Lettuce

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Aug 152009
 

Photo © Bulleen Art & Garden

Lettuce – a reliable summer favourite, salad filler and sandwich staple. Lettuce is low in calories, and a good source of folic acid and vitamin A. It was also used by the Romans as a mild opiate. Who knew the humble lettuce had so many hidden talents?

Planting Time: All year

Position: Part shade

Water Needs: High

Difficulty: Easy

How Long: 10 weeks

Lettuce is, traditionally, a cool season vegie, meaning they prefer to be planted in cooler weather, for super salad success. Having said that, due to the wonders of modern plant breeding, there are now lettuces available for all parts of Australia suitable for planting all year long. There are so many varieties of lettuce available for your patch that we suggest that you head to BAAG and have a look at our fantastic range.

Photo © Bulleen Art & Garden

Now, remembering that lettuces are cool season greens, it is recommended that you plant them in partially shaded spots in your patch, particularly if you experience hot summers. Consider using some other vegies like beans and sweet corn as ‘living shade’, or, failing that, erect a ‘shade tent’ for your precious lettuces in the warmer months.

Like most annual vegies, lettuce needs a well-drained soil with loads of tasty organic matter (like beaut, crumbly compost), a bit of a feed and some lovely mulch. Prepare your lettuce bed about two weeks before planting seedlings by lightly working compost and a little bit of pelletised poo-based fertiliser through the soil. Add a bit of mulch, to a depth of about 5-7cm, walk away, and count the days to planting time. Try to maintain a pH of around 6.5.

Lettuces are hungry, hungry hippos, and need to be grown quickly for best flavour and appearance. Once upon a time, the best way to ensure this happened was to dump obscene amounts of (awful) liquid fertilisers on the seedlings. Here’s the lowdown – this benefits no-one, except the hordes of snails who feast on the soft, sooky lettuce growth! Don’t do it; it’s financially and environmentally unsustainable, and there are tonnes of low environmental impact options.

A well prepared bed and a super duper soil means that your lettuce may not need any additional feeding at all! If you feel the need to feed, do it fortnightly, at half strength, using a manure/compost tea. I do give my little cherubs a half strength seaweed solution at planting time, as this stuff is right-on for roots!

Water is vital, as lettuces have shallow roots and thus need frequent watering, especially in hot and/or windy weather. Keep the area well mulched and test soil moisture regularly. If soil is left to dry out, lettuce may run to seed, taste bitter or die.

Depending on the type you choose to grow will determine just how long it takes for your lettuce to mature. The guide below should give you a rough indication:

Crisphead varieties (which includes the ubiquitous Icebergs) take about ten to twelve weeks to mature, and should be harvested roots and all.

Butterheads are similar to crispheads (but smaller) and take about nine – ten weeks to be ready for munching. Included in these are tasty mignonettes, oak leaf and butter varieties, and are best harvested as required (cut and come again).

Cos varieties take about ten – eleven weeks to grow up, and outer leaves can be harvested while the lettuce is still growing. Cos lettuces are great in cooler climes, and are a winter favourite.

Loose Leaf lettuces are also harvested while growing, and can be eaten from about six weeks onwards.

Snails are the biggest pest of lettuces (as are slugs to a lesser extent). Deter these little munching machines before they eat all your salad specialties. Spread coffee grounds around your patch (especially young seedlings) as snails hate it! Beer traps are also very effective, so pop a few old plastic containers with 1cm of beer in them around the patch in the evening – these will be full of slimy critters by the next morning. Creating obstacles of crushed eggshells, lime, wood ash, wood shavings and sawdust around plants also works.

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