We’ll walk you through everything you could possibly want to know about growing lettuce, so lean back and enjoy, because it’s about to get tasty!
WHAT IS LETTUCE
Lettuce, known as Lactuca sativa scientifically, falls under the daisy or sunflower family. There are several varieties of this family, and most of them release a whitish substance when their leaves are torn or damaged. This milky substance gave rise to its scientific name, Lactuca sativa. More often than not, lettuce is grown as a leaf vegetable; however, people make use of their stem and seeds for other purposes.
TYPES OF LETTUCE
From the name itself, this type of lettuce has a crisp lineament. The outermost part of its leaves are green in color while the innermost part appears slightly white. The leaves are watery to touch and they exhibit a mild taste when ingested. Iceberg is the most popular variety of Crisphead lettuce.
Crisphead is common in the US and this variety requires the utmost care and attention. These plants do not grow well during the hot season since it is extremely sensitive to high temperatures. They need to fully grow before summer season starts in order to achieve excellent heads. Only very few, or none at all, survive if they are struck by heat waves before they reach maturity. It is best to start growing them late summer so that they are able to mature during the cold season.
This type of lettuce is one that grows long dark green leaves that are generally crisp in texture. Unlike Crisphead, Romaine has a profound taste. It is also called cos in the British English while its name, Romaine, originated from North America. Romaine, when compared to other varieties, is able to tolerate heat and is proven to contain more nutrients than any other types of lettuce.
Butterhead lettuce, commonly known as cabbage, has leaves that are large and soft to touch. Other people say they feel some sort of buttery texture when given a second touch. Their heads are generally arranged loosely and you won’t have any problem separating it from its stem. They range from light green to purple-red and produce a sweet and mild flavor pleasing to everyone’s taste. All these characteristics of Butterhead lettuce make them a bit pricey. Two of the most popular lettuce of this variety are Boston and Bibb.
Many gardeners prefer to grow this type of lettuce because it is one of the simplest and easiest types to grow. All you have to do is simply plant, water, harvest, cook and prepare, and eat the lettuce. This type of lettuce has broad and curly leaves that range from green to red in color. Their leaves can be described as mild crisp in texture and they feature a delicate mild and sweet taste which makes them unique. Green leaf and red leaf are among the best known varieties of Looseleaf.
HOW TO GROW LETTUCE
A lot of gardeners would encourage people to grow lettuce in their homes. Why? Because growing lettuce in your home gardens beats those sold in the grocery store. Home-grown lettuce taste so much better than the alternative and is rich in Vitamin A.
Only a few varieties of crops can tolerate a cool season and fortunately, lettuce is one of them. They grow well during the spring and fall seasons to be exact. More than that, their seedlings can even keep up with light frost, when the temperature falls below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. According to experts, ideal temperature for growing lettuce is between 45 degrees and 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Also, it is best to plant lettuce in small batches due to its fast-growing characteristic. Below is a good guide to growing a healthy lettuce garden.
- The first step to planting any type of crop is to prepare your soil. Lettuce seeds grow well in a loose and well-drained soil. You may choose to add organic fertilizer to the soil ideally a week before you seed or move the growing plant to another location in order to keep it fertile. Knowing that lettuce seeds are so small, it is important to prepare a properly cultivated seedbed for the seedlings to germinate. Large clumps of soil will significantly reduce the chances of germination.
- Scatter the seeds on the ground as soon as the seedbed is ready. Plant them about 1/2 inch deep. In areas experiencing snow during the cold season, know that a little snow won’t damage the seedlings. However, gardeners must be mindful that dry cold winds will hurt the seeds.
- You may also choose to start growing your seedlings indoors. This will encourage advance crop production. You may do this for around 4 – 6 weeks just before the last spring frost ends. Make sure the seeds are hard enough and when they already are, you can now move them outside your home garden 2 weeks before and 2 weeks after the spring season comes to an end.
- A good amount of soil, about 1/4 – 1/2 inches, is enough to cover your seedlings. Also, during transplant, make sure they receive enough water to keep the soil moist.
- Chives or garlic are good barrier plants for lettuce so you may want to consider planting them in rows between your crops. This is a good idea in controlling one of the common lettuce pests called aphids.
Loosening the soil can easily be achieved by rototilling it, which easy for landscaping companies to do since they already have the machine for it. Should you desire to easily have it done by a pro, we’d be more than happy to help you get quotes for it simply by filling out the form below.
CARING FOR LETTUCE
A healthy lettuce garden should be able to give you extra seeds every two weeks during the entire growing period, assuming you plant them that frequently too. If this is not the case, then you may consider these ideas in order to increase your yield.
- On the third week after relocating your plant, feed the soil with fertilizer. Lettuce grow well in a soil that is filled with humus, compost, and has a good reservoir of nitrogen. You can even read our guide on making your own compost right here.
- Moist soil is necessary but always make sure that it is well-drained. In order to keep the soil moisturized, you may add organic mulch. This will also prevent growth of weeds, as well as keep the temperature of the soil cool during the warm seasons.
