Growing Organic Lettuce

For a delicious, easy-to-grow garden treat, lettuce can't be beat. It is a must for your organic garden: it matures quickly, has few pest or disease problems and is a beautiful addition to your vegetable patch.

Those of you who are big salad eaters and who currently buy your lettuce at the grocery store will find that you save a huge amount of grocery money and have much tastier salads too.

Lettuce comes in four main types: crisphead, romaine, butterhead and leaf. The most familiar type of lettuce to most people is crisphead, the lettuce family that Iceberg lettuce belongs to. Crisphead lettuces are very finicky about growing conditions and aren't the best choice for you to grow in your home garden, unless you live in the desert areas of California and Arizona where most of the USA's lettuce supply is grown. With some planning and care, crispy, sweet Romaine, soft, colorful Butterhead and frilly, mild leaf lettuces will all thrive in organic gardens just about anywhere in this country.

Five lettuce varieties sure to be a hit in your organic vegetable garden

  • Parris Island Romaine: A big, sweet green lettuce that can be grown in cool or warm weather.

  • Red Sails: A mild, compact red-leaf lettuce that is slow to bolt and unlikely to become bitter.

  • Deer Tongue Bibb (Butterhead): Excellent for baby salad production

  • Winter Density: A tall romaine/bibb-cross lettuce that is tolerant to frost.

  • Galactic: A bright-red lettuce that is beautiful in salad mix.

Lettuce is a great vegetable to grow during the spring and fall months as well as during the summer if you live in a cool area of the country. You can grow it in winter in warmer areas or if you have a greenhouse or cold frame. The simplest way to grow lettuce is by choosing a variety that has a flavor and a look that you like and is suited to the weather conditions that it is likely to encounter. For example, some varieties of lettuce are very tolerant of warm weather and others aren't, so choose accordingly. It is fun to grow several varieties that strike your fancy. This will help your garden and your salads to be more healthful and colorful.

Once you've decided which lettuces to grow and you have a garden spot or container ready for them, you can seed them directly into their new home. To grow head lettuce, seeds should be planted about 1/8'' deep and at a rate of about 4 seeds per foot in rows 12" to 18'' apart. If you crave baby lettuce, you can seed your lettuce in a block or a band at about 15 seeds per square foot. After seeding, keep your soil moist and you will see your lettuces sprout in about 3 days.

Lettuce grows quickly and will be ready to harvest as baby lettuce about 28 days after seeding. Head lettuces should take 45 to 60 days to mature, depending on the variety you are growing. Baby salad mix is harvested by giving the lettuce a haircut--cutting leaves off above the soil surface. Leave enough leaf that the plants can grow back if you want a second harvest from the same plants. Head lettuce is harvested by cutting the head off just above the soil surface.

Your lettuce should be relatively trouble-free to grow. While lettuces are prone to a few fungal diseases, such as damping off, bottom rot and downy mildew, these problems are relatively uncommon. If they do occur, it's likely to be during a time of cool, damp weather.

A few insect pests find lettuce to be a tasty treat. These are aphids, army worms, cabbage worms and loopers and slugs. These pests can be controlled with organic methods: ladybugs will eat aphids, the worms (actually caterpillars) can be treated with Bt and slugs can be trapped.

Lettuces are one of the wonderful vegetables that can go right from your garden to your plate with minimum preparation time. Five minutes after harvesting it, you can be enjoying your very own organic lettuce mix.

Give lettuce a try. It will be much tastier than any lettuce that you have ever bought in the grocery store. Lettuce is fun to grow, beautiful to look at and is sure to be a hit on your dinner table.

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