Lettuce 101

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A Guide to Growing Your Own Greens

Conventional nutrition advice is very clear: Leafy greens should be a big part of our diets. But, let’s be honest, sometimes the green options at the grocery store just don’t look appealing, are noticeably nearing their expiration date, or, as we’ve seen in recent years, are part of a widespread recall.

If you’ve considered a DIY approach, there’s good news. You can grow a number of lettuce varieties at home with very little effort. Not only will you save money, homegrown lettuce also is more nutritious because it has more Vitamin A the closer you eat it to harvesting. And it’s not too late for you to try this out in 2020. The growing season for lettuce can be in the spring or fall. I would suggest a fall planting in mid-August, with the latest planting in mid-September to avoid a mid-October frost.

To start, first you need to find a seed vendor. Two of my favorite sources are Johnny’s Seeds and Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. Southern Exposure is located in Central Virginia so their growing and cultivation information is always right on target. Whether you’re ordering online or buying from a local nursery, be sure to read the cultivation information so you can grow your varieties successfully.

Then, there are many types of lettuce to choose from. This includes head, leaf, and cut-and-come-again forms. If you are curious, but are not quite ready to “dig in” just yet, go buy some of the great fresh lettuce mixes available at the Lynchburg Community Market or the Forest Farmers Market. Ask the grower which varieties they grow and make yourself a list to try.

Next, there is some simple soil preparation. Work or hand-till a small plot (about 4’x4’ is enough room) about 8-10 inches deep if the soil is not compacted. If it is a new bed, you need to prepare the soil 12-18 inches. But if you’re just not into all that work, you can take a hoe with a wide blade and make several rows side by side. Then, fill the rows lightly with the well crumbled soil. Slowly sprinkle in your seed over the soil that’s been returned. Then barely cover the seed with dirt.

I usually do this by hand. Next, take the backside of your blade, or your hand, and lightly pat the soil.

Finally, water lightly, wait and get ready for fresh greens. Lettuce grows quickly, so you will see seedlings in 7-10 days. When’s it’s time to harvest, I recommend using scissors rather than pulling it. Wash leaves in a sink full of cold water and salt, which will repel any bugs hiding amongst the leaves. Rinse and dry in a salad spinner.

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