Time to sow LettucePosted By: rocket veg Category: Growing Veg, Seasonal Tips
According to recent news reports, lettuces will be in short supply this summer due to atrocious winter weather in southern Spain where many of the lettuces eaten in the UK are grown. Some supermarkets have already started to ration lettuces, ‘Iceberg’ in particular, and sales of Lettuce seed are reported to be soaring!
Grow your own Lettuce
In view of the shortage of Lettuces, why not grow your own this year? They’re easy to grow, versatile and very nutritious. I’m still harvesting Lettuce that I planted last autumn, a variety with the appropriate name of ‘Winter Gem’, and I’ll be making my first sowings of varieties for picking in late spring and throughout the summer months in the next week or two. If you like Lettuce and plan your sowing and planting with a degree of care, you will be able to pick Lettuces all year round. To achieve this, choose the correct varieties and then sow your lettuces in succession – in other words, a series of sowings, the seedlings then planted out and new seed sown while the first baby Lettuces are being harvested.
How to sow Lettuce
I usually start Lettuce off in my greenhouse, but a sunny windowsill serves just as well. Small seed trays with a plastic cover seem to work best for me as the seed mustn’t dry out otherwise it will fail to germinate so some sort of cover really helps. Clear plastic film or a plastic bag work fine. Lettuce seed should be sown as thinly as possible, a tricky job as the seed is fine and light. Someone once showed me how to put a pinch of seed on the channel made between the thumb and index finger of a clenched fist – the seed then gently shaken down the groove in a steady and controlled stream, a trick that I’ve tried but failed to master. Instead, I take a tiny pinch of seed and let it fall from between my thumb and finger: it works. Like sowing many vegetables, a little Lettuce seed goes a long way and the packets of some varieties contain over a thousand seeds – more than enough for several years sowing and growing.
Planting and harvesting
Plant the seedlings out as soon as they are large enough to handle – as a guide, when they develop two proper leaves. If my sowings result in clumps of seedlings, rather than evenly-sown plants, I ease them apart with an old kitchen fork. Always hold seedlings by their leaves, never the stem, true when handling all tiny plants. I then make a thin hole in the soil using an old chopstick and gently drop the baby plant in, firming the soil with my fingers. I find that it helps to water the ground before planting, partly to give the tiny plants some instant moisture, but also to avoid damaging them with a heavy shower of cold water. When warmer weather comes, I'll sow Lettuce seed directly into a bed and thin the young plants out to allow a good crop to develop.
If you want to create a stunning display, plant alternate rows of different varieties with contrasting leaf colours. Lettuces need moist soil to develop so water as and when necessary. Pick your Lettuces as soon as they have formed a ‘heart’, but be warned: slugs love baby Lettuces, so employ the usual defences if you want your precious crop to survive.
Which varieties to grow
‘Webbs Wonderful’, ‘Little Gem’ and ‘Lollo Rosso’ are top names, but there are many varieties of Lettuce to choose from. Some produce tight, pale yellow/green crisp hearts; others, a large ball of crimson floury leaves – all equally delicious. If you’ve grown Lettuce before, try a new variety this year and discover your new favourite. I’m going to add ‘Lettony’ and ‘Intred’ to my list.