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It's almost that time of year when garden centres run out of compost, council maintained roundabouts are full of primulas and marigolds and allotment holders fight for parking spaces closest to their plots. I don't bother with any of that, I make my own compost, am too busy concentrating on the traffic at roundabouts and grow my vegetables in my back yard and not on an allotment. One of the easiest things to grow is lettuce, and it comes in so many varieties it's hard to get bored of. It also goes well with all sorts of foods, it's not just for giving bulk and texture to salads.
Lettuce is found world wide in temperate regions, and does particularly well in the UK. The reason it does so well over here is probably because lettuce loves lots of rain and damp conditions, but hates bright hot sunshine which makes it "bolt" and go to seed. The leaves aren't as nice to eat once it has bolted. The name lettuce is thought to derive from the latin word for milk, lac, as most lettuces have a milky looking sap.
GROWING YOUR OWN
I start sowing mine indoors from February, and outdoors from the end of March. To sow indoors, I thinly scatter the seeds onto a tray of moist compost, then cover with cling film and keep on my kitchen windowsill. If the compost looks like it's drying out then I'll lift the cling film from time to time and add a drop of water. Then when the end of March comes I plant the seedlings outside about five inches apart, but give them cover from frost if any are predicted in the form of bubble wrap and scrunched up newspaper.
To sow the seeds outside, prepare the soil first by raking it until it is of a very fine consistency, and water well before adding any seeds. Using your finger, scrape a shallow line out and pop the seeds into this depression, then cover with about half a centimetre of soil. As they start to grow, keep them nice and moist. In about six weeks time from sowing you should be able to start picking leaves off to eat. It's a very quick grower.
Most seed packs have hundreds of lettuce seeds in them, you really do get more than you'll need. To spread mine out for as long as possible I sow them about two weeks apart so that there is a continual supply of harvestable lettuce from about May to September. There are a few types of lettuce that can be grown over winter, like the aptly named "Winter Crop" and "Lambs' Lettuce", but I've never tried these so can't comment from personal experience. Lettuces do well in a soil that's high in nitrogen; the more nitrogen you have the more leafy growth you'll get.
You can get seed packets for as little as 25p from Lidl - they currently have a few different types of lettuce on offer for two packs for 50p.
Slugs love lettuce, so there's two main ways of dealing with this. You can either scatter slug pellets all over your soil and look out for the slimey trails of death that these cause, or you can be a bit more wildlife friendly and make a beer trap - google beer trap if you're not sure. Broken egg shells and grit spread around the lettuces will also put them off.
To counter greenfly, I use a spray bottle with some soapy water in it. The soapiness prevents them from flying, so after a spray I get a damp cloth and gently wipe the leaves to remove them. It's not as much of a faff as it sounds, honestly!
I add lettuce as a side dish to all sorts of things - I visited Albania once and we were given a large plate of shredded lamb and a bowl of lettuce in a restaurant - nothing else! We "went native" and used the lettuce leaves as a wrap for the lamb, it was very nice, if a little unusual! Most people think of lettuce as the horrible watery shredded Iceberg type that falls out of the side of a McDonalds cheese burger and is limper than an estate agent's hand shake. If that's the only sort of lettuce you've ever had, then you have my commiserations. There's so much variety available in the form of taste, leaf shape, size of leaves etc. The types that do well for me include Tom Thumb, lollo rossa, and little gem.
Tom Thumbs are a type of lettuce known as "butterheads" - they form a big leafy ball similar in appearance to cabbages. Lollo Rossa are of the "loose leaf" or "cut and come again" variety - loosely growing leaves that can be cut five or six times and grow back. Little Gems are of the Cos variety of lettuces, these are larger leafed than the cut and come again varieties and are more substantial and thicker in texture. I also treat Cos lettuces as cut and come agains. Most Cos lettuces are quite resistant to bolting and going to seed, so you might find that by mid July when the summer is in full swing you are eating nothing but the Cos types.
After cutting the leaves from my garden, I always rinse them in a colander under a cold tap to knock off any greenflies or other creepy crawlies. I try not to use chemicals in my garden - here's a thought - most lettuce we buy from supermarkets has had seven different applications of pesticides in its short life. Do I really want to eat all that accumulated insecticide? A big fat no is the answer to that, and I certainly don't want my children eating it.
Being high in folic acid and vitamin A, lettuce is a healthy food that goes well with all sorts of things. I recommend you to try "lettuce wraps" - get some big leaves, fill them with whatever you like and think of them as like a taco. Also, as they're really quick and easy to grow and don't need much space, try some planting some this spring and see how you do.
My Family and Lettuce
My family have always been into their salads with their pasta, pizza and fish dishes and with the price of food going up and price and the general quality dropping it made sense to see if we could grow it instead. Out of one packet of seeds which cost £1 we managed to get three years of leaves, and with shops charging that amount for one lettuce at a time I would highly recommend it.
