A quick and easy crop to grow, Lettuce is ideal to grow both in containers and grown in the veg plot. There are so many different types of lettuce to grow and home grown is so much fresher than the supermarket bags of lettuce, which seem to have such a short shelf life. By growing your own lettuce you can pick and eat when you want. Your home grown lettuce keeps longer and refreshed in the fridge.
Lettuce is easy to germinate, although the seed is quite small to handle it will germinate in temperatures from 10-20 degrees. Early spring in March or April is a good time to start lettuce, in a warm area either under glass or with some gentle heat in a propagator. Once germinated the seedlings, if bunched together will need thinning, which means reducing by pulling out extra seedlings to leave several well spaced seedlings and removing the other seedlings which are over crowding the main plants. The seedlings can be planted outside in late April, early May.
Lettuce can be direct sown into a container outside or the veg plot from late April on wards throughout May and June. It is a good tip when growing lettuce to sow/plant out regularly; fortnightly is a good rule of thumb and easy to remember. By sowing at intervals you can avoid gluts. Sow the lettuce seed just under the soil surface and always water after sowing. When growing Lettuce it is important to keep a watch on the small seedings after germination because, if there is a dry spell, the seedlings are prone to drying out and will die.
It does take a bit of time to sow, and thin out lettuce seedlings, and if this is too time consuming it is easy to buy suitable plug plants from the garden centre/on line and plant out in the same way.
Lettuce can be grown late into the season into September & October especially protected by a cloche. Lettuce is not hardy so all early and late plants need frost protection.
When growing lettuce there is a great choice all the favourites, loose leaves, cut and come again, lollorosso, iceburg and rocket along with various more exotic mixes available and all grown in the same way. There are so many varieties on the market its hard to chose, picking a AGM (Award of Garden Merit) is always a good starting point.There are literally dozens of different type of seeds and plants to buy. Rocket is really easy to germinate and grow, and generally not so attractive to the slugs.
Problems when growing Lettuce
Growing lettuce is easy, so they are tagged green wheelbarrow .
The main problem when growing lettuce is with slugs. When growing lettuce an eye to the slugs is essential. Tender growing lettuce shoots are caviar to the slugs, so protect. Tips on how to beat the slugs- in the veg garden I prefer either organic slug pellets, beer traps and often a combination of the two can be most effective.
Apart from slugs, the main problem when growing lettuce is that it can bolt, which means is to flower and go to seed prematurely which puts and end to the lettuce as it is inedible, usually very bitter in taste. Bolting is caused mainly by the long days of light and heat, so it tends to occur mid summer and during a hot sunny spell. Bolting is hard to avoid, but you can improve the soil do it retains moisture and mulch once the small seedlings or plants are established to retain moisture and so reduce the chances of bolting . Also regular sowing or planting every fortnight should mean there is another crop to come along soon. Lettuce prefer slightly cooler conditions so Lettuce is one of the few veg which can be grown in partial shade.
Best Lettuce to grow
The RHS have released the results of their recent 2017 trial of coloured lettuces which information is always handy to know when selecting which varieties to grow. Numerous varieties were planted out and trialled at RHS Wisley in Surrey and there was quite a change around with only one cultivar 'Amaze' retaining its AGM. Having grown 'Amaze' numerous times it is really good and is illustrated top left. Those lettuces which did well and were awarded the AGM are: 'Edox' which is said to be slow to bolt; 'Feska'is a frilly lollo rossa type; 'Pigale' compact with centre heart; ' Rosdale' is more upright and similar to a cos style of lettuce; 'Sahim'is greener in the heart turning red at the outer leaves, 'Saxo' is all red and 'Navara' is similar both oak leaved types.
One of the plus points about growing red lettuces is not only are they great to eat but they look really attractive especially planted alongside green lettuce as illustrated in the above centre image.
How to grow Rocket
Rocket is really easy to grow and germinates quickly from seed. It is an ideal crop to grow in containers as shown in the image left. Unlike lettuce, which seed is sown thinly and then it is also thinned out after sowing, Rocket is sown more densely to give a good crop to pick from. In my experience Rocket can quickly go from the ready to pick and eat stage, to going over to seed so it is important to catch it and pick when Rocket when it is young and has the best flavour. Rocket is a crop you can pick and it will come again.
It is also easy to save the rocket seeds at the end of the growing season to have free seed for next year. Illustrated centre is a bunch of rocket picked at the end of the season and then dried out. Within the bunch are lots of seed heads. Once dried pick out the individual seeds, as shown right and store in cool dark place ( fridge /garage) over winter ready for the next season.
If you are buying seed in packets check them carefully. I recently compared two seed packets of Rocket, and one packet (similar price) had significantly more seed in it than the other. Unlike packets of lettuce seed, which can have hundreds of seeds per packet which cannot be used up in one season, you need a lot of rocket to make a decent salad and so need more seeds. This means that the number of seeds per packet is more relevant. There is variation, some packets have 350, some 500 others over 1000, and all credit to Franchi seeds of Italy, 6000 seeds. Well worth checking out whats in the packet.