Perhaps one of the easiest foods to grow, once
you know their cultivation needs (see the growing section).
Here in southern New Mexico the home gardener can have fresh
lettuce every month of the year with some knowledge of which
varieties to plant and how to germinate them. In the winter
I grow them in covered and uncovered beds and under shade
in the summer. Commercial lettuce is grown here in two seasonal
crops, as shown in my Lettuce
Multimedia - best with broadband).
Lettuce was grown by the Egyptians and Romans
and dates back to 6,500 years ago. Romaine is a derivitive
from Roman and the name Cos from the Isle of Kos in Greece.
So its been around a long time, traveled the world and is
loved by many.
There is a huge variety
of lettuce types available to home and market gardeners.
All fall into one of four categories.
the largest group with many herilooms still available. They
form a loose open head with leaves that can be picked at any
time. Most of the four season lettuces are looseleafs.
often called Boston or Bibb lettuce form a loose head of buttery
form tight heads of light green leaves (except for the little
known Red Iceberg variety) The common Iceberg lettuce found
in supermarkets is a crisphead variety.
Romaine or Cos
- form large loose heads of upright leaves. The leaf texture
is firmer than other lettuces and makes great "wraps"
and baked lettuce dishes as well as Caesar salads. There are
some delightful red romaines that look great in the garden
and taste great in
How many varieties are
there? Well, don't know; but Seed Savers Exchange members
offer 354 open pollinated and heriloom varieties in the 2004
catalogue. Ought to be enough to get you started with a back
yard salad adventure. There is nothing more delicious and
nutritious than fresh organic salads from your own garden.
it, you'll like it!
Most lettuce is easy to grow in the kitchen
garden, if you stay away from the commercial varieties that
have been developed for chemical/mechanical agriculture. Iceberg
lettuce in particular is difficult to grow organically, which
is no big loss. For many years the head lettuces were preferred
while many of the delicious Romains, Cos and loose leaf varieties
went ignored by the major seed companies - but fortunately
not by seed collectors and gardeners.
Lettuce is a cool season crop that is sensitive
to hot temperatures and long days - which make most varieties
bolt prematurely and get bitter. The seeds need light and
temperatures under 80 degrees to germinate - they also need
to be dormant for a while before they will sprout. Seventy-five
degrees is an optimum germination temperature. During hot
months I germinate it indoors in front of an air conditioner
to keep soil temperatures below 80 degrees and get rapid germination.
Keep the seeds exposed to light and evenly moist. To break
their dormancy period, refrigerate the seeds for 5 days before
During the times of year when afternoon soil
temperatures remain under 80 degrees I will broadcast a mixture
of lettuces along with other greens, radishes and carrots.
I have planted them in broccoli beds, in the shade of peas
as companions and tried sowing them in rows between leeks.
If you harvest them as young greens they can fill many spaces
in between more slowly growing plants. I always let some plants
go to seed so that I have a seed supply and lettuce growing
as weeds in the garden.
Young lettuce plants will take a hard freeze
without damage, and the mature plants of some cold hardy varieties
will take freezing also. I cover my mature lettuce beds on
winter nights that dip below 32 degrees.