Growing Lettuce in the Northwest
Lettuce is a staple in the majority of vegetable gardens for several reasons. It’s easy and fun to grow lettuce, it requires minimal care, transplants well, and ends up on the dinner plate almost every single night. It’s the third most consumed vegetable in the United States (aside from tomatoes and potatoes). After comparing organic home grown lettuce to varieties you would find at the grocery store, you will soon learn that there really is no comparison. Follow the steps below and you should be growing lettuce in no time at all.
Lettuce prefers cooler weather and is usually amongst one of the first vegetables to be planted in the garden, usually in early March, or during the end of the season in late August. During a mild winter, it can be planted as early as February, especially if you have a greenhouse or cold frame. If you decide to plant during the heat of summer, try to select a spot that is shaded. You can even plant it between or behind taller plants, like broccoli or corn, anything that will give it some shade. The rule of thumb, summer heat will either make your lettuce bolt or cause it to taste bitter.
Mix in a good amount of compost or rotted manure before planting, we even add a bit of 5-5-5 organic fertilizer while we’re at it. Lettuce seeds are quite small making it easy to sow way too many, as well as sowing them too deep. 1/4″ deep is all you need, just barely marking a line in your soil. We’ve had great luck by pressing a long stick into the soil to make a 1/4″ depression, laying down the seed, then covering them with another layer of fine soil.
It’s okay if you plant too many (it always happens anyway), you can thin out the weaker ones after they germinate. However, if you would like to save yourself some work, a proven technique is to mix the seeds with fine soil, then sprinkle the soil/lettuce mixture down your rows.
Until your seedlings germinate, be careful with your water pressure. You don’t want to wash your tiny seedlings away. If you’re using a watering wand, choose a mild setting, or better yet, use soaker hoses. Soaker hoses will deliver water to the seeds without the force and pressure of a wand.
Since lettuce doesn’t keep for more than a week or two in the fridge, we usually sow seeds every 3 weeks for a constant supply of fresh greens.
Caring For Lettuce
The key to growing lettuce is watering and keeping it cool. Lettuce has a relatively shallow root system and can dry up before you know it, especially during warm weather or dry spells. As it goes with a lot of vegetables, you want to keep the soil evenly moist, not soaked, just evenly moist. Again, soaker hoses are one of the most environmentally/economically friendly ways to keep your lettuce happy, as it delivers water directly to the root system. Watering your lettuce during the morning works best, though some people may not have the time. If you are only able to water after work, during the evening works just as well, though it has been known to invite predators (slugs and snails). Regardless, try not to water during the middle of the day. Not only will your water evaporate during the mid-day heat, tiny water droplets can actually magnify the sun’s rays and burn your plants.
As you’re growing your lettuce you may want to side-dress with compost after the 3rd week or give them another shot of 5-5-5 organic fertilizer, gently mixed into the soil. We have noticed that an extra shot of nutrients during the growing stage yields bigger and healthier plants. If you’ve spent time planting your lettuce and caring for your lettuce, it might be worth it to add a little bit of food.
The moment you’ve been waiting for! With most types of leaf lettuce, you can harvest the outer leaves and the plant will continue to re-sprout and grow.
Once a central stem starts forming, your lettuce is starting to go to seed (also called bolting) and will begin to taste bitter. Time to replant! If you lettuce starts to bolt, let it go. You will be able to collect it’s seed!
Aphids, Flea Beatles, Cutworms, Thrips, Slugs, Snails, Rabbits, Deer
Damping-off disease, Downy Mildew, Leaf Spot
Lettuce grows well with strawberries, cucumbers, carrots and radishes.
Lettuce does not grow well with too much heat!
Butterhead, Romaine, Bibb, Summer Crisp, Slowbolt
Tips For Growing Lettuce
Plant a mesclun mix for a great variety. That will save you from buying 15 different seed packets!