What you will need:
Grow bag/compost and a bed of soil/compost and a long trough like container
Lots of water
Small pots and compost for the initial seed planting
We planted the maybe five seeds in each little pot of compost, once they grew to the size of a thumb we then thinned them out and planted the strongest out in a trough filled with compost on our window sill, watering regularly throughout. We planted mainly little gems with some exotic leaves that tasted mildly of mustard.
The lettuce grew for around 8-9months and lasted us all the way up until early winter. Not only did we save money but the lettuce we grew ourselves tasted of more like an earthy sweet taste, they were definitely more moist, crispy and more healthy looking. By cutting and eating the outside leaves all the time we allowed the plants to regrow and maintain their newer young leaves, so I think that this lead to their longer life.
We again used the same seeds and we repeated the same initial growing procedures for the seeds. However we decided this year to do twice the amount of seeds. We actually ended up with too much lettuce this year, planting them in the garden bed, the trough in the window sill and giving them away in pots to friends and family to replant in their gardens. The lettuce seemed to flourish in the second of year beyond expectations and lasted for around the same length of time.
We followed the same procedures as the following two previous years however half the seeds we planted this time round didn't even grow and when we planted them outside they didn't seem to grow very big, although that may be also due to the horrible weather we had that year and it was too cold for them, but in short the shelf life of seed packets should really be only two years anyway so I think we did fairly well, with what we had.
Things to be aware of
Slugs and snails are always on the lookout for small moist seedlings, so the salt shaker is always a powerful weapon especially when it rains, we even bought a kinetic energy torch for the darker damper evenings. We don't believe in slug pellets or poisonous solutions as we have lots and lots of birds and the occasional fox and hedgehog in the garden.
I have wrote reviews before about our garden, which may not be huge, but it maximised in terms of growing our own vegetables, herbs and even the odd bit of fruit. One thing I look forward to every summer is the freshly grown lettuce that my husband plants, that keeps us in supply all summer through, and which needs little to no maintence and can really cut down your shopping bill in terms of salad items, especially if combined with planting your own spring onions, tomatoes and even beetroot. We find during the summer months, that we buy no salad stuff at all, since we have it all in our garden.
There are many different types of lettuce, as you can even appreciate from that stocked in the supermarket. The variety that we grow is called 'Salad bowl' is a 'cut and come again' vegetable - whereby the more you pick the more it will come, thus always giving you that fresh supply. The salad bowl variety of lettuce offers two different types of leaves, the well recognised green leaf of lettuce as well as a more purple coloured leaf.
The great thing about lettuce is that, as I mentioned earlier, it required little to no upkeep. It can be grown in the ground, in a pot or even on a window sill box, so does not require you to have a lot of space in your garden. Even those without an actual garden, could plant such a vegetable for use during the summer.
Lettuce seeds can be sown from March onwards, and then are ready to be picked usually from June onwards. We had such a wet June this year however, that our lettuce really wasn't big enough to use until the start of July, and that aided with the use of a cloche which trapped in the heat and made the lettuce develop. Some would advise that you sow your lettuce directly in the ground before planting it out later, however if you do so, it is probably worth putting either a garden fleece or a net over the area where it has been sown. When the plants are still small, my husband would feed these initially with the likes of a liquid feed or other fertilised just to help them get established.
One very wise move that my husband makes is in regards to what he terms 'successional sowing' whereby throughout the Spring and summer months, you sow some new lettuce seeds every couple of weeks thereby ensuring you have a continual fresh supply that will keep you going through the summer months and even into the Autumn.
The only problem you may encounter is the odd slug or snail, however this can be remedied with some slug pellet. If you are following a more organic way of growing there are other ways of trying to deal with the slug issue such as putting down copper, which supposedly the slugs will not cross.
All in all, the variety of lettuce that we grow in our garden really is very easy to maintain, and keeps us in a supply of fresh lettuce throughout the summer for all those lovely salads, even if the weather doesn't feel very summery. There are very few problems to be encountered making it one of the vegetables that even someone like me who isn't green fingered can manage to grow very easily, and you will save some pennies whilst doing it!!
Lettuce or Lactuca Sativa to call it by its latin name, is surprisingly actually part of the large daisy family of plants. So, yes the humble white daisy annoyingly growing amongst your otherwise prestine lawn is a genetic cousin of that Iceberg lettuce you had earlier consumed in your McDonalds burger! Strange but true!
Another strange fact, is that lettuce contains a substance called Lactucarium, which is found mainly in the base of the stem, and is an opiate related compound, which can induce sedative and analgesic reactions, as well as feelings of euphoria.
Reputedly. The Romans used to eat large quantities of lettuce at the end of meals, to help them sleep, and invoke states of euphoria some hours later. No doubt this is why they became reknowned for their legendary orgies and collections of erotica. And all this down to the humble lettuce!
