Cool weather lettuce is one of the first crops out of the gate, and a welcome sight after months of less than fresh vegetables. Sure, there are the usual suspects to grow like romaine, green leaf, or iceberg, but I like to mix it up by growing heirloom lettuce. A recent favorite are Strawberry Cabbage lettuce plants.
If you love the delicate texture and flavor of butter lettuce but you want to add a little splash to your salads, you might try growing Lactuca sativa ‘Sanguine Ameliore.’ Also known as Strawberry Cabbage lettuce and so named for their small cabbage-like heads, these 19th century French heirlooms were first brought to America by C. C. Morse in 1906.
One meaning for ‘sanguine’ is cheerfully optimistic, and these charming butter type lettuces do, indeed, seem cheerful. However, this name is more likely derived from the Latin ‘sanguis,’ or blood, an allusion to the speckles of scarlet red splashed across the green leaves. Ameliore is French for “improved,” however, making it entirely plausible that this lettuce could have been named as such for an optimistically improved variety. Whatever the case, there is no denying the mild taste of this tender heirloom lettuce.
Like other lettuce, Sanguine Ameliore is grown as an annual. A low maintenance plant, it usually reaches a mature height of about 8 inches (20 cm.). They are ready for harvest 60 days from sowing.
Direct sow the tiny gray seeds in sun to partial sun areas with well-draining soil that is rich in compost matter. Sow seeds an inch (2.5 cm.) apart and ¼ inch (6 mm.) deep. Seeds will germinate within 7-14 days. When the seedlings have two leaves, you can thin them to 10 inches (25 cm.) apart.
Lettuce has a shallow root system, so it is important to keep the soil consistently moist. Mulching around the plants will help to retain moisture and retard weeds. Fertilize with a low nitrogen fertilizer such as fish emulsion.
So, if you’re looking to grow a different type of lettuce in the garden, why not add a little history by trying your hand at growing heirloom varieties like Strawberry Cabbage.