By Kat Yares, Garden Guides Contributor
Lettuce is the common name for a variety of different plants of the genus Lactuca grown primarily for their edible leaves. Most types of lettuce are grown for the use in salads, although the leaves are often used on sandwiches, burgers and as a garnish. Lettuce can be grown in a garden, greenhouse or container. Greenhouse or container lettuce can be grown year-round for a constant supply. Lettuce is considered an annual by most gardeners, but if allowed to bolt, will seed itself without having to replant.
Prepare lettuce beds by adding humus or compost to the soil. Soil should drain well, but be capable of retaining moisture.
* Most lettuces enjoy cooler temperatures, so lettuce should be planted accordingly. To extend the season, plant leaf lettuces in the early spring and head lettuces in the heat of the summer.
* Lettuces left to bolt and go to seed can cross with other lettuces, including wild lettuce.
* Leaf lettuces have more nutrition and antioxidants than head lettuces like iceberg.
Choosing a Variety
There are 6 favorite types of lettuce grown in a home garden. Bib lettuce has loosely formed heads and a melt-in-your-mouth texture. Chinese lettuces are grown mostly for the stems and are used in stir-fries and other dishes. Iceberg, or crisphead, lettuce forms tight compact heads and is used mainly in salads, but has very little nutritional value. Romaine lettuce is used primarily in salads but can also be used on sandwiches. Batavian lettuce falls somewhere between a loose-leaf and a head lettuce.
Broadcast or scatter seed evenly on the soil bed. Cover lightly with soil. Alternatively, plant in rows approximately 1 1/2 inches apart. One seed packet should plant around 100 feet and produce 80 heads of lettuce or almost 50 lbs. of leaf lettuce.
Aphids, cutworms and slugs cause most problems with lettuce. Spray lettuce with an insecticide to avoid insect damage. Mold can develop on plants that are packed too closely together and stay wet.
Harvesting and Storage
Harvest leaf type lettuce as needed when the leaves are young and tender. Head lettuce should be harvested when the head is firm to pressure. Do not pinch the heads as this can injure the heart of the lettuce and affect storage times. Lettuce is always best when eaten fresh, but can be stored up to 2 weeks in the crisper section of the refrigerator.