Yet another reason to grow your own lettuce: the most recent e coli outbreak.
Lettuce is probably the easiest vegetable to grow and you don't have to have a lot of land or even any land at all. Here's a quick guide to growing your own.
1. Varieties: there are many! Basically, there are leaf lettuces like Salad Bowl, Red Sails, and Green Ice, and head lettuces like Romaine, Bibb, Boston, and Iceberg. Iceberg is the tight, watery lettuce you find in stores, but if you grow your own it's quite flavorful. Romaine is the easiest to grow of the head lettuces, I think, but all are fairly simple.
2. When to plant: you can plant lettuce any time of the growing season from February through October, depending on your area. We usually get our bed out in February or early March here and plant successive plantings through July,by which time I'm garden-tired. But we could continue to plant until mid-September and expect a harvest.
3. Where to plant: you don't need a garden--got an empty washtub that leaks, a plastic tote or bucket, or other container? Punch some drain holes, fill it with potting soil, and you've got a lettuce bed. Just be sure you can put your container in good sunlight for best results. We plant in a bed in the garden first, burning it off to kill weeds and warm the soil. Later plantings are in rows in the garden. I've often started a large pot of lettuce in the greenhouse, though, to get some really early salads.
4. How to plant: prepare your planter or soil, scatter the seeds and cover lightly with soil. Lightly being the key word here. Then water thoroughly and in less than a week you will probably see sprouts. Your lettuce will be ready to eat in about 6 weeks. you can pick leaves and leave the roots and the plants will continue to produce, or if you want to thin the plants, just pull them up and cut off the roots. Even head lettuce can be harvested by the leaf, leaving the plant to keep growing.
5. Things to watch out for: over-watering isn't good for lettuce and can attract slugs (snails). Very yuck to find one of those in your salad! Hot temperatures may cause some varieties to bolt (go to seed) but if you have done succession plantings you can keep a steady supply of green on the table. Lettuce can stand light freezes and frosts, so it can continue to produce late into the fall.
6. Preparation: homegrown lettuce needs to be thoroughly washed and picked over for dirt, insects, slugs, weeds, etc--especially the looseleaf varieties. To dry your lettuce, you can buy a lettuce spinner, or just keep a net bag handy (like the kind onions come in). Pack your washed lettuce in the bag, then take it outside, and swing in circles. The water will fly out!
7. Storing: nowadays you can buy special bags to store lettuce in the fridge, but my father taught me a neat trick: layer the lettuce into a plastic storage bag or container with paper towels. The lettuce stays fresh and edible for days (I've kept it over a week).
Did I miss anything? Let me know! It's so easy to grow lettuce, and you can get a LOT from a very small planting. Why risk e coli during months when you can just grow your own?