ONIONS, GARLIC AND CRAWFORD LETTUCE
Yesterday was October 15 which should be proclaimed a Texas holiday.
It is the designated birthday of the Texas State Vegetable since
1997 which is the Texas sweet onion-the most famous of which is
the 1015Y. Saying that October 15 is the birthday is a bit misleading
- October 15 is when seed should be planted so the actual "birth"
of the seedling occurs when sprouting begins. Since onions are
such a big part of Mexican food, I thought we should name the
holiday Octubre quince Y to go along with Cinco die Mayo (May
5), Cieci Seis (Sept. 16) and Dia de los Muertos.
Onions will bolt or flower if planted too early in the fall
It should also be recognized that there were other onion selections
named after October and even November planting dates. According
to the history of Texas onions at:
"The pink root (a fungus disease which kills the root system)
screening block was developed at the Weslaco, Texas, Station so
that Paul Leeper and Leonard Pike could develop pink root resistance
in their new varieties. From a planting of the onion variety Texas
Early Grano 951, the yellow (Y) selections of Texas Grano 1015Y,
Texas Grano 1020Y, Texas Grano 1025Y, Texas Grano 1030Y, and Texas
Grano 1105Y were made from the pink root block." The 1015Y
became the most popular because of its mild flavor and low pungency.
The given name-date is a designation of when the seed are to be
planted in South Texas. For information about growing onions from
seed, see: http://www.plantanswers.com/garden_column/oct04/1.htm
Seeding on these dates hopefully insures the reduction of bolting(flowering
and/or seed head formation).
Flowering of onions can be caused by several things, but usually
the most prevalent reason is temperature fluctuation. An onion
is classed as a biennial, which means it normally takes 2 years
to go from seed to seed. Temperature is the controlling or triggering
factor in this process. If an onion plant is exposed to alternating
cold and warm temperatures, the result is the onion plant going
dormant, then resuming growth, then going dormant and resuming
growth again. The onion bulbs prematurely flower or bolt. The
onion is deceived into believing it has completed 2 growth cycles,
or years of growth in its biennial life cycle so it finalizes
the cycle by blooming. Flowering can be controlled by planting
the right variety at the right time. Use only transplants that
are pencil-sized, or smaller, in diameter when planting in early
spring. In the early fall, always plant seed, NEVER transplants
unless the onions are intended for eating green and not the bulb.
So transplants of true-to-name Texas 1015Y onions should not be
available until late November or December at the earliest. For
more information about planting onion transplants in early spring,
Garlic must have cool temperatures to divide into cloves
Garlic can definitely grow in warm weather with okra (background).
Notice that garlic does not repell insects--especially the
caterpillar that is eating it!
Garlic is just the opposite - DON'T plant garlic in the spring!
Bulb formation in garlic occurs in response to the lengthening
days of spring, and bulbing and maturity are considerably hastened
if temperatures are high. In addition to these requirements, the
dormant cloves (divisions of the large bulb) or young growing
plants must be exposed to cold temperatures between 32 and 50
degrees F. for 1 or 2 months in order to initiate bulbing. Plants
that are never exposed to temperatures below 65 degrees F. may
fail to form bulbs. With fall plantings, the cold treatment is
accomplished quite naturally throughout the winter, but a spring
planting spells disaster.
Seedstalk formation (bolting) of garlic is not induced by exposure
to fluctuating temperatures, as is the case with onions. This
means that a wide range of fall planting dates is permissible
for this crop. Seedstalk formation is also not damaging to garlic
since the cloves are arranged around the seedstalk and will be
removed from the dried seedstalk. Conversely, the edible onion
bulb is penetrated by the seedstalk that is hard when the bulb
is harvested, but prematurely decays causing loss of the entire
bulb in storage. For more information about growing and using
garlic, see: http://www.plantanswers.com/garden_column/oct03/2.htm
What can you easily plant using seed now. My favorite greens
crop is spinach planted using transplants in late October. I have
described how to use these in flower beds at: http://www.plantanswers.com/garden_column/oct04/2.htm
as well as just planting them in a vegetable garden at:
Even though spinach is much more nutritious than lettuce as shown
sometimes spinach grows slow and transplants are hard to find.
The next best greens crop is Crawford lettuce. Lettuce (Lactuca
sativa) is without doubt the world's most popular salad plant.
Both its common and its Latin name are based on an easily noticeable
characteristic-it has a heavy, milky juice. The word "lettuce"
is probably derived from the Old French laitues (plural of laitue),
meaning "milky," referring to this plant. The Latin
root word lac ("milk") appears in the Latin name lactuca.
Although its culture was widespread in ancient times, it is neither
so old nor was it so widely grown in prehistoric times as a number
of other garden crops. Cultivated lettuce is closely related to
the wild lettuce, L. scariola, from which it was doubtless derived.
Wild lettuce is now widely scattered over the globe, but it originated
in inner Asia Minor, the trans-Caucasus, Iran, and Turkistan.
planted correctly Crawford lettuce can germinate in a hot
soil right along with okra (center dark green plant) |
Marshall and IreneCrawford
Lettuce was doubtless among the first garden seeds sown in every
European colony on this continent. Loose-leaf lettuces are still
popular for home gardens because they are so easy to grow. Since,
however, the loose-leaf form is highly perishable after harvesting,
it is now rarely grown in the United States for sale. Lettuce
is an annual plant that requires a relatively cool climate for
good leaf and head growth. Hot weather causes it to become bitter
and hastens the elongation of its stem into a tall seed stalk.
