Saturday, May 8, 2010

Lettuce 101

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?


Angela said...

Hey Granny Sue!

I have bought some long flower pots made in the USA of course, dirt and lettuce seeds to plant my own. I just haven't done it yet. I need to do that today and your post was very helpful to me! We have planted lettuce in the garden but I hate trying to figure out what's lettuce and what's a weed. Then I found bugs on it and that was the end of that! I'm hoping that if I plant it in containers that I won't have that problem. I'm sure a bug could still sneak in there but at least I won't be eating weeds! And by planting it at my house I won't have to worry about eating germ ridden lettuce from the store!

Have a Great Weekend!

Mary said...

How do you keep critters from eating it up? The squirrels have eaten house plants down to the roots . . .

Holly Hall said...

I planted three heirloom varieties, and my first batch is almost ready for harvest. I can't wait!

Nance said...

I have 3 varities planted in a little patch that are soon to become salad! Thanks for this entry tho, as I learned more about it!

Granny Sue said...

Holly, I've never heard of heirloom lettuce--live and learn! What varieties did you plant?

Critters--Mary, if they're a real problem, you can cover with chicken wire, although we have never had a problem with any critter except slugs bothering our lettuce. Rabbits prefer peas and cabbage, and deer have too many other things to choose from I guess/ The only time deer bother it is when I add it to the fall cover crops.

TheresaandJay said...

I planted it in containers on my porch. That worked pretty well, at least I remembered to pick it and use it before it went to seed!

Janet, said...

We usually plant lettuce and a lot of it goes to waste. We plant too much. I might plant some in a container this year. We finally planted our potatoes and tomatoes yesterday. Just in time before the rain starts this week.

Twisted Fencepost said...

Okay, you've convinced me. Now I must find some seeds.
I once grew leaf lettuce a long time ago and it was bitter. So I didn't try again.
But you have convinced me to try again.

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