Monday, May 04, 2015

Lettuce Planting for Dummies

This is one of a series of posts to get you in the mood to garden. Short of serving your guests stuffed rhubarb leaves with a castor bean stew, growing your own food is easy and fun and not too hard if you don't over think it.

So many cute lettuces to choose from these days. 
There have been spring showers galore in Seattle, but we’re now in a pretty stable weather pattern of the slow and long Spring.  We’re likely to get more rain, but the ground has warmed up sufficiently to start planting all of the things we’ve been buying at the grocery store and letting disintegrate in our produce crispers.

I’m talking to you lettuce.

Lettuce is one of the easiest things in the world to grow and honestly, is one of the most satisfying to harvest.  There is nothing more gratifying (smugger) than serving a salad that you picked yourself from your back garden beds. There are a million varieties out there for the small garden and ones that are way more interesting than the run of the mill iceberg, romaine or loose leaf we see at the grocery store. Lettuce requires a little warmth, not a lot of space and minimal soil prep.

If you have about a two by three foot area, you can grow lettuce from now until mid July.  First, prep the soil by removing all the overgrown weeds and tags from last year’s plantings.  With a trowel, loosen the soil to about 3 inches and to lightly aerate it.  Next smooth it out again and let it settle for a few hours if you have the time.   If you don’t have such a big area, scale down what I’m about to tell you. If you don’t have a bed prepped – go buy a 2 cubic yard bag of planting mix and use that bag as your new raised bed.

If you have purchased some lettuce seedlings at the grocery store or nursery, good on you.  Starts are a great way to get your garden going. Just make sure to separate out each plant if they are planted in a mass by teasing them gently from each other and plant them into individual holes. I try and space them about six inches apart on a grid if possible so that they have a little room to grow and can crowd out any weeds. Try to be careful not to destroy the root structure when you pull them apart and make sure that the roots and the base of the lettuce plant are covered with soil. 

We've resorted to growing lettuce in gutters around here. It works, mostly.

At the same time you should sow some seeds to keep that lettuce train going into the summer.  I usually plant one or two short rows nearby the grid of lettuce seedlings.  Lettuce seeds are pretty narrow and long, so I create a ½” furrow to drop in the seeds and then cover them over gently with some soil to keep the seeds from being exposed.  Under the right conditions, the seeds should germinate within 10 days.  From these rows you can directly thin your lettuces by either transplanting some of the seedlings to another place or put them into a salad. 

Baby lettuces are great mixed with other things  such as baby kale and herbs

About ten days later, I do another sowing, either in rows or I broadcast the seeds (lazy gardeners FTW) in a small (1x1 ft) square to use a nursery area.  These seedlings can go into the spaces where we’ve harvested the first seedlings we bought to encourage us to keep going.  The trick is to keep sowing to stagger the harvest.  There is only so much lettuce that one family can eat in a day.

As the season continues, you might find that your lettuce has bolted and turned bitter.  This is the time to pull most of it up and calls for a lettuce holiday.  In this case, I encourage you to let a few heads go to seed because they are both pretty and the seeds germinate the following season giving you a new crop of free seedlings and start eating all those beans and chard that has taken off.

You can start the lettuce train again in early September when things cool down a little bit, the days are getting shorter, but if you pick a lettuce variety with a short harvest time, you’ll be golden.

Here are a few of my favorites –

1 comment:

Elaine said...

You are inspiring me! I just need the construction crew to clear out - they have a magnetic pull to anything delicate ;).