Lettuce is a versatile crop that lends itself to a large variety of dishes, and as we all know, garden grown food has a superior taste to that of the grocery store variety. This guide will show you the in's and out's of growing lettuce from a seed to a healthy ingredient for your family's next meal.
Planning Your Lettuce Crop
Adding other crops to your garden can help not only your plate but the overall health of your plants. While not a particularly finicky plant, lettuce yield can be increased with proper garden planning. Planting lettuce in the shade of tall plants like tomatoes or corn can help to keep your crop from wilting and overheating.
- Since aphids are a common problem with lettuce, it may be useful to also plant barrier crops in between rows, such as chives and garlic.
- Lettuce makes a good neighbor to many other garden crops. In the summertime, strawberries are a compatible fruit to plant next to lettuce. If you plant in the cooler months, potatoes are another good option for vegetables.
- By staggering the growth of your lettuce plants and replanting every two weeks, you can easily yield constant crop throughout the planting season.
Soil Requirements and Planting Guide
Soil preparation is an absolutely essential step in a successful harvest. Most temperate climates can yield a healthy crop, but there is still a need on the gardener's part to ready the soil beforehand. The following tips should help you get the most out of your garden.
- Lettuce can survive a light frost and thin snowfall but recommended planting temperatures are between 40 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Rows should be 12-15 inches wide across for optimal growth.
- Soil needs to remain moist but well-drained due to the shallow root structure.
- Lettuce grows best in soft, loamy soil.
- Partial sun is recommended and lettuce can grow very well under the shade of taller crops.
- Additives can be helpful in enriching the soil - compost or manure works wonderfully - and soft, fluffy soil can be obtained by turning the soil.
Common Pests and Diseases
Like any crop, lettuce is susceptible to various pests and diseases.
- Aphids can be prevented by planting herbs like cloves and garlic between rows of ordinary crops as mentioned above.
- Cutworms can often be treated with natural means. A common method is to sprinkle coffee grounds or even ground egg shells on the soil around the offending plants.
- White mold is usually due to poor drainage. Soil that is too thick or plants that are too close together cause the soil to be soggy, which leads to the mold.
- Remember that lettuce needs to be picked just before maturity. While you don't want to ruin a baby crop, the leaves are best when they are young and tender.
- Lettuce grows fairly quickly and too mature leaves have a woody, bitter taste. To make sure you don't miss the perfect crop, check your garden every day.
- The day of your lettuce harvest, make sure you pick your crop before the morning sun hits the leaves. Lettuce keeps longer and tastes fresher with less sun contact the day it is picked.
- Don't pain yourself over finding the correct watering amount - your crop will tell you. While of course, a schedule is important, lettuce is obvious. When lettuce starts to wilt it is time to water again, even if that means just a few sprinkles to keep it cool.
- If you also keep poultry, trimmings can be fed to chickens or other birds as a special treat. As the lettuce grows and your crop becomes healthier, your family might enjoy these small pieces as a garnish.
- Taking care to water the roots and not the leaves can help prevent mold and yield a healthier, crisper crop.