Can I grow Cutting Looseleaf Lettuce?
Looseleaf lettuce is one of the easiest vegetable garden plants to grow. Lettuce can be grown very successfully in fall and spring during cooler temperatures. It can also be successfully grown in summer, with more attention given to shading, watering and harvesting; warm temperatures will increase the "bolting," or seed stalks that form. A packet of looseleaf lettuce will have 500 seeds on average in each packet; this quantity will give you ample seeds for multiple plantings. Most gardeners will sow looseleaf lettuce every 7-10 days, which will provide a fresh harvest over a long period of time. If short term weather makes the plant bolt, this also ensures there are back-up crops already in production.
What is the best method to grow: Direct sown from seed or from seed-started transplants?
Looseleaf lettuce grows equally well from either method. The reason some gardeners choose to grow from seed-started transplants is because they want to have a more reliable crop. Since transplants establish themselves very quickly, the harvesting will begin within a short period of time after planting. If growing transplants, seed can be sown in an open flat container or a seed-starting cell tray. The objective is to have a well-developed root system that will quickly become established in your garden.
Some gardeners only direct sow because they don't have the time to start transplants and are satisfied with a smaller lettuce population in their garden. They compensate by planting multiple crops (every 7-10 days).
Regardless of what method you select, your reward will be a fresh harvest of lettuce that you know was grown in a safe and healthy environment.
How to Grow/Growing Tips
Fertilizer is best applied as a pre-plant at a rate of 3 lbs. per 100 sq. ft. An ideal ratio of fertilizer would be 1-2-2 formulation (5-10-10). Maintain a pH level between 5.7 and 6.5, and add lime to your garden to provide much needed calcium that keeps the lettuce healthy. If you direct sow in rows, make a shallow indentation in your garden, and shake the seeds from the packet into a row of approximately 20 seeds per foot. Lettuce grows exceptionally well in double rows that are spaced 12" apart. When the seed germinates, carefully thin the row to leave seedlings at a spacing of 4" apart. The thinned seedlings are delightfully tasty.
Preparing the garden to be free of weeds is very important; you do not want the seedlings to be competing against germinating weeds. Keep the area on each side of the germinating seedling lightly cultivated so to not disrupt the roots of the lettuce. If you grow from transplants, ideal spacing is 1 lettuce transplant every 6" in the row. Lettuce responds favorably to light, but frequent watering, or overwatering, can cause leaf rot. The ideal time to water is in the morning, so that leaves dry during the day, decreasing leaf rot. Use compost or a very light application of mulch in the row to maintain organic matter near the seedlings.
Harvesting Tips & Storage
Harvesting will begin as early as 45 days from transplants and 55 days from direct sown. Looseleaf lettuce can be removed from the plant using garden shears or scissors, and leaves are ready for cutting when they are soft or just beginning to get crisp. Older leaves will be bitter; younger leaves have a more delicate flavor.
Harvest fresh leaves moments before you prepare your recipe, or lettuce leaves store exceptionally in a refrigerator when wrapped in plastic or placed into a plastic storage bag or bowl. Properly stored, lettuce will keep for up to 2 weeks. To extend your harvest, cut the leaves even if you don't need the lettuce, the cutting allows new younger leaves to form.
Want to know more?
Looseleaf lettuce is very high in vitamin A, which is converted from beta-carotene. The darker and richer the leaves, the more beta-carotene. Foods that contain vitamin A are antioxidants, which help reduce the risk of some forms of cancer. Lettuce has other dietary supplements such as carbohydrates, fiber, iron and protein. One cup of looseleaf lettuce contains less than 10 calories per serving. Lettuces are great fall extended crops when grown under a tunnel or in a cold frame.