We all know that eating more fruit and vegetables is good for us but does the cost of produce give you sticker shock at the supermarket or grocery store? One way to meet the goal of eating healthier while minimizing the impact on your wallet is to grow your own produce. Lettuce is one of the most commonly used vegetables whose price can fluctuate due to weather conditions in other areas of the country. Fortunately, it is also one of the easiest vegetables to grow and it doesn’t take up too much space in your garden either.
There are different varieties of lettuce but they generally can be grouped into 4 categories:
- Iceberg Lettuce-Perhaps the most well-known type of lettuce; its leaves form a tight ball also called a head. Plants should be spaced 10 to 12 inches apart.
- Butterhead/Bibb Lettuce-This lettuce also forms heads but they are looser and smaller in size. It is generally the most heat tolerant type of lettuce. Plants should be spaced 6 to 8 inches apart.
- Romaine Lettuce-Grows in an upright position with long, loose leaves. This is the most nutritious category of lettuce and the most shade tolerant. Plants should be spaced 6 to 8 inches apart.
- Leaf/Looseleaf Lettuce-These form no heads but generally grow the fastest; usually they can be harvested within 45 to 50 days of germination. Plants should be spaced 4 to 6 inches apart.
Lettuce is best grown in USDA zones 4 through 9 as it is a cool weather vegetable and too much heat will damage its leaves and negatively impact its flavor. It does prefer full sun but will also tolerate light shade and actually appreciate that shade if you live in a hotter garden zone. You can grow lettuce from seeds or you can purchase seedlings to plant. If you are planting lettuce in the spring you can plant the seed about 1 to 2 weeks before your last frost date. To ensure a continuous crop you can continue to plant more seed every 2 weeks for the next 4 to 6 weeks. It is also possible to plant lettuce in late August or early September for a fall crop but if the soil is too warm the seed won’t sprout. You’ll want to probably keep the plants shaded, mulched and well-watered until the heat of summer is behind you
Lettuce prefers a rich soil which drains well and during dry periods you will need to regularly water the plants to keep them productive. If you are growing your lettuce from seed you will need to thin out the seedlings so that you leave the proper amount of space between the plants. Lettuce has a very shallow root structure so you want to be careful when you do this. Sometimes it is easier to just cut the seedlings at ground level with a scissor than trying to pull them out of the ground.
While lettuce is easy to grow it is subject to “attack” from pests that range from slugs to rabbits. If slugs are a problem in your area you can leave some beer in a shallow container, such as a thoroughly cleaned out pet food can or small yogurt container in the area of your lettuce. The beer will attract the slugs and at least they will go to their demise quite contented! Rabbits on the other hand can be a real nuisance. They may be cute but boy are they destructive! There are repellants on the market that are available but I don’t recommend you use them around plants that you are going to consume. It is better to provide the plant with some physical protection such as a chicken wire cage. If you have suggestions on how you keep rabbits from eating your lettuce please share them on our Facebook page!