- Regularly check your crops. You will know that it’s time to water your lettuce when you see drooping leaves. When you notice this, sprinkle a good amount of water at anytime of the day. This will reduce the heat, as well as decrease the rate of transpiration.
- Handpick the weeds if needed, but make sure you do not destroy the roots of your lettuce as they are usually just a few inches deep below the ground.
- It may also be helpful to grow your lettuce just beside taller plants such as sweet corn or tomatoes, since they’re plants prone to getting damaged during the warmer months.
The good thing about lettuce is that it can be harvested at any point in time following the formation of their true leaves. However, gardeners suggest that you harvest them sooner than later because their leaves become bitter and stiff if grown for a long period of time.
One way of harvesting lettuce is by cutting the plant directly from the soil when it has fully grown. You can do this on varieties such as Crisphead and Romaine. By doing such, you are able to harvest the entire head of the lettuce. Butterhead and Looseleaf can also be harvested using this technique; however, it is advisable to gather only the outer leaves of these two plants in order to have a continuous production. For all varieties, harvest the lettuce while their leaves are crisp and moist, and you can do this best in the morning.
An indication that the plant is about to produce seeds is when you notice that its crown has elongated or extended. This means that the lettuce has gone past its prime. Tug the plant out and throw it on the compost pile. You may then plant another crop on that space or just grow another lettuce seedling if you must. Always remember that lettuce is best harvested when in full size, but just before it matures or bolts out – you always want to harvest a young and tender lettuce. Mature lettuce may already develop a pungent taste and then you may start to feel it becoming woody, and worse is that it quickly rots. For future use, you can also store the freshly harvested lettuce inside a plastic container and keep in the refrigerator for a maximum of 10 days.
BENEFITS OF LETTUCE
Lettuce is exceedingly beneficial to people. Some of the highlighted benefits include lettuce being rich in antioxidants and other vitamins such as Vitamins A, C, and K. Moreover, the benefits increase in number if you choose to eat the Romaine variety since darker varieties are proven more nutritious compared to the lighter lettuces.
1. Controls Inflammation
Lettuces, especially Romaine variety, carry with them certain proteins that have been proven and tested to relieve inflammation, as well as alleviate bone discomfort and tenderness. One specific protein found in Romaine lettuce is lipoxygenase. According to studies, vitamin K, which is abundant in lettuce, is the primary contributor in lowering inflammation. Adding at least 2-3 cups of unprocessed green leafy vegetables regularly on your meal is a good practice. Another study showed that lettuce is one of the many foods that do not, in any way, contribute to arthritis or any other pain-related diseases.
- Ideal Weight Loss Vegetable
People who desire to lose weight while still making sure their bodies get enough nutrients usually include lettuce in their diet. Lettuce has low-caloric content, yet it still replenishes the missing nutrients when someone is on a low-calorie diet.
Another good thing about lettuce in weight loss, specifically Romaine lettuce, is that for every one serving cup, it carries 1 gram of fiber and 95% of water making lettuce extremely low in energy concentration. We all know that fiber is one of the reasons why we always feel full; thus, decreasing the chances of overindulgence. Add to that, lettuce is known to hold very low fat content that makes weight loss sustenance extra purposeful.
- Boost Brain Health
Any harm to the brain, may it be mild or extreme, can somehow cause damage to the neuronal cells and worse may lead to death of these cells. This further results to serious brain conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease. With the help of lettuce, this neuronal death is being controlled. The juices or extracts you get from lettuce have been found to control neuronal cell death since these substances play a great role in glucose-serum deprivation (GSD) activities in the human brain.
According to another report, dietary nitrate has been found in lettuce which plays a significant role in endothelial function. Our bodies convert dietary nitrate into nitric oxide, a cellular molecule that excites endothelial activity. This is important because slowing down of endothelial function leads to cognitive declivity and may even contribute to other related neurological disorders.
- Improves Heart Health
Folate, a type of B-vitamin, is found in lettuce. This vitamin is essential in making our red and white blood cells, converting carbohydrates into a form of energy, and producing two of the most important molecules in our cells namely DNA and RNA. Furthermore, another very important role played by folate is the conversion of homocysteine, an amino acid found in the blood. High levels of this amino acid are connected to heart diseases at an early stage because of plaque build up. With the presence of folate, high levels of homocysteine are ablated; thus, decreasing the instances of developing heart disease.
Add to that, vitamins A and C are also present in lettuce which are two important factors in cholesterol oxidation and in the strengthening of arteries, thereby improving blood flow. Simply add two servings of lettuce in your regular diet and you’re on your way to a achieving a healthy heart.
- Fights Cancer
According to a report from one of the prestigious research organizations in the world, one way of protecting yourself against some types of cancer is by eating non-starchy vegetables such as lettuce. Based on their investigation, cancers such as those of the mouth, throat, esophagus, and down to the stomach can actually be prevented. This is so true especially in Japan where people regularly consume lettuce. One study in Japan revealed that smokers who include lettuce in their diet are at a lower risk of developing complications and may even enhance the effects of cancer treatment.
