How to grow: lettuce

Posted on 15 July 2013 by Rachel England

Home grown vegetables

A salad and sandwich staple, home-grown lettuce is sweeter and fresher than anything you’ll get in the supermarket, and it can be grown all year round (although be sure to protect them from frost!). There are three main types:

  • Butterhead lettuces, which are ‘open’, grow quickly and fare well in poor conditions.
  • Cos types, which grow upright in an oblong shape.
  • Crisphead types, which produce large hearts of curled and crisp leaves (such as the trusty iceberg lettuce).

They’re all easy to plant. Here’s how.

Sow the seed

  • Lettuce seeds can be sown straight into the ground, or started off in seed module trays. Whichever you choose, make sure the soil is moisture-retentive, enriched with compost, and in a sunny spot.
  • If you’re sowing straight into the ground, sow a short row every fortnight to ensure a good crop, and sow thinly 13mm (1/2 inch) deep in rows that are at least 30cm (12 inches) apart – they need room to grow!
  • If you’re using seed modules, sow one or two seeds per module and as they germinate, pull out the weaker one. They’ll be ready to plant out after about four weeks, when they’re 8-10cm tall. Do this by gently removing the plant from the module – soil and all – and placing it into a small dug hole in the ground. Then pat down the soil around it so it’s snug.

Give them some TLCStarting lettuce in seed modules

  • Water at least once a week if it’s dry or warm, but it’s enough to make sure the soil is moist. First thing in the morning is a good time for this.
  • As soon as seedlings first appear, thin out the rows so that the plants are 30cm (12 inches) apart. You can still eat the seedlings!

Harvesting

  • Lettuce tastes best when the head is quite loose. If it grows into a dense, tight ball it may become bitter, so don’t be afraid to have a sneaky sample if you’re unsure! (Most lettuce take around 2-3 months to properly mature, but each type varies – check the seed packet).
  • Harvest in the early morning, and cut them free from the ground – don’t pull!

Storing

  • Lettuce is a tricky one to keep fresh for long periods, but for a bit of effort you can make it last longer than your usual store-bought fare. Remove the leaves from the head, make sure they’re dry, and then wrap the ends of the leaves (the stalks, if you will) in damp kitchen roll. Pop  the lot into a food bag, and store in the salad drawer of the fridge. This will stop the lettuce from going brown and bitter too quickly.

Pests

  • Slugs, snails and aphids are the lettuce’s main enemy. There are several ways to deal with these blighters – check out our guide to getting rid of garden pests.
  • Grey mould can be a problem during cold, damp periods. If you see any dreaded fuzz on your lettuces, remove the infected parts immediately and make sure you bin it far away from other plants. It’s usually caused by overcrowding, so make sure your lettuce plants have plenty of space.

 

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