Today growing lettuce is a great way to provide nutritious greens for the family.
It used to be that only iceberg lettuce was available in our grocery stores.
Now there are spring lettuce mixes, Romaine, Butter crunch, loose leaf and the list goes on.
Lettuce is a hardy annual with shallow roots. Lettuce grows best in cool weather.
Early in the spring and later in the fall offers the best climate. Some lettuce varieties are slow to bolt and have a higher tolerance to heat.
Using different methods of shade can provide the cool needed for lettuce as the weather warms.
Lettuce is grouped into 4 varieties.
Loose leaf or non heading
Has the most varieties and they grow quickly. Leaf colors are red to various greens. Curly or ruffled leaves. This is popular in the back yard garden and the individual leaves can be harvested at any time. Loose leaf types grow in 28 to 60 days. Recommended varieties;
Grow small loose heads of light buttery leaves. I think butter head types have the best flavor. Butter head types grow in 55 to 75 days. Recommended varieties;
This lettuce variety grows in thick elongated leaves that are crisp and hold well after harvest. Romaine types resist heat and grow well in the fall. Grow in 65 to 70 days. Recommended varieties;
Ice Berg or Crisp Head lettuce
Crisp head lettuce is the most popular but hardest to grow for the backyard gardener. Head lettuce needs 70 to 90 days of cool weather for heads to firm up. Recommended varieties;
Lettuce likes rich soil that holds moisture yet drains well. If your soil is hard and infertile, raised beds are easy to make.
Lettuce plants have shallow roots so your soil only needs to be 6 inches deep.
This makes it easy to prepare a growing bed with rich sandy loam and compost.
Lettuce can be grown in containers and planter boxes on a deck or porch. In the summer a partly shaded flower bed can be the perfect location for an edging of leaf lettuce.
The variety of lettuce colors available can add variety to any flower bed.
Lettuce can be grown in single rows or wide rows. I like to grow lettuce in wide row across the row.
In the spring when the weather is cool the lettuce seeds can be sown directly in the beds. Lettuce seeds germinate in 6 to 8 days. Seeds sprout best in temperatures of 60 to 65 degrees F. If temperatures reach 80 degrees the lettuce seeds may not germinate.
Lettuce transplants well so I prefer to start the seeds indoors or in a cold frame. Sow your seeds in flats or cups. When the small seedlings reach 2 inches in height with about 4 leaves they are ready to move to the garden spot.
Space the small growing lettuce plants 3 to 10 inches apart depending on the variety. Read your seed packet for suggested spacing. Lettuce grows best if given room to develop. Lettuce can be planted closer if you harvest young plants and make room as they mature.
Keep your lettuce plants moist but not soggy. Too much moister will attract pest and diseases. A mulch of grass clipping or chopped straw can be places around plants when the plants are about 6 inches high to keep weeds down and the soil moist.
Lettuce can be harvested when the leaves are about 2 to 3 inches long. Cut the outer leaves for a nice spring salad. As the lettuce matures you can cut leaf varieties off at ground level. New sprouts will grow.
Harvest lettuce in the mornings when the weather is cool. Wash lettuce and spin dry. Store in plastic bags. Lettuce will keep for a couple of days if keep in the cooler.
If you plant your lettuce in three plantings you can have lettuce all summer into the fall. Plant your first in early April, then 2 months later in June and again in August.
If you provide your lettuce with shade it is possible to grow lettuce through the summer months. Some growers have found that using netting or shade clothe reduces the heat of the sun by 30 to 45 percent.
For the home gardener easier and less expensive methods work as well. I have used hoops over my rows and nylon door screen laid over the hoops and held in place with cloths pins. I leave the ends open for ventilation. The nylon door screen comes in gray to black and various widths.
The black screen offers more shade. I have use both with good results through the hot months in July. The screen lets water in so I didn’t have to remove it during watering. The nylon screen can be used year after year if put away in the winter.
Other methods include building a box and laying screens or shade cloth over the top.