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GROWING LETTUCE AT HOME

GROWING LETTUCE AT HOME

Before I started growing our home grown food, I spent a fortune on organically grown salad ingredients. It wasn't just the lettuce that cost so much. There were the tomatoes, herbs, specialty greens, radish, cucumbers, and more that went into making my lush salads healthy, beautiful, and satisfying.

When I finally did start growing, at first, it was hard to produce all the ingredients required for a salad at the same time. My radishes and lettuce heads would be ready before everything else. Then they'd bolt before I had a tomato ready to even pick.

How Long Does It Take Lettuce Seedlings to Sprout?

If you're only starting out, lettuce is a great choice and vegetable to practice your green thumb skills and it’s also an easy way to add wonderful flavour to your meals as nothing tastes as good or as satisfying as home grown and fresh picked lettuce.

Since lettuce is a fast growing vegetable, it’s easy to start from seed as they also rapidly-germinate with not much effort and within a few weeks. Lettuce is also great for container-gardening as well as in-ground planting. An added bonus is that they look very ornamental in large terracotta pots. The goal is just to begin Including lettuce in your garden, and watch your family's enthusiasm for salads increase as you bring this versatile vegetable to harvest. If all the right conditions are present — sunny, mild days, cool nights, sufficient water and good soil fertility — lettuce can go from seed to salad bowl in about under 2 months. Most full-head varieties take 45 to 60 days to reach maturity.

Germination

In good growing conditions, lettuce seed will germinate within 7 to 12 days, depending on variety. Loose-head varieties may sprout more quickly than heading types, but all seeds need similar soil, moisture and light conditions to support germination. Growers vary in their estimate of the percentage of lettuce seeds that will germinate per packet, but you can expect 75 to 80 percent of seeds packed for the current growing season to sprout. Rates decline each year, and a packet of lettuce seeds is usually viable for three years so make sure your continue planting all year round if your climate and weather permits.

Soil Temperature

Lettuce (Lactuca sativa) is an annual vegetable with many varieties able to be grown all year round, but if you’re from colder climates than the Lettuce is defiantly a spring grower. Lettuce requires soil temperatures between 15 and 30 degrees Celsius for seed germination (germination rates decline markedly above 30 degrees) and seeds are best planted outdoors two weeks after your local climates last frost date. If you are uncertain about soil temperature, many garden centers and nurseries carry inexpensive thermometers to take guesswork out of planting.

Soil Quality

Lettuce grows best in neutral to slightly acidic soil, as do many other garden vegetables. Because lettuce seeds are small and fragile, the most important feature of planting soil is texture. Raking and screening soil before you plant lettuce ensures successful sprouting of these delicate seeds (one way to get around this is by making sure your soil is high in composted organic material). One to two inches of fine soil in the bottom of your lettuce furrow and a 1/4-inch to cover your seeds create prime sprouting conditions or just cover your seeds with vermiculite. If your soil is heavy clay or drains poorly, dig in well composted organic matter, coco peat or sand to improve drainage before planting. If you're planning on starting your lettuce seed indoors, standard potting soil or seed raising potting mixtures have the texture that let seeds sprout and root in your seedling containers.

Moisture

Soil for sprouting lettuce seeds needs constant and consistent moisture. With good drainage, soil will remain moist rather than wet. Regular watering will keep the top of the soil from crusting, which can become too hard for seed sprouts to penetrate. A fast grower, lettuce will absorb a lot of water, but standing water can rot seeds. Do not let the soil dry out, but avoid keeping the surface soil constantly wet. In hot weather or dry conditions, lettuce may require watering every day. Keep growing beds weed free; cultivate shallowly to avoid disturbing lettuce roots.

Light

Lettuce seed needs light to germinate and grow successfully. If you start seeds inside, you will need a sunny window that receives direct light or a grow-light. It's preferable to grow lettuce in full sun when the growing season is cool. In very warm to hot growing regions, grow lettuce in partial shade–between taller crops or trees. Lettuce requires a minimum of 4 hours of sun each day.

Planting

Lettuce can be planted in the garden as early as 4 weeks before the last expected frost in spring. For a continuous supply, plant lettuce every couple of weeks until about 4 weeks before the average daytime temperature exceeds 28 degrees or the lettuce will just go to flower (after that plant lettuce in the shade). Begin sowing lettuce again towards the end of the growing season, about 8 weeks before the first expected frost in autumn. If you’re lucky and don’t experience frost in your microclimate than you will be planting and growing these gems all year round. Lucky You! More than any other crop, lettuce works best with succession planting because it turns bitter as it matures, especially in warm weather.

Sprouting Stages

When lettuce and many other seeds sprout, the first foliage is a pair of small rounded leaves called cotyledon leaves, or seed-leaves. Cotyledon leaves are the plant's first food-source and enable the growth of roots and real leaves, but they sustain the plant for only a week to 10 days. Seeds started indoors will need to grow for between four and six weeks to sprout enough leaves to sustain plants in the garden.

Harvesting

One of the keys to having tender lettuce is rapid growth, which is why spring-grown lettuce tastes so good. An exciting thing about lettuce harvest time is that it can be a repeat performance. Pick lettuce on a cut-and-come-again basis; pick the outside leaves as soon as they are big enough to eat. You can harvest loose-leaf varieties twice — and sometimes three times — before the quality of the leaves declines. For heading lettuce–crisphead and Romaine varieties–cut heads as soon as they are solid and firm.

Note: The greatest menace to lettuce is neither slugs nor veggie-hungry aliens, but the heat. When temperatures exceed 30 degrees, lettuce seeds don’t germinate well and mature plants tend to bolt (meaning they stop producing leaves and go to seed). Regular watering, using shade cloths or tall, shade-making companion plants, and planting heat-tolerant varieties can help, but extreme heat over time ultimately takes a toll on lettuce’s flavour and texture.

4th Dec 2018 Gisele Zanier

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