- Reduces Risk for Diabetes
Green vegetables such as lettuce are always very helpful in the human body in every single way. One very useful effects of lettuce to our bodies is its ability to help decrease the danger of developing type 2 diabetes. Lettuce has a low glycemic index which gives us the assurance that when ingested, it will not cause an increase in your blood sugar level.
Furthermore, an anti-diabetic carotenoid called lactucaxanthin is found in lettuce. This carotenoid acts as an inhibitor by preventing the activity of the two enzymes called α-amylase and α-glucosidase in blood glucose formation. When hydrolization is prevented, blood sugar levels also go down.
Just like what other experts suggests, Romaine lettuce is still the best among all the varieties as it is rich in micronutrients that may not be present in other types of lettuce. The presence of these essential micronutrients gives the Romaine lettuce its dark color.
- Promotes Good Eyesight
As far as eye health is concerned, there’s no other vegetable that can give optimum eye care better than lettuce, specifically Romaine lettuce. It contains zeaxanthin, a carotenoid that thrives inside the retina of the eye. It functions as an antioxidant that preserves eye health by filtering the high energy blue wavelengths of light. Blue wavelengths are shorter which means its energy is higher, and that energy is detrimental to the eyes.
- Improves Digestive Function
Since lettuce contains a good amount of fiber, digestion is regulated. When digestion is properly regulated, one can keep himself away from gastrointestinal problems such as constipation and bloating, as well as soothe any stomach discomfort.
- Treats Insomnia
People who often experience insomnia may consider adding lettuce to their diet. Lettuce contains a substance called lactur carium that eases brain cells and at the same time liberates hormones that induce sleep. Lactus carium is considered to be one of the best sedative agents found in vegetables. One good idea practiced by many is to grab a cup of lettuce soup before going to bed.
PESTS AND DISEASES
Lettuce is one of the few vegetables that are generally free from any pestilence and disease, yet it is still never a bad idea to be watchful. Among the possible garden pests that would feast on lettuce are cutworms and slugs. These two usually operate at night. To protect your lettuce seedlings, you may put a collar using any type of paper and put those collars around the seedlings. Though slugs are much harder to get rid off, sprinkling wood ashes on the surface of the ground may help keep them away. Also, it is important to re-apply ashes on the soil after a rainfall because they are technically carried away by the water during the rainy season.
Aside from the common pests, rotting is also a major problem by most gardeners. The rot starts on the lower part of the lettuce, specifically those parts that are in direct contact with the soil. From there, the rot climbs up until it destroys the entire plant. A very good solution proposed by gardeners is to rotate your crops. If possible, alternate your plants every year — do not grow the same crop in the same seedbed consecutively.
In general, it is wise to choose a site that has a well-drained soil, yet still conserves moisture. Add to that, the soil should be loaded with nitrogen and potassium. For you to achieve this, it could help if the soil is abundant with organic content such as compost or rotted manure.
GROWING LETTUCE FROM SEEDS
Growing lettuce is very simple and whether you start them indoors or directly on your garden, it will still yield good crops so as long as you are able to take care of the crop properly.
If you decide to start them indoors, it is suggested to use peat pots so that you can directly transplant your crop into your garden soil together with the peat pot without the fear of damaging the roots of your lettuce seedlings. You should do this before the last frost period comes.
Also, make sure they get a good amount of sunlight until they are ready for transplant. If you have a trouble providing them with enough sunlight, then you may use artificial lighting. When your garden soil is now ready, you may now transplant your seedlings. The best time to actually to the planting is during spring season.
Always remember that lettuce seeds need a good soil temperature in order to germinate. Temperatures higher than 80 degrees Fahrenheit or warmer is too hot for these seeds which means that growing lettuce seeds during summer is not a good idea at all.
HOW TO MAKE LOAM SOIL
Ideally, lettuce should be planted in loam soil. However, not all homeowners or gardeners are fortunate enough to get this type of soil, some are surrounded with sandy or clay soil. However, there is something you can do to improve the quality of your soil.
- Identify which type of soil is present in your backyard, whether it’s sandy, clay, or loam. You may do this by making a ball out of that soil. If it comes lose and won’t clench together, then the soil is sandy. If it ends up forming a compact ball that is difficult to set apart, then it’s clay. However, if you find that ball of soil able to maintain its shape, yet freely moves over your fingers when squeezed, then you have a loam soil.
- Growing cover crops is a major contributor in protecting and improving the quality of your soil before the actual planting season comes. A few months prior to planting season, make sure you have dispersed the seeds of your cover crops over the seedbeds. The best cover crops are usually legumes; however, you may also opt to mix them with cereal crops.
- Work your cover crops into your site about 6 weeks prior to planting season. Add organic materials such as manure or leaves above and below the ground parts of your chosen cover crop plants, as this will definitely improve the quality of your soil once the cover crops decay.
- Once your cover crop seedlings are already well-fixed, add organic mulch to the soil and make sure it goes around 3 inches deep. This mulch will mix with the soil by the time you need to refresh it the following year; thus, improving the texture of your soil.4
That wasn’t all that hard, was it?