Sustainable Connecticut: Spring Lettuce
From seed to salad, everything you need to know to grow your own lettuce
Varieties Lollo Rosso, Curly Oakleaf, Red Sails, Buttercrunch, Red Riding Hood, Salad Bowl, Sangria and Rosalita are just a few of the lettuce varieties available to the home gardener. One catalog from a New England seed company lists more than 50 different varieties of lettuce, including ones especially suitable for spring, summer and fall planting, as well as others for cutting and for greenhouse production. These varieties fall into four general types: looseleaf, butterhead, crisphead and romaine. Depending on the type, they produce a crop between six and 10 weeks, but all of them can be eaten sooner as you thin the small plants or harvest the outer leaves for a salad.
Calendar Lettuce prefers cool weather; the heat and dryness of summer cause it the most stress. Lettuce can be planted outside now, or started inside or in a cold frame for transplanting outside. Plant this weekend, and you’ll be eating thinnings by the end of April and harvesting mature lettuce by the end of May. If you plant some seeds every two to three weeks, you will have a continuous supply of lettuce until October. A loose, fertile soil with plenty of compost and a near neutral pH will grow delicious lettuce. It is a very beautiful plant, especially the red-leaf varieties.
Location The warmer the weather, the more important the moisture-holding capacity of the soil becomes. Consider planting a few seedlings in sunny spots among your foundation plantings or in your perennial garden. A little shade, especially in the middle of the day, helps lettuce in the summer.
sage advice Keeping a record book is one of the most useful habits the beginning gardener can practice. The number of variables in the garden is enormous. Each kind of vegetable has several, or many, varieties. There are numerous places to buy seeds and a wide range of planting times. Soil fertility, drainage and sunlight can vary in different beds or parts of the garden. Cultural practices and growing methods vary also, and the weather is different each year. Without records, you may not remember which type of lettuce tasted so good and was so prolific, or which didn’t have much flavor. You may find that your lettuce didn’t flourish, and then discover in your records that you planted it at the end of June, which is too late.
bring it home Although so many varieties of lettuce can be grown here easily for six to eight months a year, and greenhouses produce lettuce commercially year-round, most of the lettuce eaten in Connecticut is the iceberg variety grown in the deserts of California and Arizona on huge corporate farms. Iceberg lettuce is over 95 percent water (the highest percentage of any lettuce variety) and is the lowest in vitamin and mineral content. Plant some lettuce soon. Buttercrunch and Red Salad Bowl are delicious varieties that are easy to grow. If you can’t plant lettuce this spring, find gardeners or farmers who can, and support local food production by buying their produce.