Want to see a great example of what makes home grown produce superior to store bought vegetables, then just try growing lettuce in your back yard garden.
Advantages of Home Grown Lettuce
Growing your own lettuce will reward you with sweet, nutritious heads of fresh lettuces that are larger and tastier than any found at your local grocer. And you won’t have to worry about any pesticide residues because it’s easy to cultivate organically grown lettuce in the home garden.
There are hundreds of lettuce varieties to choose from, but I bet you won’t find more than a dozen different varieties offered for sale at your local grocers. Lettuce is commonly divided into categories such as Butterhead, Romaine, Crisphead, and Looseleaf varieties.
Looseleaf lettuces are usually considered the easiest to grow, and are more heat tolerant than most heading varieties. You can also grow Mesclun, which is a quick growing mixture of lettuce varieties combined with other leafy greens and herbs.
Growing Lettuce in the Home Garden
Lettuce is generally a cool season crop. If forced to grow in warm weather conditions the plants will quickly send up a seed stalk and develop a bitter flavor, definitely not what the home gardener is interested in.
Plant lettuce directly in the garden as soon as the soil can be worked, or better yet start seedlings indoors to be transplanted into the garden. Some varieties can be planted thickly in late fall. The small plants will overwinter and can be thinned and transplanted the following spring, resulting in extra early harvests of delicious fresh greens.
Lettuce appreciates a rich soil that is high in nitrogen, so add plenty of compost, aged manures, or other organic fertilizer to the growing bed. Rich, healthy soil, sufficient moisture, and fast, steady growth will go a long ways towards eliminating any troubles that you may encounter when growing lettuce. Just like hot temperatures, drought conditions can cause lettuce to set seed instead of developing large succulent heads.
Lettuce is perfect for growing in raised beds rather than rows. Thin or transplant your seedlings so that they stand about ten inches apart in each direction. When mature the leaves of neighboring plants will barely overlap and the plants will cover the entire bed, blocking out weed growth in the process.
Harvesting Delicious Lettuce
Leaf lettuces can be harvested a leaf at a time, or the entire plant can be cut at soil level, allowing the plant to sprout new leaf growth. Heading varieties should be harvested by cutting the entire plant when it reaches the desired size, and they usually will not produce additional growth.
One secret to enjoying sweeter tasting lettuce is to harvest only during the early morning hours and refrigerate until ready for use. Also be sure to harvest before the heads start to form seed stalks in early summer.
Great Heirloom Lettuce Varieties
Look around and you’ll find plenty of interesting heirloom lettuce varieties for the home garden. Some of my favorites are: Pirat, Yugoslavian Red, Rouge d’Hiver, Amish Deer Tongue, Bronze Arrowhead, Merveille des Quatre Saisons, Sucrine, Australian Yellowleaf, and Forellenschuss.
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