Would you believe me if I told you that in a month from now you could be eating a salad with lettuce that you grew yourself? What if I told you that you would never have to buy lettuce again from the super market if you just follow a simple planting strategy that I'll teach you?
Too good to be true? Nah, believe me!
Growing lettuce is probably one of the easiest vegetables for beginner gardeners to grow. Because I want you to give this a try so badly, I'm going to spend this week on the blog laying it all out for you, step by step.
Before we get down to the how-to of starting seeds, there are 5 important factors you should consider when you choose to grow your own lettuce.
1. Sun Most lettuces require 6+ hours of sunlight per day. But that rule can be fudged in the summer time, when sunlight is more intense and temperatures are warmer. During the hot summer months, some lettuce varieties can be grown in dappled shade or tucked under taller summer vegetables like tomatoes or peppers, or on the north side of a trellised cucumber.
2. Soil Lettuce prefers loamy soil. Loam is just a fancy word for a soil that is the perfect mix of sand, silt, and clay soil particles. I'm sorry to say that very few of us have that type of soil and have to work toward amending our soils over the years to get closer to the elusive "loam" type. Thankfully, most soils can be improved with a healthy layer of compost that is either left on top of the soil to be worked in by insects and microbes or it can be worked into the top 6 inches of your native soil. I talked at length about mulching with compost last week on the blog.
3. Water Lettuces are a thirsty crop requiring steady and consistent water to remain healthy. Make sure that you have easy access to a water source wherever you plant your lettuce. In my raised beds I have 1/4" drip tube with in-line emitters every 6 inches that works well for me. Other gardeners I know use micro sprayers in their drip line to great effect, or you can hand water. Plan on watering every couple of days if planting in the ground or raised beds. But during the summer you should water every day depending on your climate. Here in Western Nevada County, we typically get zero rainfall from June thru October, so supplemental watering is essential for kitchen gardens and lettuce especially. If planting in containers, plan on watering once a day in the spring and twice a day in the heat of summer and early fall since containers dry out much more quickly.
4. Location & Accessibility Most of the time when I'm putting together a salad I need to quickly run out to the garden to pick what I need. I prioritized my kitchen garden location by siting it as close to my kitchen door as I could. I always encourage my clients to do the same. Try to make it as easy as possible to access your lettuce patch so that you are more likely to use it! Convenience is key here.
WARNING: Please do not site your lettuce patch within 24" of any pressure treated wood or the foundation of your home. Old homes have the potential to have lead seep into the soil from old lead paint. And pressure treated wood seeps arsenic into the soil nearby.
5. Fertilizing Lettuces want to be fed lightly every other week. This is especially important if you choose to grow your lettuce in containers since they don't have access to native soil for vital nutrients. All their nutrients come from the soil in the container, which will be used by the plant or leeched out during watering. At planting or seed sowing time put down a fresh layer of compost, then add a slow release organic fertilizer on top. I'm partial to Espoma Biotone Starter Fertilizer or Down To Earth's Bio-Live Fertlizer, but if you can also choose an organic fertilizer labeled "for tomatoes and vegetables" from your local garden center that will work perfectly. Organic fertilizers are great because they are made of ingredients that soil microbes slowly break down and make available to plants. Just be sure to follow the application instructions on the fertilizer bag or box. Take your hand or a trowel and mix the compost and fertilizer into the top couple inches of soil. Then, smooth your planting area nice and flat to make a nice canvas for planting your starts or seeds.
While the lettuce is growing in the Spring and cooler Fall months, lettuce benefits from a foliar feed, which simply means, watering the leaves of the plants with a liquid-type fertilizer. But in the hot days of summer, foliar feeding can burn the tender leaves, so do your best to aim your fertilizer toward the roots only and keep the leaves dry.
My preferred method for liquid feeding is a half-strength dose application with liquid kelp & fish emulsion with a watering can.
However, if you have raccoons around or dogs that might be attracted to the scent of the fish emulsion, using only liquid kelp is best. If you have access to compost tea, that is another excellent way to feed your lettuce crop, but I find that it is as not as convenient to access than the fish emulsion or liquid kelp.
I hope this inspires you to start thinking of where you can grow your own lettuce! Check in the rest of this week to learn more about how to grow your own. I'd love to help answer your questions and cheer you on, so leave a comment here or tag me on Instagram @revivalgardenco. In the meantime, happy gardening!