There is so much variety in Lettuce and Salad Greens, not just the colours and shapes of the leaves – but also the spectrum of sweet, bitter, mild and peppery flavours.
Growing non-hearting lettuces lets you harvest the leaves from the outside in – the ultimate repeat harvest! Just pick them as you need them, I love doing this with Cos lettuce, you end up with a funny looking stalk at the end though.
Salad leaves and lettuce are well suited to container growing, as only a shallow depth is required for successful production. This also may allow you to keep the pot closer to the house, to encourage regular snipping of the leaves for your salads.
Ensure that soil is kept moist, and apply an organic liquid fertiliser every few weeks for best results. They perform best out of direct sunlight in Summer, so move the container so it gets protection in the afternoon or shade with white shade cloth. Water daily during a heatwave, first thing in the morning and again at night on days with hot winds.
Lettuce grows well either from seed or transplanted seedlings. If using seed, only plant in cooler months. Prepare the soil, and cover the seed with only 1cm of soil. When seedlings emerge, they will need thinning – the thinned seedlings can be transplanted to make a new row.
Avoid planting Lettuce in Summer – the warm soils make germination difficult, and the hot days produces a bitter tasting leaf. Another downside of trying to grow lettuce in warm weather is that it will bolt to seed. If you still want to try, the seeds will need to be placed in wet paper towel in the fridge for 3 days before planting, and will require mulch, regular watering and shading to succeed.
Non-hearting lettuces: Red Coral, Oakleaf, Cos
Hearting lettuces: Iceberg, Winterlake
Salad Leaves: Radicchio, Rocket, Spinach, Tatsoi
Watch out for snails and slugs.
Harvesting Lettuce and Salad Greens
Pick leaves as needed from the non-hearting lettuces and use immediately after rinsing.
The hearting varieties such as Iceberg should be trimmed off at the base.
Cos can either be picked leaf by leaf, or left to form and then trimmed off at the base.
Cooking with Lettuces and Salad Greens
When it comes to preparing a garden salad – just combine your favourite fresh ingredients with a dressing to suit and serve. Use a variety of coloured leaves and vegetables for an attractive appearance and a wide range of nutrients.
In addition to the wonderful fresh crunchy salads you can start preparaing from your garden, try using the leaves in cooked dishes as well.
Lettuce with Peas is a classic french dish, and rocket is lovely when lightly cooked in olive oil (till it just wilts) and served with grilled tomatoes, bacon and eggs for a big breakfast.