Growing Luscious Lettuce

Continued from the previous page, but here's a quick synopsis. You can grow lettuce that's tastier and fresher (and cheaper) than what's available at the supermarket. Lettuce likes the North Coast and it's as easy to grow as grass. Toss a few pinches of loose-leaf lettuce seeds into some healthy soil in a sunny spot and stand back. It's a quick crop that you harvest with a pair of scissors. Read on!

When the plants are six or eight inches high get out the scissors and cut yourself a salad. Some people harvest only the outer leaves, but it's easiest to just grab the top of the plant and slice off everything an inch or two above the lowest leaves, just like cutting the grass. Everything grows back and you can do this several times until the leaves start to taste a little bitter, then the plant's all done.

Here are the two requirements for doing it right: (1) start another batch every three weeks and (2) when it gets warm switch to a summer type of leaf lettuce and grow it in a shadier spot. Notice how we made some of those words in the last sentence bold? Starting a new crop regularly is crucial to the taste of the lettuce. Young lettuce is much preferred, and you'll have all you'll need. We have a confession to make - we don't follow our own instructions very well, we usually start a few seeds every other weekend. But then, we're spoiled...

Lettuce seedlings ready for the garden.That picture on the left? Around Christmas these seeds were broadcast over a square nursery flat and kept indoors to speed germination (an alternative to this flat would be to use separate pots and put a few seeds into each). A plastic cover kept the humidity high. It was removed when the seeds sprouted and the flat was placed in a cool, sunny spot. The flat closest to the camera should have been planted a week ago. The one in the back is a perfect candidate for planting today.

We've taken the scissors to an overgrown flat like this and eaten the results. The plants don't mind and it makes them a little bushier when planted out.

We can't stress enough how important it is to start harvesting the plants when they are small and tender. The last thing you want in growing lettuce is a huge, old plant - like giant zucchinis, they're only suitable for the chickens or the compost pile.

Clumps of lettuce seedlings in the garden.The flat was sliced, like a cake, into roughly four-inch squares which were then planted into this bed. There may be as many as a dozen plants in each square. Planting them this densely requires a fertile soil. Three or four cups of organic fertilizer and a cup of blood meal would be just about right here, mixed well into the top three or four inches. These are ten by four foot raised beds, just piles of soil and compost, about eight inches high in the middle, ideal for wet-weather gardening.

The reason the seeds weren't placed directly into the bed was because it was late winter, the soil was wet and cold, the germination would have taken weeks and the slugs would have had a great meal. But if we had seeded, we would have placed a pinch of seeds at each of these locations.

Normally we would plant only half this bed now and the other half next month, but we were feeding another family at the time. There's another flat of lettuce seedlings in the background, ready for planting into another bed.

The batch in this last picture was planted about two weeks ago and is ready to be selectively harvested for the next couple of months. Got the scissors?

NEXT: Lettuce in the summer