Lettuce is so common it is easily taken for granted. Grow some to gain a whole new appreciation for this leafy staple.
Garden salads fall in and out of fashion as people value them for their ability to fill us up while limiting calories, or eventually become bored by them.
In recent years, the salad has become popular but without the lettuce. In place of lettuce, people are choosing kale, mustard greens, swiss chard or some other leafy substitute.
Lettuce grown organically in the home garden is significantly more flavorful and nutritious than the store bought stuff. It is a cool-season crop that grows fast and does well in containers and raised-beds.
There are a lot of leafy plants out there that can take the place of lettuce in a garden salad or on a sandwich, yet with all of the alternatives out there lettuce has remained as the base for most salads, or the go-to for some extra crunch in a sandwich.
Lettuce has a wide natural range, from the Meditteranean to Siberia and has been cultivated since 2860 BC in Egypt. Before refrigeration and modern packaging, lettuce had a very short lifespan after picking.
That meant it had to be sold very close to where it was picked, but lettuce perservered as a crop because it was so easy to grow that this was possible. It will tolerate a wide range of growing conditions.
How to Grow Lettuce
Lettuce is a cool-season crop and matures very quickly. You can sow it in early fall and it will be ready to harvest in under two months. It's a good idea to succession plant lettuce, starting from when the weather first cools.
Lettuce likes loose, rich soil with good drainage. Nitrogen rich soil will help the leaves grow large and deep in color. Lettuce doesn't need to form deep roots, so a regular, light watering that just keeps the soil damp is best.
Lettuce grows fast. Some varieties will be ready in as little as 30 days, but most take 6-8 weeks. If you are growing a "cut and come again" variety, just take what you need and the plant will replenish itself.
A typical "head" style lettuce is normally harvested all at once. These should be succession planted so you have a constant supply. You can also just take parts of it and it will regenerate somewhat. You will probably also see some browning if you do this, but it has worked for me since my family doesn't eat a lot of a lettuce.
To harvest an entire bundle of lettuce, it's best to leave the roots in place. Use a clean, sharp knife and cut it off at the base. This way you won't damage the roots of other vegetables and the roots will die back on their own and provide nutrition to surrounding vegetables.