Michelle’s best practices for growing yummy lettuce

Lettuce (latuca sativa) and its relatives, endive, dandelion, escarole and chicory, can be one of the easiest and most rewarding garden crops that you can grow. The one single most beneficial thing you can do for lettuces or any other leaf crop, is to amend your soil with well aged compost or manure. Well rotted compost or manure is a great source of plant nutrients and helps the soil retain moisture and stay friable/crumbly which aids in root development. We believe very strongly in the power of soil tests. They are easy and inexpensive. Creating fertile soil is like a journey, but to know where you’re going, it helps to know where you are before you start.

Lettuce requires adequate water during dry spells so care should be taken to install a drip hose at the base of the plants if your area is prone to longer drier periods. Here in New England that hasn’t been as regular problem for us as it can be for those in other areas of our country.

We plant out lettuce here anytime between early to mid-April, but will usually put some row cover over the plants to shield them from unusually chilly nights. Although lettuce is freeze hardy, too many hard freezes early on can lower the quality of the crop. Late season lettuce can freeze as solid as a rock without damage to overall quality.  NOTE: Lettuce must thaw completely and naturally before harvesting or it will become MUSH. Fall lettuces benefit greatly by using a floating row cover. They are easy to use, inexpensive and reusable over many seasons. WEEDS must be kept in check when growing lettuce… Well… for any garden plants actually. The goal is to eliminate the competition they would experience in the wild. Weeds rob YOUR plants of vital nutrients and water.

Summer lettuce varieties: During the past few decades, research has been done to breed more heat (but not drought) tolerant and resistant varieties. We  recommend that after mid-June  you plant these heat tolerant varieties. After mid-June, plant SUMMER CRISP type lettuces. We offer about six varieties of Summer Crisp lettuce. They will get you through late August when your fall and yes, even “WINTER” lettuce crops can be planted. More on cold frames later.

Top recommendations: Fertile soil, generously amended with well aged compost or manure. Floating row covers for very early and very late lettuce crops. (row covers are also a good deterrent for many insect pests and rabbits. Space plants 10-12″ apart in rows 24-30″ apart. Late August plant cool/cold tolerant varieties as in spring. Drip hose if you have dry spells of less than 1/2 to 3/4″ per rain per week. WEEDS! We recommend weeding at least once weekly, it’s quite easy to do if you do it often.

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