Growing Lettuce - advice on how to grow Lettuce
Lettuces can be grown in a wide number of areas in the garden, in containers, the vegetable patch or raised beds.
Today there are lettuces of many sizes, colours, flavours, textures exhibiting various growth requirements.
Dig some manure or organic compost into the soil a few weeks before sowing / transplanting your lettuce seedlings. This will help water retention in the soil.
Lettuces can be stared off indoors in seed trays and allowed to develop for about a month before transplanting out. Starting off seedlings indoors can mean early spring crops. Likewise if you sow your seeds outside but under a polytunnel or cloche you can sow your seeds four weeks earlier than normal.
Sow your seeds in a drill about 1cm deep and about 4cm apart.
Sow / transplant your lettuces in batches so that you have a constant harvestable supply throughout the growing season.
If you are having problems with getting your seed to germinate you can refridgerate them for a few days before sowing. This makes the seeds think it is the end of winter and time for germination.
If transplanting seedlings then plant them out when their leaves reach 2.5cm in length.
Lettuces grow best in cool, moist conditions. Lettuces like a position that features light shade and should not be positioned so that they are in the full blast of the midday sun as this will lead to bolting which results in a poorer crop.
Lettuces thrive in a well drained, moist soil that has been organically enriched with organic compost or manure. Although moist the soil should not be waterlogged.
If you have an overly heavy soil then you can add organic compost/manure or grow a cover crop.
Lettuces like a slightly acidic soil with a PH of around 6.0 to 6.5
A mulch can be applied to the soil to help soil water retention and also help to prevent weeds. An alternative to an organic mulch is black plastic with holes cut in to let the lettuce through. The plastic won't provide the soil with nutrients as the organic mulch would.
Lettuces should be watered regularly to ensure the soil does not dry out. If the soil drys out then bolting will occur which results in a more bitter flavour. Water at the plants base rather than over the leaves as watering the leaves can promote disease.
Lettuces should be harvested before they begin to turn bitter and flower. They are past their prime after flowering and will be bitter in taste.
Criphead lettuces should be harvested when the centre of the plant is firm.
If you harvest in the morning the lettuce will have a higher sugar content than if harvested in the afternoon.
Harvest the whole plant when harvesting hearted varieties but non hearted varieties can be harvested a leaf at a time.
If harvesting the whole plant then cut the lettuce just above the soil line with a sharp knife.
If only removing a few leaves then remove the outside leaves first and leave the younger inner leaves to develop further.
The main types of lettuce are crisphead, leaf (loose-leaf), romaine (cos) and butterhead. Crispheads will bolt when hot temperatures are experienced and also have a longer growing period so they are the hardest type to grow. Romaine or cos lettuces form tightly packed heads which are cylindrical in shape. They tend to be the sweetest and have paler inner leaves. Leaf lettuces have the quickest growing season.
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