Growing Lettuce and Leafy Crops
Probably the easiest and most rewarding of crops, fast-growing lettuce can be grown in the smallest of spaces, including containers, and will provide you with fresh salads all summer and even into the winter months.
How to Grow
Lettuce needs a bright spot, shaded from midday sun, and grows best at temperatures of 50–68 degrees F. It also prefers moist, free-draining soil, improved with well-rotted organic matter. For an early-summer harvest, sow hardy types outdoors in the late winter. Tender varieties can also be sown under cover in the winter and early spring, 1/2-inch deep in modules to be planted outside when the frost has passed. For summer crops, sow outdoors once temperatures rise to above 41 degrees F. Lettuce should be thinned or planted 6–12 inches apart, but this depends on the variety, so always check the packet.
Keep plants well watered, especially during dry spells to help prevent bolting, and weed them often to reduce competition. Loose-leaf varieties can be harvested leaf by leaf as soon as they are large enough; harvest traditional hearting varieties as soon as a small heart develops, cutting them cleanly through their stems with a sharp knife. To prevent disease, clear away all plant debris after picking.
Types of Lettuce to Try
These various varieties of lettuce will provide you with a health mix of crisp greens:
- Loose-leaf: Try ‘Cocarde’, ‘Delicato’, ‘Fristina’, ‘Granada’, ‘Green Salad Bowl’, ‘Lollo Bionda’, ‘Lollo Rossa’, ‘Red Salad Bowl’, ‘Rossa a Foglia Riccia da Tavolo’ and ‘Verde a Foglia Riccia’
- Butter: Try ‘All The Year Round’, ‘Buttercrunch’, ‘Cassandra’, ‘Clarion’, ‘Marvel of Four Seasons’, ‘Mottistone’ and ‘Tom Thumb’
- Romaine: Try ‘Chartwell’, ‘Dazzle’, ‘Freckles’, ‘Frisco’, ‘Little Gem’, ‘Little Gem Pearl’, ‘Lobjoits Green Cos’, ‘Nymans’, ‘Pandero’, ‘Parris Island’, ‘Pinokkio’, ‘Tintin’ and ‘Winter Gem’
- Head: Try ‘Challenge’, ‘Frisee’, ‘Great Lakes’, ‘Iceberg’, ‘Mini Green Improved’, ‘Radicchio’, ‘Red Iceberg’, ‘Saladin’, ‘Webbs Wonderful’ and ‘Winter Density’
In addition to lettuce varieties, quick-maturing leaf crops are perfect for growing as a fresh and plentiful crop. Just one sowing will provide you with tasty leaves for several weeks. Like, lettuce, cut-and-come-again greens thrive in small areas, making them an ideal way to grow salad if you have limited space.
How to Grow
As the name suggests, cut-and-come-again crops are sown, harvested young, left to grow back, then cropped again. Leafy crops are best suited to this approach, and you can buy seed mixes for different tastes and uses. Sow seeds as you would lettuces indoors in early spring in pots, or outside in pots or into well-drained, fertile soil, once the temperature has risen above 41 degrees F. After two to three weeks leaves should be ready to pick. To harvest, either pick the larger leaves individually, leaving the smaller ones to grow, or cut back the whole plant with scissors. The latter approach is quicker, although the plants are slower to recover. Once they have regrown, however, plants can be harvested again in the same way. Plants will regrow a number of times, but for the strongest crop, resow a fresh batch every three weeks for a succession.
Keep the plants well watered at all times, and feed crops in containers every two weeks. Clear plant debris after picking to avoid diseases, and keep plants well weeded.