now.

That same garden bed also has a row of beets and a row of carrots, they’re both doing fairly well too; even their tops look good, not just the roots. They may not be growing but they are surviving the cold.

Last month we had a couple of days with temperatures dipping down into the teens during the night. All the plants, including the lettuce, shrugged off that first cold snap fairly easily.

At that time there was still some warmth from the soil radiating up into the bed. The plastic covering helped retain that little bit of heat.

On one of those cold November nights the temperature dropped to 19 degrees F just before dawn. The lettuce leaves felt frozen solid to the touch early in the morning and I thought they were done for. By the afternoon the iciness disappeared and they were back to normal.

The lettuce is handling the cold so far but probably won’t make it much longer.

Since then temperatures have been relatively mild which is why we’re still able to pick fresh salad greens. But Christmas is almost here and December weather is returning to normal.

There are fewer and fewer sunny days and the ground temperatures are dropping fast now. As a result the garden bed won’t get much help from ground radiation anymore.

I expect to wake up one day soon and find all of my remaining lettuce frozen into an unusable mush. I probably should pick it before that happens and drop it into the relative warmth of my refrigerator crisper drawer.

Lettuce and other greens subjected to that kind of cold seem to stay fresh a very long time in the fridge after picking.