Grow Your Own Lettuce
Fresh, crisp, and clean. These words are the essence of March, be it the early-spring weather or the glorious things happening in the garden. It's time to plant some of the season's tastiest items and then take them to the table for everyday enjoyment.
Gourmet lettuce mixes are common in the produce section of the grocery store but often have steep prices. This spring, give your food budget a break, and plant your own blends of burgundy and chartreuse greens. Your homegrown efforts will make colorful, edible container plantings. These cool-weather salad fixings are easy to produce and last until the summer heat sets in.
Busy lifestyles beg for simple success, and growing salad greens fills the bill. Lettuce's adaptability to containers means you can have attractive pots near your kitchen, so harvesting is a convenient, relaxing mealtime routine. Purchase young lettuce transplants at garden centers and nurseries, choosing packs with just one selection or a mix of several types. Look for leaf lettuces with burgundy foliage, rounded and oak-shaped leaves, and brilliant shades of green. A veritable salad bowl assortment awaits you. Here's how to do it.
- Choose a container with a drainage hole, and fill with moist potting soil.
- Gently loosen the transplants' roots, and place them in the pot, burying the root balls so the tops are even with the container's soil level. (Don't bury them too deep.)
- Place the container in a spot that receives at least four hours of direct sun, and water daily or whenever it becomes dry.
- Harvest from the outside of the plant, always leaving inner foliage to mature so it will continue producing new leaves.
Lettuce also grows easily from seed, and this method yields an abundance of interesting selections. Sources such as Renee's Garden offer enticing options including Paris Market Mix, Monet's Garden Mesclun (the word "mesclun" is interchangeable with "gourmet salad mix"), and Farmers Market Lettuce Blend. Try one of these mixes to create a really special salad and display.
- First, fill a well-drained container with damp potting soil, and sprinkle a generous amount of seeds on top.
- Lettuce germinates quickly when exposed to light, so barely cover seeds with a thin layer of potting mix.
- Gently mist or sprinkle with water daily till your new crop germinates--usually within 7 to 10 days.
As the seedlings sprout and grow, the container will become thick with lettuce plants. When they reach 2 inches tall, remove half of them so the remaining ones will have sufficient room to mature. Grasp the tiny plants at their bases, gently pulling them from the soil until half are gone.
Thinning the lettuce also serves another purpose: Gently rinse the freshly pulled greens in cold water, and you'll have the makings of a first salad. Plant a progression of lettuce selections, such as the ones listed in the box above, to keep your salad bowl brimming with delicious greens as the weather warms.
Options abound in the world of salad greens. Here are some others that are easy to grow and do well in the same container with lettuce.
- arugula--slightly thick leaves with a peppery flavor
- frisée--delicate, curly leaves with a gently bitter taste
- mizuna--originating in Japan; dainty, crisp foliage
- radicchio--a heading type, bitter green