However despite this, it is commonly cultivated and consumed in a form and purpose which we will all recognise, namely a leafy edible plant.
Lettuces are available practically everywhere, there is a difference between lettuces though, and more specifically a good lettuce is a rarity; you have to either grow it yourself, or hunt down one at a good farmers market.
I can not emphasis enough the difference between a bag of ready chopped tasteless lettuce from a supermarket, which requires dressing with strong flavours, and the superlative flavours from something which has character which has been grown naturally, which requires little more than good oil and lemon juice.
This however is very hard to rationalise in text, and sounds absurd. Once you have tasted the difference though, you will know what I mean.
-Types of Lettuce-
Typically Lettuces fall into a number of growing types, these are then divided further into the actual individiual cultivar varieities, of which there are literally hundreds around the world:
-Open butter head varieties; These are essentially lettuces that have willowly billowly leaves, and grow into a "head" but are quite loose and floppy, things like lollo rossa, that kind of thing etc.
-Compacts, or Closed Heads; These are lettuces which form definite closed compact heads, and are usually quite firm, things like Romaines, Icebergs, Little Gems etc.
-Cutting Lettuce; These don't normally form finite heads, but are an open style of growth, and/or are solely cultivated for the harvest of the leaf with no stem, for example lambs tongue. etc.
There is some cross-over amongst these too, for example if harvested early things like lollo rosso can be considered a cutting lettuce.
Aside from these main types, and despite the supermarkets lack of choices, there are as earlier mentioned literally hundres of types of lettuces to eat. There is so much more to lettuce than the dreaded tasteless Iceberg, or the floppy Lollo Rossa. There are some which barely resemble lettuce at all, while others which are best cooked. Etc.
-Grow your Own-
As mentioned earlier, the supermarkets really do have limited choices when it comes to fresh vegetables, and one of the biggest victims is the humble lettuce.
My advice would be to grow your own, they are embarassingly easy to grow, will grow practically anywhere, in any soil type, are not nutrient greedy, or deep rooted, and can be grown year round. In scorching summer heat, and even outside in Winter! It is just a qusetion of variety.
It does amaze me, that so many people only assosciate lettuce with spring. So please do take a look at other types.
Suggestions for different times of year:
Spring: Little Gem, Cos, Reggina Di Maggio, Rossa Ricciolina
Summer: Lolla Rossa, Romaine Bionda, Passione Brune
Autumn: Oak Leaf Lettuce, Pesciatina, Four Seasons Lettuce
Winter: Meraviglia D'Inverno, Rouge De Montpellier
How to Grow:
1. Prepare:- a suitable area to sow, literally just a case of a quick rake over, removing large stones, or preparing a pot or container to grow them in. If you are growing in winter, start them off under cover, but once they are in-leaf, they are fine outside. Normally you would start off winter lettuces in the autumn.
2. Sow:- Sowing is just a casual affair, you don't need to specifically plant seeds individually just scatter at random, and lightly dust with soil, or rake them over, and lightly water.
2. Thin Down :- Pluck out weedy looking individuals (lifes so unfair), and leave room for the others to grow.
3. Harvest :- Somewhere between 4-6 weeks after planting your lettuce can be harvested, you can actually harvest at anytime once main leaves have formed.
The main pests are slugs and snails, the best advice is to sparingly use Slug Pellets, organic gardeners look away!!! You can try beer traps, or frolicking around outside after dark with a torch. Whatever floats your boat. Far from me to spoil your fun. But I would rather scatter a few pellets, and then clean away the corpses.
-Culinary Uses and Health-
Aside from the very obvious salad, lettuce can and does feature alot in cooked recipes. Ranging from Italian Risottos, Soups, and of course Chinese dishes.
One of my favourites is using pork mince seasoned with soy, hoisin sauce, chilli garlic, ginger, and green onions and gently folding this mixture intothe middle of fresh lettuce leaves. You then eat it, hot, as if its some kind of green burrito.
Another nice one, is lettuce shredded and added to a bean soup, if you add it in the last five to ten minutes, you still get some firmness in the crisper parts, although it is completely cooked through.
From a health perspective, probably the most significant is the assosciation with lettuce and calories (lack of). It is however also a good source of folic acid, fibre and various vitamins. So Enjoy!
