||Since lettuce is one of our favourite and most used source of fresh greens for salads and sandwiches, we always try to grow a continuous supply for most of the season. There is nothing more rewarding than going out before supper and collect a bunch of crisp, fresh leaves for our salads.|
Remember that leaf lettuces are hardier, healthier, and much easier to grow than the head lettuces. They also mature faster; typically around 50 days, as compared to 75 - 80 days for the head lettuces.
Lettuces grow best in deep rich loam with a high organic content, and need constant moisture and plenty of nitrogen for maximum leaf growth - and that's exactly what we want from them, right? As always, once you have the right kind of soil for your crops, the rest consists only of attending occasionally to moisture and fertilizer needs, and your crops will grow like crazy. It's that easy. If you don't have the right kind of soil yet, make it so, for it will be 99% of your success. So, we assume that you have worked up your soil to the condition as described in
"Good Soil", and that you have nice wide beds of nicely loose soil.
We have found that four rows of lettuce in a bed 3 feet wide and 5 feet long provides a continuous, all season long supply of fresh lettuce for a family of four or five. We always sow 3 or 4 varieties ( Buttercrunch, Ruby, Cos and Romaine) - in early, mid, and late varieties, for a season long supply, as well as welcome variety. And the beauty of loose leaf lettuces is that one can repeatedly harvest a few outer leaves from a few plants, providing lots of super fresh leaves for salads and sandwiches, while leaving the plants to keep on growing and growing. Very, very nice.
Lettuces can be sown outdoors around the middle of April, another around June 1st, and the last around July 1st. We grow our lettuces behind where the tomatoes are going to be, for a much needed bit of shade for them when it gets hot in summer - all lettuces are heat sensitive - and the tomato plants are big. Highly recommended.
Sow 1/2 inch deep, over a scattered cup of bone meal per 10 foot row, cover and firm. Lay down a 6 page thick newspaper mulch between the rows, and pin it down with some strategically places stones.This will save you all the weeding in between rows, conserve moisture, keep the soil warm when the weather is cool, and keep it cool when the weather gets hot. And with its decay, the newspaper adds its organic content to your soil. Very, very nice - on all counts.
Once your seedlings have emerged and grown a bit, it will be necessary to thin them out a bit. I like to thin them twice, for these reasons. For the first thinning I thin them to 4 inches apart from centre to centre in all directions, leaving the best seedlings of course, but lifting the next best out carefully with a trowel, and replanting them immediately in the space between the rows. The transplanting sets the lifted seedlings back a week or so, which later on makes for a very nice succession of maturing lettuces. Once they begin to crowd each other a bit, I then thin to 8 inches apart in all directions for the final thinning, using the thinning for salads, and again replanting the best thinnings for further stretching the succession of maturing lettuces. It is very little and very pleasant work, and it works like a charm, giving us a continuous abundance of superbly fresh lettuce throughout the season.
Side dress your lettuces with manure, blood meal or fish emulsion once a month - or with manure tea, or dirty dishwater (excellent) once a week. Make sure that the manure or other fertilizers don't touch the leaves. We also like to grow a bit of parsley among the lettuces - and tomatoes later on - since they appear to be good for each other. Just sow a few parsley seeds between them.
Head lettuce demands nitrogen-rich soil and abundant moisture to grow well. Failure to head is due mostly to these two factors, or to too much heat. For head lettuces figure out how many heads you may use in a two week period; then sow three times as many seeds for failure to germinate, failure to head, and for thinning. Repeat every two weeks. Head lettuces must be thinned early, as crowding results in leaf instead of heads. Avoid watering late in the day, so the plants may dry before nightfall, and buy mosaic indexed seed to be doubly sure. Next, we'll get into the tomatoes.
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