By: Jannie Vaught
It is an annual plant in the Daisy family Asteraceae. Grown for its leaves and sometimes seeds and stems. According to the USDA, Americans eat about 33 pounds each per year. For many years iceberg was the favorite at the dinner table, but has declined in favor of Romain and Green leaf and now Mixed greens. And what are mixed greens that you purchase or grow and are sold in big clear plastic containers? If you read the label they are a mixture of baby leaf greens and some lettuce.
I prefer to grow them in the garden and not purchase the plastic container. Heres a few nutritional facts on lettuce. The darker green the leaf the more nutrition. The 4 most common types of lettuce are the green leaf, romaine, butterhead, and iceberg. A 1/2cup serving has about 13 to 17 calories and about 1 gram of protein. All have about 1 gram of fiber except Romain which has 2 grams of fiber. All are good sources of vitamin A and K and Romain has more A due to its darker green leaf. The lighter the leaf color the less nutrient dense. Iceberg is the less nutrient dense due to the lighter leaf color. It has grown in a tighter head and the inner leaves do not get as much sunlight. But if your looking for flavor and crunch Iceberg is what you want.
Let’s go to the growing part. I sow direct seed in the spring when the soils have warmed to 60 degrees. In a prepared row or in a large square garden bed “Carefully” place the seeds with about 1/4 inch spacing so you won’t have to thin and disrupt the tiny plants. Use your hand and gently pat them into the soil with just a sprinkle of soil over the top. They need good soil contact to germinate, but just a light pat. Use a soft watering can or a breaker that makes a mist on your hose and dampen. Now let them grow and keep them moist they are mostly water so make sure they get water. I feed lightly with Johns Recipe and have a monthly or every 6-week feeding cycle for most of my garden. Except for my tomatoes which I use Tomato Tone. When the lettuce gets to a reasonable size trim the leaves from the bottom up, taking the outer leaves and leaving the center for continued growth. If it threatens to make a main stem and flower or “Bolt” simply trim the center stem out. By this time it may be getting bitter. I replant and let at least 5 plants go to flower for seed renewal.
Remember we have a long growing season and you can replant harvest and often replant especially if you have partial shade or mottled light and it isn’t too horribly hot. For this gardener when I harvest that first lettuce and take that first bite I again fall in love with the humble lettuce plant. Delicate and delicious. After I harvest I Hurry to the kitchen and gently rinse any heavy soil off the leaves, then I place in a container with a lid and drape a wet paper towel over the top, Then into the refrigerator it goes to crisp up. Even if it looks droopy it will return to a crisp leaf. I prefer to eat freshly picked lettuce without dressing, or something very mild so the flavor of the plant comes through. Hope your growing lettuce.
Growing green with Jannie