Many gardeners in the southern 1/2 of the USA will soon be able to plant lettuce in their gardens. The rest of us should consider starting our lettuce seedling pots.
Lettuce is a cool weather vegetable that thrives when the average daily temperature is between 60 and 70°F. Plant in early spring or late summer. Some types and varieties of lettuce withstand heat better than others.
Leaf lettuce, the most widely adapted of all the Lettuce types, produces crisp leaves loosely arranged on the stalk. Romaine types form a upright, elongated head. Butterhead varieties are generally small, loose heading types that have tender, soft leaves with a delicate sweet flavor.
With so many loose leaf and head varieties your most difficult decision is which varieties to plant.
To extend your growing season, first plant the more cold tolerant lettuce varieties in the cool early spring months, then sow the heat tolerant varieties in late spring to spread out your lettuce harvest as long as possible. Stage plant lettuce, planting pots and beds every 7 to 10 days.
Lettuce benefits from a rich well drained soil.
Fertilize lettuce with a nigh nitrogen based fertilizer, something like 10-5-5.
My lettuce seed didn’t germinate! Lettuce seed require exposure to sun light to germinate. Sprinkle seeds on top of the soil, and lightly cover or scratch them into the bed just below the surface of the soil. It is helpful to cover pots and beds with clear plastic to prevent your soil from drying out before your lettuce seed germinate.
Hint For best performance, Lettuce must be kept moist, Not Wet, throughout its growing season.
As lettuce seedlings mature, they need to be thinned. When they are 2 or 3 inches tall, gently pull out the largest plants. Or better yet cut at ground level. Use these seedlings in your salad, being small and tender they are a wonderful addition to your salads. Leave 4 to 8 inches between the remaining plants so they have room to grow into mature plants.
In my opinion, Crisphead varieties like iceberg commonly sold at supermarkets are tasteless, worthless and a waste of time and space to grow.
Some Recommended Varieties
Black-seeded Simpson (earliest to harvest)
Grand Rapids (frilly edges; good for coldframes, greenhouse, garden)
Oak Leaf (resistant to tipburn; good for hot weather)
Red Fire (ruffles with red edge – slow to bolt)
Red Sails (slowest bolting red leaf lettuce)
Ruby (darkest red of all – resistant to tipburn)
Cimmaron (unique, dark red leaf)
Green Towers (early – dark green, large leaves)
Paris Island (long – standing)
Northern Climates can plant lettuce in both spring and late summer. Southern climates lettuce planting is best done in late Summer or early Fall. Two or more successive plantings at 7 to 10 day intervals provide a continuous supply of lettuce.
Harvesting and Storage
Leaf lettuce may be cut whenever it is large enough to use. Cutting every other plant at ground level gives the remaining plants more space. Leaf lettuce reaches maximum size (6 to 12 ounces) in 50 to 60 days. Butterhead varieties form small, loose heads that weigh 4 to 8 ounces at harvest (60 to 70 days).
To store lettuce, wash, drip dry and place in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Lettuce keeps best at 32°F and high (96%) humidity.
(Bolting) Formation of seed stalks is caused by warm temperatures. If seed stalks begin to form, harvest your lettuce immediately and store it in the refrigerator.
In overly warm/hot weather Lettuce may become bitter. Harvest wash and store the leaves in the refrigerator for a day or two. Much of the bitterness will disappear.
Nutrition Facts (One cup raw leaf lettuce, chopped)
Dietary Fiber 1.3
Protein 1 gram
Carbohydrates 1.34 grams
Vitamin A 1456 IU
Vitamin C 13.44
Potassium 162.4 mg
Don’t ruin the flavor of your garden fresh lettuce covering it with a large amount of strong flavored/tasting supermarket dressings. Try one of these light flavored vinaigrette style dressings.
Red and Yellow Pepper Vinaigrette
1 small yellow bell pepper, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
1 small red bell pepper, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons warm water
pinch of sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
In a medium bowl, whisk together all ingredients until combined well. This vinaigrette will keep, tightly covered, in the refrigerator for 3 days. Recipe may be doubled. Makes one cup.
1/4 cup fresh orange juice (juice of one small orange)
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 teaspoon coarse Kosher salt (1/4 teaspoon table salt)
Freshly ground black pepper
Combine the juices and salt and pepper. Slowly whisk in oils until incorporated. A blender or food processor may also be used. Pour into a glass jar and seal. Serve over your favorite salad greens. The vinaigrette will keep, tightly covered, for a week in the refrigerator. To warm cold vinaigrette, place jar in a bowl of hot tap water for a few minutes.
Mustard Chive Vinaigrette
1 tablespoon grainy Dijon-style mustard
black pepper freshly ground to taste
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh chives
2 tablespoons white vinegar
1 tablespoon water
2 teaspoons honey
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons olive oil
Using a whisk or fork, in a small bowl combine all ingredients except the oil. Slowly add the oil, whisking vigorously, until the vinaigrette is emulsified. Pour over your favorite salad greens and toss. Store remaining vinaigrette in the refrigerator, in a tightly sealed glass jar, for up to one week. To warm cold vinaigrette, place jar in a small bowl of hot tap water for a few minutes. Makes 1/2 cup.
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