Lettuce Entertain You…With Growing A Versatile Vegetable!
Lettuce, otherwise known as “rabbit food”, has virtually unlimited uses besides the obvious “go-to” salad ingredient.
It can be seared, sautéed, grilled, and braised. It’s a substitute for crackers and bread. Cover it with tuna, chicken paté, or a dip.
Use it as a wrap and stuff Asian ingredients into it. Use it in a bun…or, as a bun…for a hamburger.
Lettuce finds its way into soups, juices, and sauces. We see it chopped or shredded in spring rolls, rice and noodle bowls, and tacos.
Dried leaves have been used as a tobacco substitute in cigarettes. You can even find beauty masks made with lettuce!
How Healthy Is It? Lettuce Not Digress…
The milky latex in the leaf contains substances used in some cultures as a sedative and a sleep aid. Folk medicine incorporates lettuce extracts for coughing, anxiety, rheumatism…and, even for some folks who are a few sandwiches short of a picnic!
Furthermore, touting only 12 calories per cup…shredded…and near-zero fat, it is high in fiber and cellulose, improving digestion and helping to remove bile salts from your body. In addition, when your body restores the bile salts, it does so by breaking down cholesterol…and, hence, lower cholesterol means a healthier heart! Most of all, Vitamin C and beta-carotene, present in abundance, prevent the oxidation of cholesterol…and, oxidized cholesterol is nefariously the cause of plaque build-up in your arteries.
Finally, omega-3 fatty acids, protein, calcium, vitamin K, iron, and vitamin A are also heavily loaded in lettuce.
What else can I say? We better grow some! Am I right?
What Type of Lettuce Should I Grow?
Well, if you grow anything besides tomatoes, then lettuce is the next obvious choice. It’s easy to grow and takes up little space. Not only is it a great addition to any backyard garden or raised garden, many folks plant it in containers…or even in their flower beds…because lettuce is an attractive addition to any landscape environment!
Of all the different types…leaf, romaine, iceberg, butterhead, and summercrisp…
Most varieties with heads take longer to grow and mature.
If you’re looking for some great heat and cold tolerant lettuce, try Burpee’s Oak Leaf Lettuce. The leaves have a very mild flavor without that telltale bitterness that some lettuce varieties have.
Now, let’s get down to the nitty gritty… and, that is how to grow lettuce in the garden!
This is a cool-season vegetable typically planted in early spring before the last frost, since they can survive at least a light frost.
There is no need to go through the germination or transplant process…as you would for tomatoes, cucumbers, or other vegetables. Consequently, you can plant the seeds directly into the ground and cover them with about a quarter inch of a 1:1 dirt-and-garden soil mixture.
If you did a soil test and added the necessary amendments, the only fertilizer needed is a half cup of 10-10-10 fertilizer per 20 to 30 feet of row. Then, water well and, every 2 or 3 weeks, side dress with a little more 10-10-10.
These plants want a lot of sunlight, 8 to 10 hours a day…but, they also like a little shade from the sun during the really hot midsummer months. Keep the soil moist…not soggy…and they will happily grow and thrive.
Lettuce Eat Some Lettuce!
There is a really good reason for harvesting the young leaves as the plant grows.
Most of all, the plant will eventually bolt…meaning it will start producing flower stalks and seeds. As a result, the leaves will turn bitter and tougher…and become inedible.
This is a natural process but, it can be slowed down by planting in areas that get more shade starting around midday. Watering more often also helps. Lettuce likes a cooler growing environment than other plants. Hot summer temperatures and drought conditions will almost always hasten the bolting process.
The best practice for having produce throughout the growing season is to stagger plantings every 2 to 4 weeks.
Pests and Lettuce
Pests that love lettuce include aphids, armyworms, corn earworms, crickets, several types of beetles, and grasshoppers. But, don’t forget rabbits! After all, isn’t this plant referred to as “rabbit food?”
My fence will keep out the rabbits…as long as I remember to close it.
Some flowers and herbs will repel the insect pests:
Aphids – Catnip, chives, clover, coriander, dill, eucalyptus, fennel, larkspurs, nasturtiums, peppermint, petunias, and spearmint will repel them.
Corn earworms – Cosmos, geraniums, and thyme will send them packing.
Beetles – Artemisius, basil, catnip, nasturtiums, parsley, peppermint, petunias, radish, rue, spearmint, summer savory, tansy, tobacco, and tomato will repel a number of different beetles.
And, there are a couple of carnivorous plants, Venus Flytrap and pitcher plants, that will eat the little devils.
A number of pesticides are available to eliminate these pests, too.
Except for the occasional aphid, my lettuce doesn’t have pest problems. Most pests enjoy tastier options such as my tomatoes, corn, or cucumbers.
Lettuce and Diseases
Any leaves or plants that show signs of disease should be removed immediately and completely from the garden area.
And, there are a number of fungicides and insecticide soaps that can be used…as a last resort.
One Final Comment…
A man goes to the Doctor with a piece of lettuce hanging out of his ear.
“That looks nasty,” says the doctor.
“Nasty?” replies the man, “this is just the tip of the iceberg!”
What types of lettuce…or should I say rabbit food…do you enjoy? I anxiously await your comments or email: email@example.com.
Jim, the Life Long Gardener
NOTE: Visit Lettuce – Wikipedia for all the scientific jargon and minute details on history and nutrition.