…or rather, my very easy laid back take on it.
In my opinion, lettuce is one of the easiest crops to grow. I literally toss the seeds into the garden bed, make sure they are kept moist, maybe fertilize; and then begin harvesting as soon as they are large enough to eat.
Additionally, I can get a nice crop in the spring, and then replant in the fall, so more bang for your buck! Because lettuce is so tolerant of cooler temperatures it overwinters nicely. Seeds I planted last Thanksgiving, gave us a few greens over the winter, provided us with an early season crop, and are still going.
While it may be late in the season for some, if your daytime temperatures are still within the 65 – 80(ish) degrees zone, there is still time for planting and harvest ~ even if you harvest them as sprouts or baby greens.
If you are new to gardening or gardening with greens here are a few tips to get you started:
Lettuce can be sown directly in the soil six weeks before your last hard frost date. If you want a head start, you can start transplants six weeks or so in advance and set them out. Here is more info on starting seeds indoors and here is more info on hardening them off.
If your spring season is underway and you’ve missed your opportunity for a head start, don’t panic. As mentioned above: lettuce grows fast and can be harvested early. Jump right on in and keep sowing a new crop every two weeks until the weather warms. Once temperatures begin to reach above the 80s it will begin to bolt and taste bitter.
In browsing seed catalogs you will find that there are head lettuces, different types of Romaine (aka “cos”), and leaf varieties. These are all a matter preference but I do recommend checking with your county extension office to see if there are any particular varieties recommended for your area.
Lettuce likes full sun but will also tolerate some shade. If your spring season is quick to warm up, consider planting in a protected area in order to extend the harvest a bit ~ exposure to the sun is what creates the bitter taste and tough leaves as the season progresses.
Sow at a depth of about 1/4″. Lightly cover with soil, gently tamp down, and sprinkle with water. Keep the soil moist until seedlings emerge. Don’t overthink soil depth and spacing. I’ve honestly had the best success when I didn’t try too hard. (go figure) I will typically shake the seeds, usually a combination of different varieites over the soil as if I’m salting a roast, gently rake them over with my hand cultivator, and press down. That’s it.
When the seedlings emerge and start to put out their first set of true leaves, I will give them a shot of diluted fish emulsion fertilizer. If I remember to feed them once or twice again before the end of the season I will. If not, ::shrug::.
If you want nice large, beautiful heads you will need to thin your seedlings. When they get to be about 2″, take a colander and kitchen sheers out to the garden. Cut small bunches leaving plants to grow every 4″. Eat the thinnings as a spring salad mix. As those that have been left grow larger, you may need to thin again to a space of about 12″. It all depends on the size you want.
It also depends on time. Honestly, I prefer to let my greens just grow. We eat several salads per week during the season and I like to just head out to the garden in my apron with my colander and grab whatever seems to the size and shape I want. Important thing to remember: if you aren’t going to thin, (this by the way is referred to as the cut and come again method) choose the outer leaves and let the center of the lettuce continue to grow. Cutting the leaves only, as opposed to uprooting the head also makes for cleaner leaves and easier washing before serving.
Friends of lettuce: If you are into companion planting, good companions include peas and carrots. Onions planted amongst your seedlings will help fend off pests. I currently have my garlic growing in my lettuce bed and the two are getting along great.
Speaking of pests: In my garden I have to watch out for slugs, flea beetles, and sometimes aphids. I’ve had cabbage worms devour my arugula. Fall gardens are much more prone to pests than spring when it is still cool and things are still waking up.
Do you like to grow greens? What are some of your favorite varieties?
Any tips you’d like to pass along?