This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
Mr. Editor: - I sent a paper on this subject to an agricultural journal some years ago, but our experience since has enabled us to improve somewhat on our practice at that time; and, besides, the Horticulturist goes among a class of readers whose interest is more direct in such matters than those of the journal referred to, which may excuse me for again giving our experience.
The forwarding of Lettuce in cold frames, like all other products raised for market, has been much simplified of late years, by the necessities of the parties engaged in the business; together with the yearly increase of sharp competition, which compels us to get at the quickest and cheapest method of obtaining the desired result.
The first object is to select a dry and sheltered spot for the frame yard, which should be inclosed on the north and west sides by a board fence six feet high. The frames are then run parallel with either fence, as the fall of the ground will best suit, and three feet from it, each frame being also three feet apart; that is, the path between is three feet in width. The frames are made of a 12-inch spruce plank for the back, and a 9 or 10-inch one for the front, giving a fall only of 2 or 3 inches in the 6 feet - the length of the sash.
The most convenient length found for each section of frame is 60 feet or 20 sashes. No dividing bars are used between the sashes, but instead, stays are placed about every ten feet inside the boards, to keep them from falling inward, which they have a great tendency to do, as the soil inside the frame is kept soft by digging, while the pathway, of course, is hard.
The seed is sown for the crop from 20th to 30 th September, either in the frames, there to remain, or else outside, and "pricked out" into the frames, at the rate of 500 plants to each sash. We usually adopt both methods, the pricked out plants being the best if they winter well; but the sown plants are usually the safest.
They rarely require to be covered with the sashes at night in this district until the middle of November, and care is taken to expose them as much as possible in all mild weather during winter. No covering is used but the sashes. The costly and troublesome covering by straw mats we have never used, though they are still thought by many to be indispensable.
The varieties of Lettuce used are the Brown Dutch or Winter, Butter, and Curled Silesia; this last being for the main crop, fifty of it being sold to one of the others. The planting out in the frames for heading up is usually deferred until the first week in March, experience having shown us that no matter how fine the weather may be, much earlier than that, nothing-is gained by planting.
Three or four inches of rotted manure being dug into the frames, and the surface finely levelled with a rake, fifty plants are planted in a 3-ft by 6 sash. It is ready for market from the 20th of April to the 20th of May, and averages about $4 per 100, or $2 per sash. But to make the sashes do a little more duty, in about two weeks after the Lettuce is planted, parsley seed is sown between the rows, which being rather slow to germinate, is just coming up at the time the Lettuce is cut off, but is still two weeks ahead of that from the open ground; being thus much earlier, it sells well, giving about $1 more per sash. After the first cutting off of the Parsley, it is allowed to grow on undisturbed until the middle of September, when it is cut off close to the ground, to produce a prop of new leaves for winter. It is covered by sashes at the same time, and used in every respect during winter like the Lettuce plants, and marketed during the winter months, bringing again about $1 per sash, all being sold off to admit of the planting of the Lettuce again in March. Thus the double crop of Lettuce and Parsley gives about $4 per sash, the sashes being in use only from the middle of November to the middle of May.
It is still the practice of many private gardeners, and market gardeners in country towns, to plant in the fall the Lettuce wanted for spring use, in frames as they are to head up. This is a tedious and troublesome practice, resulting in giving a tougher salad, very little earlier than that planted in spring; and if earlier, of no advantage to the grower for market. Lettuce, like most vegetables, has a season, and only a limited quantity is wanted out of that season; hence, if the large quantities sold in the New York markets in May were offered in April, they could not be disposed of hardly at any price.
The increase in consumption of Lettuce forwarded in this manner has been enormous; far more so than with any other vegetable I have had to do with. Yet it may be gratifying to beginners to know that, though hundreds are now engaged in it, prices are quite as good now as they have been at any time during my time in the business, which has now been upwards of a dozen years.
[The above is by one of the most accomplished and intelligent market gardeners about New York. It contains the matured results of many years' experience, abounds in good sense, and possesses a practical value which our readers will not fail to appreciate. We have a promise of more from the same source. - Ed].