How to grow lettuce
Growing lettuce lets you experience variety and flavors you could never get from the store. It also gives you the convenience of walking out to your yard to grab a meal. And best of all, you cut down on a ton of plastic waste by growing your own food.
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Lettuce grows in the fall and spring. It’s a cool-season crop. Plant lettuce in the spring about two weeks before your average last frost date and again in the fall about 6 weeks before your average first frost date. To find your frost dates, click here.
Lettuce should be planted ¼ inch deep or less. Broadcast seeds across your growing area and sprinkle a light dusting of soil on top. Carefully water without displacing the soil so you don’t wash all the tiny seeds out. The seeds are very small. When gardening with kids, it can be helpful to mix lettuce seeds in a sugar shaker with sand and allow kids to shake seeds onto the ground.
Lettuce seeds will germinate in 7-10 days if kept moist. Once plants have their true leaves or second set of leaves, thin plants to about 4-6 inches apart. You can eat the lettuce sprouts you pull up in a salad or just as you pull them, removing any dirt from the roots. Lettuce sprouts are fresh and delicious as are other kinds of microgreens.
Once the plants are about 6 inches tall, you can mulch well around them with straw or other mulching materials. This will help keep moisture in the soil and keep weeds from germinating as well. Continue to keep lettuce weeded and watered about one inch per week until it’s ready to harvest.
Lettuce can tolerate a light frost but not heat. Once the temperatures get too warm for lettuce and other cool-season crops, they will bolt. Bolting means they stop growing and start making flowers. They send up a shoot and put all the energy from the plant into the shoot. It will first flower, and then create seed heads. Once lettuce starts working on this reproduction process, it will no longer taste tender and sweet but will become bitter. At this point, you can pull the plants and plant another crop, or you can let them go to seed and collect dried seeds for next season. The flowers are great for pollinators too.
You can grow lettuce of so many varieties. We can talk about some of the most popular varieties here.
Growing romaine lettuce
Romaine and other head type lettuces are easy and fun to grow. Romaine grows upright, with crunchy, sweet leaves that fold over one another to form a head. When you grow lettuce like Romaine or other types, it’s a good idea to interplant other crops that deter pests. Onions and carrots are great companion plants for lettuce as they repel slugs and other lettuce pests. Another way to keep the slugs at bay with by using diatomaceous earth on your plants regularly.
Romaine lettuce likes well-fertilized soil, so mix some good compost into the soil before you plant and use a fish emulsion fertilizer every few weeks as you grow lettuce. Most romaine lettuce is ready in 65-70 days.
How to harvest romaine
When you grow lettuce such as romaine, you can harvest it at any stage. For head lettuces, you can either pull the entire plant or cut the head of lettuce off the plant with a knife about an inch above the soil and grow lettuce again off the same plant. Lettuce is a cut and come again crop. I love things that will grow again and again once I plant them.
Butter lettuce is a term used for a variety of loose heads of lettuce that are crisp and crunchy while being soft and tough at the same time. These butter lettuces hold up well to dressing and are delightfully sweet and pleasing to eat. The crumpled leaves of the beautiful heads of lettuce make a gorgeous display in the garden and on your plate. They are the number one reason I grow lettuce.
Boston Bibb lettuce
Another variety of butter lettuce is the Boston Bibb. It’s prized lettuce among foodies for its beauty, softness, and sweet flavor.
Loose-leaf lettuces don’t produce tight heads and come in a gorgeous variety of shapes and colors. There are reds, pinks, purples, yellows, greens, browns, and whiteish verities of loose-leaf lettuce. They make a gorgeous color palette for your plate. They grow just like head lettuce and can be cut and will continue to grow as well. It’s the simplest way to grow lettuce as the plants grow quickly and aren’t finicky.
Mesclun lettuce is a mix of lettuce seeds with a variety of colors, shapes, and flavors. It means mix or mixture. Mesclun is harvested young and makes wonderful tasty salads. Once the leaves are 4-6 inches long, snip them off with scissors and enjoy your salad. Then wait for some more to grow and do it again. One of the best reasons to grow lettuce.
Growing lettuce in containers
Lettuce is a great choice to grow in containers. It doesn’t require much room to grow and doesn’t need a super deep container. Start with a 12-inch pot or larger and you can grow several heads of lettuce each spring and fall.
How to cut a head of lettuce
A super-easy way to cut up a head of lettuce is to wash it well and spin it dry. Then lay it on its side. Run the knife through it from the core to the ends of the leaves on top of the cutting board. Then turn it and do the same thing about an inch from there, then again until you have reached your original cut. Once you have cut it lengthwise, then cut the ends off and work your way down the stalk as closely as you can to the last cut, almost trying to make shredded lettuce. It’s so fluffy, it won’t be that small when you finish, but you’ll have nice bite-sized pieces.
Learning to grow lettuce has been a fun experience for me and my kids. We have grown probably 100 pounds of lettuce over the years and the daycare families love to take it home and enjoy it for dinner. I hope you try to grow lettuce and see all kinds of beautiful and fun varieties growing in your garden.
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