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10 August 2012

Growing Lettuce

Lettuce is a useful crop as it can be used to fill in gaps that arise due to early crops being harvested, or between rows of slower-growing plants. However they will not heart properly if in the shade.
There are many forms of lettuce available and all are easy to grow.
Butterhead or cabbage lettuces have a firm rounded heart with soft pale leaves, and have a mild flavour. They are delicious fresh from the garden but don't store well. Recommended cultivars - Diana, Sangria, Tom Thumb.
Cos lettuce have long heads of oval leaves, and have a stronger flavour than other types. Recommended cultivars - Lobjoits Green Cos, Freckles.
Little Gem type lettuces are small, crisp and well-flavoured . Recommended cultivar - Little Gem.
Crisphead lettuces have crisp, crinkly leaves with firm hearts, and Iceberg lettuces have very firm hearts. These keep well in the fridge. Recommended cultivars - Iceberg, Challenge, Sioux.
Looseleaf lettuces produce lots of loose leaves to cut as needed and can look more ornamental than other lettuces due to the variety of colours. Recommended cultivars - Concorde and Lollo Rossa. The latter was recommended recently by our local gardening expert so I intend to try growing it next year.
Lettuce seeds should be sown in drills 0.5 inches deep in spring, leaving 12 inches between rows, and seedlings should be thinned out as overcrowded plants will not form proper hearts. Final spacings required are as follows
Butterheads and semi-cos - 10 inches
Cos and crispheads - 12 inches
Little Gem types - 6 inches
Weekly sowings will provide a continuous crop. Lettuce seed does not store well so it is best to buy fresh seed every year. Packets of mixed lettuce give the opportunity to try out different kinds. When the weather is hot and dry, two watering cans per square yard should be used to prevent the plants from bolting. The use of a top-dressing of nitrogen-rich fertiliser such as chicken manure pellets before rain or watering can improve yields. The leaves can usually be harvested in three to six weeks if you like them small. Spring lettuce can be grown outdoors from seeds sown in early autumn but will need protecting with cloches or fleece. Similarly seeds sown outdoors in early spring will also need protection.
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