Growing Lettuce in your Garden
Lettuce is one of the most popular vegetables in culinary arts and is used in salads and several other dishes. Hence, wouldn’t it be great if you could simply harvest one from your own garden? This will ensure the freshness of the lettuce while also saving you cost from having to buy them off the grocer.
Varieties of Lettuce
There are four basic varieties of lettuce and it is important to recognize each one of them since it requires different growing conditions. Each one is listed and described briefly below:
- Butterhead: This variety of lettuce possesses a creamy center to it. It also has a milder flavor as compared to other varieties but takes a lot more time to mature. This is the type of lettuce often used in making salads.
- Romaine: This variety comes with crunchy leaves and is characterized by its upright cluster of leaves. It takes between 70 to 85 days in order for this variety of lettuce to fully mature. Like the butterhead, this is also a popular ingredient for salads.
- Crisphead: This is another familiar variety and requires cool weather for growing. Of all varieties of lettuce, this one takes the most time to grow and requires specific conditions. You know when it’s ready if the outer leaves possess a yellowish-green color.
- Leaf Lettuce: This one requires less restriction in order to grow fully well. Unlike the romaine lettuce, this one comes with loose bunches of leaves. It is most suitable for warm weather.
Summer is the best time to grow lettuce because of the rich, humous-laden soil quality. The ideal soil condition is at pH 6.5, so you can test the soil before growing the lettuce to produce better quality lettuce. It is often grown alongside other slow-growing plants, such as broccoli or Brussel sprouts. Since lettuce thrives in moist conditions, make sure to regularly water the lettuce to moisten up the soil.
There are also different varieties of lettuce according to the season in which it is grown:
*Summer varieties – This refers to lettuce plants that are grown under hot conditions. However, make sure you choose an area for growing lettuce that is well-shaded.
*Spring lettuce – This is more challenging to grow than the summer varieties. If you are living in a mild area, make sure to sow the lettuce seeds in an area that gets an adequate amount of sunlight. Make sure to have proper drainage to the soil surrounding your lettuce plants.
A process of Sowing Seeds
An important thing to take note of when sowing lettuce seeds is to sow at the position where you intend to grow them. Avoid moving lettuce plants, when possible. You can plant these seeds at seedbeds or boxes, ideally 2.5cm above the ground.
Observe the proper distance between plants, roughly around 8-16 inches apart. This will provide enough room for each plant to grow without any disruption.
Take note of the following information to avoid harvesting lettuce immaturely:
*Expected germination time for lettuce: For hot weather conditions, it can happen around 6 to 12 days.
*Time between sowing and harvesting: It depends on the variety of lettuce you are trying to grow. For butter or crisphead lettuce, they take the longest amount of time from 8 to 14 weeks. For looseleaf varieties, it takes about 6 to 8 weeks in order to be ready for harvest.
How to Grow Lettuce from Seed
Lettuce is one of the easier crops to grow, and can easily be started from seeds. Lettuce seeds are very small therefore you have to be careful when you break open the seed package. Sometimes the outer seed packer will then have a small inner seed package, as the seeds would get lost in the larger display package that you might find in stores. Lettuce seeds can either be sown indoors or you can plants the seeds outdoors directly in the garden soil. By planting the seeds indoors you will have a head start as you can plant the seeds when it is still too cold to sow them directly in the garden outside.
If you do plant the seeds indoors then you should plant them in trays that have individual compartments, and use a soilless grow mix. You should sow a few seeds into each compartment, just in case all the seeds don’t germinate. Lettuce seeds don’t have to be placed deep under the surface, so just press the seeds slightly below the soil. Make sure you keep the soil moist, but not overly saturated. The seeds will germinate in a few days and don’t need light until they germinate. Once they do germinate you will need to provide at least 12 hours a day of light. This can be accomplished with a grow light. If you choose to use the sunlight of a window sill be warned that you must keep rotating the tray as the seedlings will angle towards the light. If you don’t rotate the plants they will grow to one side and look deformed.
After the seedlings are almost two inches tall you should thin them out and select only the strongest one per compartment. It may be wise to cut the seedlings with scissors, as pulling them out of the soil may disturb the other healthy plant. Once the weather has warmed enough and the danger of frost has passed you must harden your seedlings off before planting them in the garden. Make sure you don’t leave them out overnight right away, or they may all suffer. Start by leaving them outside for a few hours the first day, then gradually increase the time each successive day. Finally, after about a week you can then leave them out overnight, only if you are not expecting dramatically cold temperatures. After the seedlings have acclimated you can then plant them in the garden.
If you choose to plant your lettuce outdoors make sure the danger of frost has passed. While it is true that lettuce likes cooler weather, it will still die if a frost occurs at night. You can try to prevent this by putting a garden cloth over your crop if you feel the temperatures will be especially cool one night. However, this can only help by a few degrees, and can’t safeguard against a hard frost. Lettuce seeds should be planted in rows, in light soft soil. Make sure the seeds are spaced according to the seed manufacturers’ instructions, as overcrowding is a bad idea. Many people like to buy lettuce in seed tapes, as this will automatically space the small seeds according to the seed vendor’s specifications. Generally, you should leave about a foot of space between subsequent lettuce rows. As with planting the seeds indoors, if you choose to plant the seeds directly in the soil they seedlings should be thinned when they are about two inches high. Depending upon the variety of lettuce you choose to grow it will be ready anywhere from six to fifteen weeks after you sow your seeds in the ground.
Other Growing Tips for Lettuce
Additional information when caring for your lettuce plants to ensure they grow healthy:
- Moist soil is important in allowing the lettuce plant to grow fast and healthy. Therefore, make sure to water regularly. The best time for watering your lettuce plants is during the morning or midday. Watering at night can increase the risk of your plant developing diseases.
- In order for the lettuce seeds to germinate, the temperature must not exceed 80 degrees. If you are sowing during summer, make sure to employ proper shading devices on your plant bed. Or better yet, find a cool spot indoors to grow your lettuce.