I am amazed by how beautiful my garden is this year, and I haven’t even really done much to it yet. My thyme and oregano are healthy and green; my green onions are long and lean; and my lettuce is blooming. I am quite a novice when it comes to growing food, so I am excited to see things actually continue to grow despite the winter’s snow and very little digging in the dirt early this spring.
When I was choosing which vegetables and herbs to plant, I thought about what I enjoy eating – especially in the warmer months – as well as what seemed easy for a beginner to grow. Enter – lettuce! There are numerous varieties of lettuce to grow. They are super productive, have few pests to manage; and they grow in vegetable gardens, containers, even in flowerbeds. This was an easy choice for my super garden.
Selecting Seeds and Planting
First, you need to select the type of lettuce you want to eat and then plant the seeds or plants. To obtain a greater variety of lettuces for your garden, seeds are more economical. If you plant enough varieties, you can have lettuce almost year-round, as there are heartier varieties for colder weather as well as more delicate ones for the warmer months. Plant the seed varieties more tolerant of colder weather during late winter or early spring (2-3 weeks before the last expected frost). After the last frost, you can start sowing the more heat tolerant lettuce seeds, and they will most likely carry you through summer. There are leaf as well as semi-heading types available. I started with a variety of seeds: butter lettuce and mesclun mixture. I like the sweetness of the Boston butter lettuce and the combination of mellow and bitter bite from the mesclun mix.
Lettuce seeds germinate best in cool soil and love light. Plant in a location that receives direct sunlight for a minimum of four to six hours. Sprinkle seeds on top of the soil, and lightly cover or scratch them into the bed just below the surface of the soil. Lettuce requires rich, well drained soil and must be kept moist throughout its growing season. Water in the morning to avoid diseases that flourish in the heat of the day as well as to prevent the lettuce from drying out and becoming thirsty. When the seedlings grow to about 2-3 inches tall, gently pull out the largest plants, leaving about 6-8 inches between the remaining plants so there is ample space for them to mature and grow fully.
You should probably expect to start harvesting leaf varieties of lettuce within 45 days of planting seeds; semi-heading varieties, around 50-60 days. Pick the outside leaves first. This will ensure the plant’s continuing to grow and mature for several cycles. You also can cut the lettuce plant 2 inches from the base.
Be careful not to let your lettuce get too tall, as then it has a more bitter flavor and starts to bloom. This may be a good indicator to start planting your summer season vegetables and flowers. After cutting it, wash and soak the lettuce in a cool water bath for 5 minutes. Drain, dry, and store in storage bags or reusable containers in your refrigerator, or enjoy right away in a fresh salad. Play. Combine mixes to find a flavor and texture you enjoy; try crispier lettuce with smoother, buttery varieties.
Other Growing Notes: Lettuce can be grown in containers outdoors as well as inside. Try planting seeds along with early herbs and greens like cilantro and arugula in a container on your front porch, deck or window sill. Be sure to talk to gardeners or seek help from gardening centers in your area: they may have more tips for the climate and soil in your region.
Lettuce is so fresh, beautiful, and easy to grow. For me, it marks the beginning of playing in my yard and garden and reconnecting with nature. I love the taste of the first leaves of spring, so tender and sweet – and right at my fingertips. It feels amazing to know I can grow food with just a little effort, and my family and I can enjoy it; and my soul feels good, too.
If you have any gardening tips, please share!
Some Types of Lettuce
Cold Weather Lettuce
Arctic King (green, semi-heading)
Brune d’hiver (green, semi-heading)
Rouge d’hiver (red, romaine-type)
Buttercrunch (green, semi-heading)
Four Seasons (red and green, semi-heading)
Lolla Rossa (red, leaf lettuce)
Royal Oakleaf (green, leaf lettuce)
Heat Tolerant Lettuce
Black Seeded Simpson (green, leaf lettuce)
Craquerelle Du Midi (green, romaine type)
Red Riding Hood (red, semi-heading)
Two Star (green, leaf lettuce)