Amish deer tongue lettuce is a Bibb-type variety

April 24, 2013

Among the Amish one finds foods like souse (also called head cheese because it is made from pigs’ heads, ears and such), Amish scrapple (a mixture of cornmeal and ground meat, fried at breakfast), Amish jams, Amish jellies and even Amish tomatoes. There is also an Amish lettuce that really stands out - it looks exactly like a deer’s tongue (assuming you have recently seen a deer’s tongue). Forthrightly, it is called Amish deer tongue lettuce.

Amish deer tongue lettuce (Latuca sativa) is an old Amish variety known for high yields of leaves that resemble deer tongues. The vigorous, thick and compact growth means high yields in small spaces. This fearless lettuce is able to grow in cool weather without flinching.

Some vendors list this lettuce seed simply as deer tongue rather than Amish deer tongue. There is even a red-leafed version aptly called Amish red deer tongue or red deer tongue or red-leafed deer tongue.

All deer tongue lettuce is what is known as an heirloom Bibb-type lettuce. Bibb lettuces are famed for their creamy texture and thick leaves. Deer tongue has decorative tongue-shaped leaves and outstanding flavor. It is very slow to bolt, or turn bitter. Red or green, Amish or not, like all lettuce, deer tongue lettuce grows best in cool weather. It does well in full sun or partial shade.

The seeds germinate in just 14 days. As the lettuce grows, you can fertilize with a weak solution of fish emulsion. Thin the plants to just 6 to 8 inches apart.

Sow all lettuce as early as the soil can be worked. As a cool-weather crop it makes its best growth at temperatures of 60-65 degrees F (16-18 degrees C). Sow every three weeks for a continuous harvest of fresh lettuce.

Lettuce seed germinates best when soil temperatures are 68°F (20°C) or lower. You may be able to buy lettuce seed as pelleted seed. Pelleted lettuce seed can often germinate in a wider range of soil temperatures.

If you sow them in flats, plant four seeds per inch or in individual plug trays. Just barely cover the seeds, and water well. Set them out about three or four weeks after you start them.

Be sure to lightly shade the flats of lettuce, especially on hot, sunny, warm days if necessary to keep the soil surface cool, below 75°F (24°C), until germination.

Harden off your lettuce seedlings by reducing water and keeping at a cool temperature for two to three days before transplanting the lettuce outdoors. If properly hardened, your deer tongue lettuce transplants will survive temperatures down to 20°F (-6°C).

You can find Amish deer tongue lettuce at Seedsaver Exchange and deer tongue lettuce, not specifically Amish, at Johnny’s Seeds.

The best and easiest way to grow Amish deer tongue lettuce is to direct seed right into the garden. Keep in mind that the seeds germinate best between soil temperatures of 40 to 75°F (4-24°C).

Sow the seeds one inch apart, in rows 12 to 18 inches apart. Gently press the seeds into the surface of the soil and cover very lightly with just about 1/8 inch of fine soil. Firm the soil down. Keep the soil well watered but not soggy.

If you sow it thickly, it will resprout for a cut-and-come-again lettuce. To do this, plant it thickly in a two- to four-inch-wide band, using around 60 seeds per foot. Direct seeding will use about an ounce of seed to plant a 40-foot row.

Its not too late to contemplate a life without cars or car payments, electricity or electricity bills. To contemplate a true Amish lifestyle for a moment, just plant some Amish deer tongue lettuce. It doesn’t matter what the weather, this lettuce has courage. As the Amish say, “Courage is fear that has said its prayers.”

  • Paul Barbano writes about gardening from his home in Rehoboth Beach. Contact him by writing to P. O. Box 213, Lewes, DE 19958.

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