At the start of every new year my thoughts turn towards healthy eating. Not just because I over indulged over the holiday period. Coffee and Mince Pie anyone? Now’s the time of year to start growing healthy food for your garden and kitchen. If you haven’t grown your own food before one of the best plants to start with is Lettuce, mainly because it’s quick and very easy to grow.
Did you know that commercially produced lettuce is sprayed with insecticides, pesticides and herbicides about 10 times before it’s ready for sale? Honestly… that’s enough to put you off your salad!
Growing fresh delicious organic lettuce is easy. You need good soil, plenty of water and temperatures between 10 °C and 20 °C. In most UK gardens those conditions are usually present between February/March and October/November depending on where you live.
It’s generally safe to sow Lettuce outside from February onwards here in the North West of England.
To get a head start I like to sow the seed in modules in my unheated greenhouse and allow the seedlings to develop and grow on in there. It only takes a few weeks for the young lettuce plants to produce several leaves and a healthy root system. You don’t need a greenhouse though. It’s easy to start them off in a cool light place in the house then move them to a frost free place outdoors such as a cold frame or sheltered patio to grow on.
Slugs and snails love tender young lettuce so sowing indoors prevents them devouring your juicy salad leaves before you have a chance to enjoy them. We don’t use slug pellets. I’m wary of any chemicals that kill living things. Some companies claim that their slug pellets are safe for use around children and pets but I’d rather not take that chance. Our hedgehog and bird populations are declining rapidly so something is killing them. I’d hate to think I’d added to their decline by scattering chemicals around.
When to plant lettuce.
When the Lettuce roots are well established and plants are healthy and vigorous with about five or six leaves they are ready for planting outside. Their leaves are very soft at this stage and this is when they are most vulnerable to slug attack so I try to be extra vigilant. I’d rather let our wild birds and hedgehogs eat our slugs but when it comes to Lettuce seedlings I’m less relaxed. Every day I search around the plants removing tiny slugs. I just pop them in a plant pot and walk them down the lane to a hedgerow or field.
The traditional way to grow lettuce is in rows in a dedicated vegetable or salad bed. A huge space is not necessary as they will grow in most situations. I often plant Lettuce in my herb bed because I love the way they look with the chives and golden oregano. Lettuce will happily grow in containers too such as a patio pot or a window box.
There are lots of different types of Lettuce to grow from seed. I like Salad Bowl pictured here. As you can see there are two types, one with red and the other with green leaves. With loose leaved lettuce like these you can either cut the whole plant or just pick a few young leaves for a sandwich – the lettuce will soon produce more leaves. I like to mix them with spicy leaves such as Rocket, Mustard and Mizuna. There’s no need to sow masses. Just a few plants of each will give you lovely fresh salad in just 6 to 8 weeks time.
The trick with Lettuce is to sow little and often so as soon as my first batch is ready to pick I’ll sow some more.
Are you growing Lettuce and Salad leaves or Herbs this year?
Which is your favourite? I’d love to know because I’ll be adding some of the best to the seed shop.