|Spring lettuces and celery plant|
Saturday, April 19, 2014
From just one packet of seeds, you can have salads forever. I just love being able to step right outside the back door and snip a salad for dinner. Lettuce is so easy to grow, you can't pass up the fun and convenience of always having a fresh salad right out your door.
I use self watering pots called Earthboxes, but any container or patch of dirt works. Buy a packet of seeds that has whatever type of lettuce you like. I like the variety packs. I’d pick a variety pack with Oakleaf or Red Sails.
Just make sure they are not a “Hybrid” plant. Hybrids do not grow back true to the parent. In other words, you won’t get the same baby plant as the mother plant was if it is a hybrid. Heirloom and open pollinated are terms used for the plants that you can save the seed from and get babies like their mothers.
To prepare the soil, I always add compost and a balanced organic fertilizer that I mix into the soil. What you want from lettuce is green growth. This is what nitrogen promotes. So, fertilizing on-going with an organic fertilizer like fish emulsion that is high in nitrogen is the way to go with greens. I like fish emulsion because I can just add it to the watering pot. I use fish emulsion about every 2-3 weeks after the plants are mature. I keep the fertilizer off the leaves and wash the leaves thoroughly before eating.
To plant your seeds, simply make sure the soil is moist, scatter sow the seeds onto the moist soil and pat down or place a very thin layer of soil on top of the seeds. Sow seeds every 3 weeks to keep you and your family in fresh lettuce and/or greens.
|Moistened soil with tiny trenches for seeds|
To harvest, just snip leaves off from the bottom and outside of the plant, allowing the center to continue to produce leaves. They will produce new leaves continuously until they “bolt.”
When it turns warm, your lettuce will “bolt”, sending up a stalk that will flower. The trick here is to not cut it off or pull out the lettuce plant just yet. Let it flower and produce seeds. The leaves are still edible, but some become bitter tasting after they have bolted. Just try them and see if you still like the taste.
|Lettuce sending up flower stalk, "bolting"|
You can tell when the flower has turned to seeds because it will become a little white puff ball, similar but on a smaller scale than dandelions. As the puff balls start to open, pluck it off and place in a paper bag so they can fully dry. Your other option is to just wait until most of them are starting to open, cut off the whole stalk and put into a paper bag to dry. You’ll lose some seeds, but a single lettuce plant produces a ton of seeds.
|Lettuce seed heads|
I let them dry and then pull out the seeds and put into a plastic ziplock bag that I label with the variety and date harvested. You can also add notes to the seed bag of what you liked about it and growing habits. I store all my seeds in the crisper. They keep for years that way.
When summer comes, lettuce seeds don’t germinate well above 70 F. You can start your seedlings indoors or find a shady, cool spot outdoors to start them.
You can start re-sowing your home grown seeds as soon as you are done with the original packet you purchased. Always save the seeds from the plants that did the best. Use oldest seeds first as germination rates diminish with the age of the seed.