Lettuce is an easy crop for new gardeners to grow, and a staple for experienced ones. It sprouts quickly, and gives a surge of hope in the early spring garden.
Types of lettuce:
There are four main types of lettuce:
* Loose-leaf has fluffy, open leaves, and does not grow in heads;
* Butterheads produce small heads of lettuce;
* Romaine has elongated leaves with stiff midribs;
* Crisphead lettuce is what you would see in the grocery store as iceberg lettuce. I usually grow loose-leaf varieties as well as Romaine lettuce. I don’t have any experience with head lettuce.
Till your soil well. Add lots of organic matter and nitrogen fertilizer before you plant. Make sure the soil is moist throughout the growing season. Also, make sure there are no large dirt clods in the soil, as these will inhibit germination.
Plant seeds 1/4 inch deep. Lettuce seeds need light to germinate, so don’t plant too deep. One method is to broadcast the seeds in the plot, then cover with a thin layer of soil.
For an early crop, grow lettuce seeds indoors 4-6 weeks before the last frost, then harden off sometime between 2 weeks before last frost to 2 weeks after, and transplant into the garden. Direct seed outdoors 2 weeks before the last frost, then thin to 6-8 inches apart as they grow. You can use the thinnings for salads. Lettuce must have room to grow and produce large leaves.
Leaf lettuce varieties for the south are Oak Leaf, Bronze and Ruby, Salad Bowl, Slo-Bolt, Black Seeded Simpson and Grand Rapids. I mostly grow Black-Seeded Simpson in my garden.
If you are planning a fall lettuce crop, plan ahead and buy your seeds in the spring. There may not be any local stores selling seeds in the fall.
If you are succession planting, plant a new batch every 2 weeks or so, until it becomes too hot, and the seeds don’t germinate.
Fertilize with slow-release nitrogen about 3 weeks after planting.
Companion plant with chives or garlic to deter aphids. For extra flavor, plant with dill or cilantro.
Harvest after 45-55 days. You can harvest the plant all at once if you are succession planting, or you can just cut the outer leaves off, leaving the inner leaves to continue growing. Harvest lettuce in the morning, before the heat of the day causes the leaves to wilt.
You can plant lettuce in the fall also. Begin planting 8 weeks before the first frost, and every two weeks after. One month before the first frost, begin sowing cold-hardy varieties to harvest into the winter.
Using these tips, you can have fresh garden lettuce almost throughout the year!