Growing Lettuce Seed

In 2020 we grew an heirloom lettuce (Cardinale) to collect and save seed for Seeds of Diversity's Canadian Seed Library, a national bank of 2,600 regionally-adapted rare seeds.  When seed quantity or germination rates are low of a particular variety, Seeds of Diversity have volunteers across the country multiply fresh seed with care.
I received 26 Cardinale Lettuce seeds last winter, of which 12 germinated.  We were hoping for a minimum of 10 plants to encourage genetic diversity in the seeds we were to save (click here to find out more about this).  Felt the pressure of that narrow wiggle room for error!  I babied these 12 seedlings under lights in our basement, hardened them off in the porch and then planted them out into our main veggie garden on June 1st.      
Started with 26 seeds.
Beautiful burgundy and green seedling leaves.  
Employed all protection measures on this bed and decided not to mulch to avoid slugs (which we had a ton of this season).
Such a beautiful lettuce!  Large, juicy leaves can be harvested as yummy loose leaves.  Eventually, if left to mature, Cardinale will form a loose crisp-head. It's a Batavian variety that I learned grows so well in the summer, when most lettuces would be bolting.
Here you can see it's just beginning to shoot up mid-late July. 
Thanks to our friend Christine Whelan for this photo and the next one.
Bolting into August.  All 12 plants made it through with vigour!  
Yellow flowers forming.

 Harvesting the first of the seed heads.  They form this fluffy helicopter for seed dispersal by wind, so here I am catching them before the wind does.

After this initial one-by-one harvesting, I let the plants continue to go to seed until at least half of the flowers had shifted into their fuzzy seed state.  I then cut the plants, hung them upside down in pillow cases in our outbuilding and let them dry out until I was ready to clean the seeds.

I'm still cleaning!  Learning best techniques as I go.  A light, gentle breeze for winnowing outside combined with screens and colander action seems to be working the best.  


Sent in several thousand seeds to Seeds of Diversity and have been sharing the rest of the abundance with family and friends.  Looking forward to growing Cardinale again this year.  With a solid snow cover right now, we're dreaming of lush summer salads! 

Why save seeds and how? Here’s a brief overview from Mother Earth News.