5 shortcuts to growing delicious, leafy green lettuce
Lettuce is a great crop to grow all year round, whether you’ve got a big backyard or just a windowsill to dedicate to your veggie garden.
As a crop, lettuce is awesome because it’s constantly productive. It allows you to harvest all through the year, producing leafy greens for your meals no matter the season.
There are some great ‘cut and come again’ varieties out there – these are typically your loose-leaf lettuces. However, my favourite variety to grow has to be cos. Why do I love cos lettuce so much? Because you can harvest a few leaves at a time – and it’s got a superb, crunchy quality.
Growing a leafy green like cos makes it easy for us all to add something home grown to meals every day.
When you start to look into it, there’s a wide range of lettuces available for growing at home. Literally, there are hundreds of different types, most of which belong to the daisy family. Familiar varieties such as cos, oak leaf, butterhead, Boston and iceberg fit into this category.
Being Italian, some other lettuce varieties I love to grow include rocket, radicchio, endive and chicory, as well as mizuna (or mustard leaves). Growing some of these as part of your leafy green crop will not only bring different flavours to your plate, but colours and textures, too.
As I mentioned before, one of the great qualities of lettuces is that you can grow them all year round. Try to avoid planting them in really hot weather though, as it they’ll tend to bolt to seed. Also keep lettuces consistently well-watered. Being inconsistent with your watering is another of those triggers that encourages lettuces to go to seed. If under-watered, the leaves will also become bitter to taste.
So, opt for a good, consistent watering routine and your crop will be more abundant.
As a rule, lettuces are best propagated from seeds planted in seedling trays prior to being transplanted into the veggie patch. Stagger your planting so you’ll have a reliable, constant harvest.
If you have a small space, rather than propagating your own seedlings, I suggest visiting your local nursery to purchase a punnet or two every month. You can grow these in a raised garden bed or in a container on your windowsill and pick from them when you need to.
Here are five shortcuts for growing lettuces that will help you bring delicious, leafy greens to your table throughout the year:
1. Watch out for pests
When planting out your seedlings, watch out for snails and slugs; they love tender young lettuce leaves. To stop them, make up some copper tape collars and position them in a circle around the seedlings. These collars work as a defense mechanism, warding off pests like snails and slugs by issuing a small electric shock on contact. It’s a good trick to keep your crop from disappearing overnight.
2. Mulch your lettuce crop
Once established, you can mulch around your lettuce crops with some pea straw or sugar cane mulch to help keep the moisture in the soil for the plants.
3. Harvest the smart way
The great news with lettuces is that they’re simple to grow and quick to produce edible results. You should be able to begin harvesting within four to six weeks after sowing. Do so by treating plants as a ‘cut and come again’ crop, cutting the leaves you need directly from the plant using plant scissors, or selecting a few leaves here and there across the whole crop. Picking regularly encourages lettuces to stay bushy and keep producing.
4. Pick & eat flowers
Another useful tip is to remove flower buds from your plants as soon as they appear. Otherwise the plants may bolt to seed. The young white flowers can be eaten as well and look good as a decorative addition to your salads.
5. Try different lettuces
Why not try growing a few different varieties of lettuces? This will add colour, contrast and flavor to your meals. It’s easy to find punnets of mixed lettuces from your local nursery, which makes this approach achievable for gardeners with small spaces, too.