Do you dream of being self sufficient in lettuce? You may never have fantasised about such a notion until this season, when a trip to the shops to bags your salad greens had you gasping with horror at the prices. If upwards of $7 seems a bit steep for salad, perhaps growing your own could be the cure to your household budget woes.
Luckily, winter is the perfect time to plant your patch. It’s not as difficult as you might think either, or faster than you might imagine. It takes around 2 weeks for the seeds to germinate, and a few weeks later you can begin harvesting Mesclen-style crops at 3-4cm in height. Fully mature lettuces take about 6 weeks from seed to serving for the lose leaf type, and about 8-10 weeks for hearting lettuces.
Lettuce comes in all sorts of colours and varieties, with loose leaf ‘pick as you go’ lettuces preferable for beginners. These repeat harvest types have names like ‘Baby Combo’ and ‘Oakleaf’ (red and green). Hearting lettuces like ‘Iceberg’, ‘Cos’, ‘Buttercrunch’ and ‘Great Lakes’ are prone to going to seed if the weather is too warm or the watering erratic.
Tips and Tricks
- To grow lettuce well, first enrich your soil with compost, pelletised manure, or well-rotted animal manure.
- If you are growing lettuce by seed, don’t bury them too deep as they are tiny seeds and won’t be able to grow! 3mm is about right. If you are planting out from punnets, make sure you don’t bury them either, taking care to transplant your seedlings at the same soil level when you pop them into the ground, or potting mix if you’re growing them in pots.
- Successive sowing (or planting) will extend your harvests, so add a few more seeds/seedlings every few weeks to eliminate harvest glut times.
- Feeding your greens regularly with liquid fertiliser and keeping up the water to them will stop your greens from tasting bitter. Avoid watering the foliage to reduce the risk of rot and other diseases.
- Pick outer leaves first from repeat harvest types.
Hankering for more? Other winter greens include Lambs lettuce, chicory, radicchio and kale.