I love eating my own lettuce.

Nothing beats the texture and flavour especially when you have it straight from the garden to the plate.  But have you ever wondered how the market gardeners have such a splendid supply all season long?

Well it is not as easy as you might think.  This month it was suggested to me by a gentleman in Okeover that I give info on how to grow a fantastic crop all season long. So I put together a few notes, and with a little organization, you’ll be doing it just like the pros.

Lettuce is a fairly easy crop to grow. But the secret to producing great greens is by manipulating the growing conditions and sowing new seed all season long.

Lettuce is sensitive to two main conditions: Heat and moisture.  Too much heat and not enough moisture and the leaves will begin to toughen and taste bitter.  Lettuce prefers cool conditions of around 10-15 degrees, which can be difficult to achieve in the middle of summer.  In summer this can be achieved by planting in a cooler shady location or by installing shade cloth over them.

Lettuce germinates easily. Place the seed on soil surface and cover with a millimetre or so of soil.  Water them, and in five days or so you will see the new plants popping up. I like to sow in my seed in seeding plug trays with one seed in every plug.  That way I know exactly how many plants I will have and also it makes transplanting a breeze.

Timing of sowing is the most critical.  In order to have a continuous supply you must sow seed every 2-3 weeks. This is easier said than done with our busy lives, but nothing a bit of will and organization can’t accomplish.

I find it best to set aside a day a week when I plan to get all my successive seeding done. That way when the day rolls around you can ask yourself do I need to sow anything this week?

It also is important to note that varieties selection plays a huge role in quality throughout the growing season. The market is teeming with different types of lettuces and varieties, and each are suited to a particular growing condition.  Have a look at the seed pack description and choose one that best suits your current growing conditions.  Some varieties will grow best in a cool spring; others are bred for growing in hotter conditions.

Also it is important to note that because you would be sowing and planting so often growing lettuce continually requires significant real estate in the garden. If you don’t have the space in the garden that can accommodate multiple plantings then maybe you’re better off just growing it on a more seasonal basis. Or you can try growing them in pots.  Due to their shallow roots, lettuce plants grow quite well in pots. Furthermore, you can easily manipulate the growing conditions.

It is best to harvest in the morning when the leaves are coolest. Wash your lettuce in cold water then dry them out using a salad spinner or other means. I have used an old mesh bag on a string that I whip around until the lettuce is dry. Wet salad greens never seem to last very long in storage. You can store it in the refrigerator up to a week.

By Jonathan van Wiltenburg | jonathanvw@yahoo.com

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