In four weeks, I’m going away for two weeks. When I come back, I’m going to launch my career as a gardener. I’m going to start with lettuce. I’ve been reading up on it; it seems like one of the easiest things to grow. And I never get tired of salad. I’m going to grow spinach too. I have seeds and two large square pots; when I get back I’ll get the rest of what I need.
What follows is the collective wisdom I’ve gleaned from books and websites about growing lettuce and spinach. I’m writing this as much for me, to have it all in one place, as for my gentle readers…
I’ve read that a small packet of mixed salad greens can cost $2 – $4, but mine was under $2 at Lowes.
Plant the seeds 4 inches apart and cover with 1/4 to 1/2 inch of soil. Or, plant them in a shallow trough (1/2 inch), then thin them out when they start to sprout.
Plant outside at two-week intervals in a large divided container or every two weeks in individual 6 inch pots. (I’ll probably grow the spinach in the smaller pots.)
If lettuce starts turning brown at the tips – it’s too warm. Give it partial shade.
For square foot gardening – plant four plants per square.
The stronger the light, the higher the vitamin C content will be.
Lettuce likes loose, light, friable soil with extra humus and nitrogen in the upper 4 inches. The plant has a shallow root system. It needs constant moisture and nutrients close to the roots. I should have enough compost to achieve that.
Outdoor seeds sprout in 5 to 10 days. Transplants seem to bolt to seed more easily than direct-seeded plants. I’m not going to have transplants this time; I’m going to seed directly.
Water daily until the seeds sprout. Then water with one cup per plant weekly, twice weekly in hot weather. Water in the morning; don’t wet the leaves (it may spread fungus).
Give it a monthly application of high-nitrogen fertilizer. Adding compost to the soil should replace the need for fertilizer. Mulch will also help retain moisture.
Pull weeds immediately; the shallow root system can’t compete with weeds.
Cut individual outer leaves or the entire plant. If cutting leaves, you can start when the plant is half grown (2 to 3 inches tall).
Problems: bitter taste = not enough water while growing; yellow leaves = not enough nitrogen; bottom leaves gray/moldy/rotten = transplanted too deep. Plant at the same depth as the plant grew in its original container.
Seeds store 5 to 6 years.
Slugs love lettuce, so watch closely for them. It is also prone to aphids, armyworms, cabbageworm and loopers. These are more of a problem in summer and fall than in spring. I’ll have some organic insecticide on hand just in case.
Lettuce can survive light freezes. I should be able to grow it throughout the winter. Romaine, butterhead and leaf lettuces can stand more heat than head lettuce. (I don’t plan to grow head lettuce.) If we’re going to have a hard freeze (unlikely), I can move the pots inside for the night.
Lettuce seeds don’t germinate well in hot weather. It may still be pretty warm here in mid-October. Pre-chilling the seeds (in the fridge, for a week, in an airtight container) and the soil (by watering before planting, and planting in the evening) can help solve this problem.