Rose Moradian on Lettuce
Lettuces are very easy to grow. The most recognizable lettuces are Romaine and Iceberg, but there are thousands of different types of lettuces and are not just green, they come in red and speckled, too. My two favorite varieties are “Blush” butter head/iceberg and “Magenta” loose leaf.
“Blush” Lettuce is remarkable in that it had many different shades of green inside and many shades if red on the outside. Both of these lettuces I am growing for the Bistro and may be on menu for the Summer Solstice Wine and Food pairing on June 17th. Red leafed lettuces tend to be more heat and insect resistant and are very beautiful. The colorful lettuces have more nutrients as well.
Although lettuces have been hybridized, they often are heirloom. Seed savers around the world have exchanged lettuce seeds for along time. I grew some “Brown” lettuces from seeds from Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello estate..they have been passed on for hundreds of years.
Lettuces are cool weather lovers and “bolt” or flower in heat, making it one of the easiest plants to collect seeds from. I have grown green and speckled types in the shade of other plants in the summers. Indirect light when the temperatures are above 75 is fine for most lettuces. There are varieties that people in Australia have developed to deal with the heat which I’ll be growing this summer for the Bistro. Lettuces are a neutral presence in any garden.
Snails and slugs are pests you’ll want to protect your lettuce from. I use “Sluggo” a non toxic snail killer. It’s simply iron phosphate which snails and slugs respond to by dying. Copper also kills snails. Or you can drown snails in beer or honey. Just leave a wide soup bowl filled with beer in the garden over night and change daily.
The “cut and come again” technique is a great way to have an ongoing supply of fresh salad for the home vegetable garden and is the basis for baby salad greens. First you have to grow the lettuce to nearly full size and have about 15 lettuces growing. Do two plants a day and go to back to the first cut one at the end of the cycle. Choose the plants that are biggest to do the first time.
Peek in the plant to the stem and cut about half way down the stem using regular scissors that are smaller and pointed. When you cut you will see a milky substance. All lettuces have this; in fact the Latin name for lettuce is “lactus” meaning milk. Keep the lettuce cuttings cool and in the shade. Wash and spin dry.
This first cutting may be a bit bitter. New leaves for where you cut, these are the tender yummy leaves. From then on you can rotate what lettuce you cut and keep a constant supply of fresh greens for every day salads. After about two months of this rotation you’ll want to plant new lettuces to cycle in, as this technique can exhaust the lettuces after some time.
Explore the many varieties of lettuces
Editor: Rose is growing a varied assortment of lettuce in our organic vegetable garden at the Lafond Vineyards. First harvest will probably be this weekend.