I have never met anyone who didn’t like lettuce, but I have met people who have complained about the price of it in the grocery stores these days. Why not consider growing your own? There are dozens of varieties and types, and all are easy to grow and quick to harvest.
Lettuce, or Lactuca sativa, is from the Asteraceae family (asters and sunflowers). It was first cultivated by the Egyptians, who changed its purpose from a weed whose seeds were used to make oil to a cultivated plant whose leaves were eaten. Lettuce then spread throughout the Greek and Roman Empires, with Rome giving it its name lactuca, from which we get the English name lettuce.
By 50 C.E., multiple varieties were described in literature, and it appeared in many medieval writings. Between the 16th and 18th centuries, many more varieties were developed in Europe. Some cultivars grown in the mid-eighteenth century are still grown in gardens today. (They are known as heirloom varieties.) During this time period, lettuce consumption was predominately in Europe and North America; but by the late 1900s, people all over the world were consuming it.
Lettuce comes in various types (buttercrunch, Romaine, and loose leaf ) with leaves that are straight or serrated or frilled in numerous colors and color variations – green, red, gold, striated, etc. It is a good source of Vitamin A and potassium, and contains many other vitamins and trace minerals.
Lettuce, which can be planted in Zones 4-9, is an annual that grows best in cooler weather because it tends to bolt (start to flower) when the temperatures get too high. The perfect temperature range is 40-60 degrees Fahrenheit, but it will grow outside that range. It can survive a light freeze, and there are some varieties that will grow in warmer weather, lasting longer into the growing season. Here’s a great site for lettuce varieties to grow and when to grow them.
Sow lettuce seed 1/4″ deep in loamy soil with a pH of 6.0-7.5 in sun to partial shade. Lettuce needs only 5 hours of sun, and has increased shade requirements as the weather warms. Depending on the variety, thin your lettuce seedlings four to eight inches apart. (Your seed packet will tell you.)
Lettuce needs consistent watering. Monitor the leaves, and water as soon as they start to look thirsty (minor drooping).
Depending on the variety, lettuce matures in 30-60 days. With buttercrunch lettuce, you harvest the entire head when it matures. With loose leaf varieties, you can harvest leaves as you need them by cutting the larger, outside leaves from the plant. Romaine lettuce types can be harvested one leaf at a time, as with loose leaf lettuce, or as whole-plant when it is fully mature. Just remember to wash your harvest well!
FROM GARDEN TO KITCHEN:
Like the radish, lettuce is thought to be useful only in salads, but I’m discovering that isn’t so! Yes, it’s great to make a salad with several varieties of home-grown lettuce. Or use it in sandwiches, wraps, etc. But you can also juice it with carrots and cucumbers for a refreshing drink.
Did you know it can be cooked, too? Here are some recipes to try.
Any way you grow it and eat it, lettuce is always a winner in the garden!