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So... here’s a heads up on ensuring those heads are up to scratch and ready for your table later in the year.
What is lettuce anyway?
Lettuce is one of the world’s most commonly grown leaf vegetables. It derives its name (Lactuca sativa) from the Latin for milk, referencing the plant’s milky juice.
A favourite of the ancients, lettuce was considered to be an aphrodisiac in Egypt and is even depicted in carvings at the Karnak temple complex.
There are six cultivar groups of lettuce including: butterhead, Chinese, iceburg, looseleaf, Romanie (or Cos), and summer crisp. While some varieties grow best in spring and summer, others are not so hot about the heat, preferring cooler climates.
A low calorie vegetable, lettuce is renowned as an excellent source of folic acid and vitamin A.
When, where and how to plant
When planting lettuce this time of year, look for a winter variety – such as Cos – to ensure a bountiful harvest later in the year.
Soil should be well dug over with plenty of compost added.
Plant seeds in a sheltered location in free-draining soil at a depth of approximately 5cm.
If lettuce is overcrowded, exposed to full sun, higher temperatures or has dry roots it can go to seed. Commonly known as ‘bolting’, thick stems will form producing flowers. The plant will then grow upwards rather than forming heads.
Once the seeds have germinated and developed leaves, they are ready to be transplanted.
Once planted, lettuce is one of the easiest vegetables to grow requiring just a little water and perhaps vegetable fertiliser from time to time.
Some varieties can be picked by the leaf; but it’s best to know which leaves to leave! Gently snap off mature leaves when ready, allowing the youngsters time to grow and develop.
With other varieties of lettuce, you have to think a-head! Using a sharp knife cut heads of lettuce when they are fully formed and firm to the touch.
While it can be tricky growing lettuce during the hotter months, as evening temperatures fall, some varieties will come into their own, producing lush leaves.