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Growing Fresh Salad Greens in Your Vegetable Garden


Rows of Heirloom Lettuce

Rows of Heirloom Lettuce

Marie Iannotti
Lettuce crops (Lactuca sativa) have been growing in popularity over recent years and for good reason:
  • Lettuce is one of those crops whose fresh picked taste simply can't be equaled by anything you can buy at the grocers.
  • Most lettuce varieties are not yet grown commercially in any quantity .
  • Greens don't travel or store well.
  • No store could possibly stock the amount of lettuce varieties you have available to grow.
  • Greens are relatively easy to grow.
  • Greens are high in mineral, vitamin and fiber content.
  • It is cheaper to grow your own lettuce than pay premium prices for gourmet greens.

Starting Lettuce

  • Lettuce is a cool season crop and consequently is best grown in either spring or fall.
  • However, lettuce likes a temperature around 70o to germinate, so early plantings should be started as plugs.
  • Lettuce seeds need light to germinate. Just barely cover the seed with soil.
  • After a couple of weeks check to see if the roots have branched out to the sides of the plug. If so, they are hardy enough to go in the ground.
  • Don't let the seedlings get too large before placing them out.

Care & Feeding of Green Crops

  • If you have fertile soil, you shouldn't need to feed lettuce plants, unless you plant the "cut and come again" varieties all summer. This is one crop where extra nitrogen can't hurt, since all you want from the plant is leaf.
  • Well-rotted manure or compost is ideal.
  • The plants will need regular watering, as lettuce tends to have a shallow root system.
  • Don't keep the area damp or use mulch or you will be inviting slugs.
  • A lettuce crop is ideal for the intensive gardening method which is getting a lot of attention lately, because it matures rapidly, can be planted quite closely and can be planted in succession if you choose seasonal varieties.
  • Lettuce can even be grown in containers or used as a decorative border.
  • If your lettuce looks like it's about to bolt, pull it out of the ground, roots and all, and replant. This shock to its system will slow its growth. Keep well watered.

Harvesting Greens

  • For the longest harvest, direct seed or transplant every 7-10 days.
  • When direct seeding, seeds can either be broadcast and planted in wide rows or spaced 8-12" apart. Spacing is best if you want it to mature into heads.
  • If you are going for heads, be sure to harvest before the head starts to elongate. That means it's ready to bolt and the flavor will suffer.
  • And be forewarned, maturing to a head takes time and therefore makes it more difficult to grow without bolting than the loose leaf varieties.

Here's more on lettuce varieties.

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