It has been so long since I have written a gardening opinion that I can't remember how to start. I used to have a formula, which usually ended up by fermenting said plant and drinking the alcoholic consequences. Sadly, you cannot make wine with lettuce, which is maybe why I'm finding this one difficult to get into. Right, let's get on the soapbox, and have a wee shout. NO-ONE SHOULD EVER BUY LETTUCE. Whether you have an allotment or a window box; a smallholding or a large one; a flat or a well-rounded; a de Thame garden or a Wilde one; YOU HAVE NO EXCUSE. There is a lettuce for every location, in every season. Lettuce will grow in conventional garden soil. Aspen states the obvious. Lettuce will also grow in a gro-bag, or in a pot, on any soil-based or soil-less compost. Lettuce will grow in a tub on the patio, in a pot by the back door, in a window-box, on a balcony, on a roof-garden, or even on the lavvie window-sill. If you have none of these, you are an alien, and don't deserve lettuce. Cos lettuce (that's Cos, not 'cos) is favoured by the supermarkets these days, because it keeps well. For the home-lettuce-grower, Cos is a good choice because it is particularly hardy, will grow in almost any conditions, and has a very long season. Cos has largely replaced the traditional Butterhead varieties - you know, the round limp ones which look like they have a heart but you can never find it. Butterheads have a short season anyway, so avoid. Avoid particularly any variety bearing the name "All the Year Round", because they never are. Want to grow lettuce out of season? Got a bright windowsill? Try Little Gem (a small Cos variety) at any time of year. Use young. The small young leaves are the tastiest anyway, and they may not heart in the winter months. Who cares? Use the young leaves and sow some more. It's gotta be better than the limp, chemic
ally-preserved supermarket pre-washed, bagged leaves. Fancy a bit of colour? The red-tinged Lolla Rosso which you pay premium prices for in the supermarket, is one of the easiest, trouble free lettuces you can grow. And it's a cut-and-come-again - that is, you don't harvest the whole lettuce, you just pick the outer leaves, and the plant will continue to grow. Given the right conditions, this type of lettuce will produce leaves for three months or more before running to seed. And so we move on to Frisby. Frisby is a green cut-and-come-again. Frisby will grow anywhere - in the garden, in a pot, on a windowsill, in a gro-bag - given my standards of house-proud-ness, Frisby would probably grow on my sitting room carpet. Frisby will grow at any time of year, even right through the winter, given a little protection. I have sown Frisby under glass in November, and have been masticating her tender leaves in early February. Yes, here, in the frozen North. There is only one barrier to self-sufficiency in lettuce. Imagination. If you don't try, you won't succeed, and will forever be condemned to consuming the chemically preserved limp produce of our supermarket shelves. If this wasn't a Lettuce category, I would go on to tell you how easy it is to grow Rocket, Lamb's Lettuce (Corn Salad), and Cilantro (Leaf Coriander). Maybe another time. Meanwhile, I will content myself with extolling the virtues of my beloved Lollo Rossa. Maybe if I could ferment her, I would turn over a new leaf. © Mike Clark 2002.
Firstly may I apologise for writing this at all, I'm sure I'll delete it in the future but for now I want to extol the virtues of that greenest of vegetables, the lettuce. - - - UNDERUSED - - - The lettuce is defined in the dictionary as 'a plant grown for use in salad', but I see it as much more than that. Take sandwiches, focaccias and rolls. Take Big Macs, Big Kings and any KFC burger. This displays the gross underestimation of this full-headed foodstuff. - - - BENEFICIAL - - - You can buy lettuce yourself in various forms - the most popular being a whole 'head' or bagged leaves. An average lettuce can cost up to 65-70p and you're going to get many uses from one lettuce. If you buy it bagged as leaves you are saving yourself aggravation but paying for the privilege. some say 'think of the saving of wear-and-tear on knives' but to that I say 'piffle and squif!'. I'm a lettuce purist. I will buy it as a head. Like the bread 'nothing added, nothing taken away'. I just peel off leaves as and when I need them, putting the remaining lettuce in that drawer at the bottom of the fridge where you keep carrots and swedes. - - - DANGER? - - - This brings us on to pesticides, and insecticides. Sure there might be harmful and toxic chemicals being sprayed across our farmlands but hey, don't worry too much - just wash your lettuce under a tap. This can remove most industrial chemicals. - - - WHAT NOW? - - - Now you've bought and prepared your lettuce, how do you 'cook' it. Well this is the beauty. No further cooking is required. Peel, place, eat. Pop your lettuce along with various other foods to give your meal a fresh, moist but crispy appurtenance. - - - AGAINST? - - - Some foods not to mix lettuce with: - Peanut butter - Bovril - Ice cream We racked our brains thinking of things not to combine lettuce with and this
is all we could come up with. You'll understand now why lettuce is so versatile and enjoyable. - - - CONCLUSION - - - To summise: Three cheers for lettuce, our unappreciated friend
There are many different types of lettuce available.For quick results I grow the smaller varieties like Little Gem.With the salad bowl types you can just pick a few leaves as you need them.For the best results I grow my lettuce in enriched humus-forming materials.This will retain more moisture during the dry weather.Raddish is something else I love and is so easy to grow even if you only have a very small garden.After sowing, raddish can be ready in about 5 or 6 weeks.Choose a cool shady spot and keep well watered.