March 10, 2013

Winter lettuce subject of study

WILLSBORO — To determine whether farmers can grow salad greens through the winter in Northern New York, the Northern New York Agricultural Development Program (NNYADP)-funded trials at the Cornell University Willsboro Research Farm in Willsboro are evaluating winter lettuce production methods.

A team of Cornell University researchers and extension specialists is investigating the use of prototype, low-wattage heating strips to warm the soil to enhance lettuce production during the winter months in Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties.

With consumers willing to pay up to $12 per pound for lettuce-based salad mixes year-round, this research promises a high payoff value if the use of heat proves to be successful and cost-effective under the regional growing constraints.

Heating strips used

Cornell University Cooperative Extension Vegetable Specialist Judson Reid said the research in Northern New York is the first attempt at developing a system for heating the greens-growing environment inside high tunnels using heating strips primarily designed for in-floor radiant heat.

Amy Ivy, Cornell Cooperative Extension horticulture educator for Clinton and Essex counties, said that while spinach can be grown and harvested year-round in Northern New York with a minimal addition of heat largely in January and early February, lettuce crops are more cold-sensitive.

“Our question is can growers cost-effectively add heat to grow the salad greens year-round without sacrificing profitability,” she said. “There is great demand by consumers and by regional restaurants clamoring for local greens.”

Cornell University Research Associate Michael Davis explains that on clear, sunny days during the winter, temperatures inside a high tunnel can be 20 to 40 or more degrees warmer than the outside air, and, as a result, lettuce plants can be grown and harvested.

“The key to high-tunnel winter lettuce production is helping the cold-sensitive lettuce plants survive frigid nighttime temperatures,” he said.

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