The stems or "cores" of head varieties elongate too
soon if grown in too warm weather, either preventing heading or
causing the heads to be loose and of poor quality.
I mentioned the variety of lettuce named 'Crawford' because it
had its beginning right here in San Antonio. At a monthly meeting
in the early 80's, San Antonio Men's Garden Club Double Life Member
Marshall Crawford stood up during a "Show-and-Tell"
session with a lettuce plant he had just harvested from his garden,
roots and all. Marshall said he had been growing this variety
of lettuce for a number of years and he thought "it was a
pretty good lettuce for the San Antonio area". It was named
after Marshall Crawford and is a reliably reseeding lettuce for
The 'Crawford' lettuce is an heirloom black-seeded romaine cos
type lettuce that sports 10-inch heads of slightly savoyed green
leaves with blotches of reddish brown toward the margins. It has
a wonderful non-bitter flavor, loves the winter garden climate,
stands up to heat well and will self-seed (for my brown-thumb
friends, you must let the lettuce flower and form seed in the
spring before reseeding will occur the following year!) and sprout
the following fall when temperatures are ideal. Obviously, gardeners
who want the lettuce to reseed cannot cover the area in mulch.
If you use lots of mulch, you should collect the seed and sow
them in the fall on exposed soil. 'Crawford' lettuce can be growing
in pots and flower beds as well. When the lettuce finally bolts
(flowers) and goes to seed in the spring, it is very attractive
with the yellow flowers on a tall spike.
Marshall Crawford got the seed from his father-in-law John Wesley
Van Houtan, a mechanic and long-time gardener from Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Marshall's wife Irene said her father was born in 1900 and was
a wonderful backyard gardener. He grew the lettuce and saved seed
from the best plants each year for as long as she could remember.
Irene is not sure where her father originally got the seed, but
suspected it came over with her father's family from Europe and
had been passed down from generation to generation.
In the October, 2005, issue of the Men's Garden Club of San Antonio
monthly newsletter, Horti-Bull, was a write-up about how to best
grow Crawford Lettuce. It read: The Chinese have been using similar
seed germination methods in Yunan and Sechuan Provinces for over
40 centuries. Lettuces as a group are easy to grow and Crawford
is both the easiest lettuce to grow and the best tasting lettuce,
year in and year out.
Lettuce needs rich soil and plenty of moisture. Nothing much
bothers lettuce in the way of bugs and disease as long as you
remember to space the plants far enough apart and keep it growing
rapidly by providing plenty of water and plant nutrients.
You should make three or four succession plantings to ensure
a longer harvesting season. Make the first planting in early October
to be ready for Thanksgiving. Make the second planting in early
November to be ready for Christmas. Make the third planting in
mid-January and the fourth planting in early February. The final
two plantings may produce bolting plants from which seed can be
saved. How soon it turns hot in spring determines when the lettuce
will flower. Temperatures above 80 degrees F. induces seed stalk
initiation and tends to cause bitterness.
Lettuce bed preparation is similar to that for any vegetable.
Use 2-3 pounds of 19-5-9 slow-release fertilizer per 10 feet of
row. Compost and manures can also be incorporated into the planting
The books state that lettuce prefers 50-60 degrees F. for best
germination. Well, kiss that idea goodby! This is South Texas.
You are going to need a method that gives you a decent seed germination
with soil temperatures approaching 90 degrees F. Here is how to
1. Level out the row with a rake. Rows should be a minimum of
12 and preferably 18 inches apart.
2. Dig a 3 inch trench down the middle of the row with a hoe.
3. Take a five gallon bucket of water, or a hose, and fill the
trench with water.
4. Repeat step #3. This insures a complete soaking of the planting
bed and pre-irrigates the bed so the seed will not have to be
5. Rake enough soil back into the trench so the soil is level.
You will need to do this while the trench is still soupy wet.
Wait 5-10 minutes until the water has soaked in before you plant
your lettuce seed.
6. Plant 3 or 4 seed (in clumps) every six inches down the length
of the row on top of the wet soil. Just as you drop the seed,
flick your wrist a little so the seed spreads out to about the
circumference of a silver dollar.
7. Do not cover the seed except to use some dry soil with a little
compost mixed together and apply a very light layer. Covering
is actually not necessary. DO NOT WATER!!
8. Press the lightly covered seed with something flat-bottomed
like a pink mason jar to make sure you establish capillary action
between the seed and the wet soil below the seed. (All theat water
you poured in the row acts as a reservoir for the seeds sitting
on top of it.) You do not want to water on top of the seed because
crusting of the soil might prohibit maximum germination of seed.
Crawford lettuce seed will sprout in 3-7 days. At the 4 or 5
day point, if it hasn't rained, give the row a good watering.
Once the plants are up, you will need to thin them to one plant
every six inches. Well watered and well spaced lettuce growing
in well prepared beds should have few if any problems. Around
the 50-day point, you can start eating every other plant so the
remaining plants are at least 12 inches apart. You will want to
choose a couple of the best plants each year and save them for
your seed plants. Seed plants are going to need at least 18 inch
spacing. Always taste a leaf of each lettuce plant you are thinking
of saving for seed and save only the best tasting, strongest,
best looking plants for seed.