Beautiful tasty Red Leaf Lettuce
Companion planting is not hard and fast science, but try it for yourself! The luxury of home, or personal gardening, is you can plant as you wish! Rather than row planting, pop lettuces between your Brassicas – that’s broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbages! Lettuce is said to repel Cabbage butterflies. While you are at it, throw in some Cilantro seeds! Cilantro repels aphids from Brassicas. Great threesome! Lucky for us, lettuce has few pest problems, so plant, plant, plant!
In winter, especially remember to plant tallest solid leaved plants, ie big brocs, to the back, feathery leaved Cilantro next, short Cabbages and then lettuces, so they all get plenty of short days sun.
Lettuces thrive in cool winter temps. This is the time to plant heading lettuces and delicate thin leaved varieties that you wouldn’t dare plant in summer! Plant flavorful Radicchio now to get the best heads.
Try colorful and different shapes! If you like colors, try Ruby Red or Yugoslavian Red Butterhead that has touches of purple! Bronze Mignonette is lovely! Red Velvet is curly and Red Romaine is gorgeous! Flashy Trout Back is a freckled tease! The names alone make you want to plant them!
Transplanting gets quick results and is easiest, but growing by seed gets you the varieties nurseries don’t carry! Sometimes the nurseries will have something special in you might like a lot. Keep those nursery tags with the name, or make notes in your garden journal, so you can order seeds in case they don’t carry it again.
Growing from seeds! Lettuce seeds have a short shelf life, a year or less. Be sure your seed is fresh! They have two planting depths depending on the variety you choose. Some need a bare covering, strictly no more than 1/8 inch deep. Deep is not quite the word here! Some people don’t bother covering them, but religiously keep them moist until sprouted and rooted! If you have the patience, presprout and head to the garden with tweezers to plant them. And do be careful not to break those tiny roots! Jeepers. Takes a saint and steady hands and eyes! The other varieties require a whole 1/4 inch deep! That’s a little easier on some of our souls. But, they still need to be kept moist, not swimming. Watering tiny lettuce seeds is truly an art. Very light sprinkling. No floating away to low spots. Over seeding lettuce is never a problem. Let them grow a bit, then thin carefully with scissors, don’t pull and disturb the remaining plant’s tiny roots. Eat!
NOTE 1! Dying parts of the brassica family of plants produce a poison that prevents the seeds of some plants from growing. Plants with small seeds, like lettuce, are especially affected by the brassica poison. So keep your Brassica leaves cleaned up, maybe don’t put them in your compost. Plant from transplants directly under Brassicas!
NOTE 2! Put down Sluggo or the cheaper house brand equivalent when you plant! Nothing like thinking they never came up when the slugs had gourmet eating the night the sprouts arrived! Also, if you have birds, install a raised cover of something like aviary wire to keep the birds from snatching them.
Feed? Like many winter crops, lettuce is a hardworking leaf crop. If you harvest cut-and-come-again style, it will produce for quite a time! Likely you gave it well manured, composted soil. If it starts to slow down, leaves yellow, it may need a small feed. If you don’t have digging type predator visitors to your garden, give it some fish & kelp liquid. If you do have ground predators, lay off the stinky fish and use something else. Liquid feeds are best because they go right into the soil where the roots need it now! If you plant more in the same spot, add more manure and compost. Keep your soil light with a good water holding capacity.
Lettuces thrive on water. Again, not swimming, but kept moist. It keeps them growing fast, and the leaves have sweet taste!
Growing Mesclun! Grow it in the ground or up on a table if you have a bad back or predator problems! Build your own? For example, lay out some boards with space between for drainage, or plywood with drainage holes, over saw horses. That’s a height you can live with for harvesting! Grow in flats lined with fiberglass with drainage holes, landscape cloth to keep the soil in, a layer of gravel, then your grow mix. Or order up a readymade raised bed! End of summer you can get great buys! The one above is planted in three successive sections, one after the other. As one is done you plant some more. Steady supply intended! If you put it out in the garden somewhere, you can grow other tasty salad fixings like radish, bunch onions, your favorites, even beets, right under it!
When your lettuces grow to the height you want, 3″ to 6″, cut them off. Let them regrow!
In summer you want a stronger lettuce, heat tolerant & slow bolting! Lettuce Leaf and Red Sails are good. Jericho from Israel is great. Sierra, Nevada. Parris Island is slow bolting. Green Towers Romaine tolerates moderate summer heat and has some resistance to tip burn and bolting.
Lettuce is a super food! It helps with weight loss since it is low calorie and the fiber content gives a feeling of fullness as well as being heart-healthy! Lettuce protects your eyesight! It is high in Beta-carotene and regular consumption of beta-carotenes is known to lower risks of macular and degenerative eye diseases. It is highest in Vitamin K for your bones and blood. Lettuce is alkaline forming in your body promoting good energy levels, clear thinking, good sleep and youthful skin!
Yes, red varieties have advantages! Per HeathWithFood.org: Red oak leaf lettuce has been shown to possess exceptionally strong antioxidant properties. A group of scientists from Spain found that the red-leafed lettuce varieties (red oak leaf and lollo rosso) had the highest antioxidant activity among the tested cultivars. The red-leafed varieties also had the highest total phenolic content, which may explain the extraordinary antioxidant properties of these varieties. This study covered five varieties of lettuce (iceberg – the LEAST nutritional value overall, romaine, continental, red oak leaf, and lollo rosso) and one variety of escarole (frissé).
Organic, home grown is best, of course! Commercial lettuces typically have high levels of pesticides. Leaves start to lose nutrients as soon as they are harvested. Wash, refrigerate, eat ASAP! Don’t store lettuce near fruits that produce ethylene gases (like apples). This will increase brown spots and speed up spoilage. Cut-and-come-again gardeners are doing the right thing! Outer leaves have the highest phytonutrient content and antioxidant properties. Oh, and use oil-based salad dressings to make the fat-soluble carotenoids in lettuce more available to your body.
Commercial FYI Lettuce is the third most consumed fresh vegetable in the United States, behind tomatoes and potatoes. California accounted for 71 percent of U.S. head lettuce production in 2013, followed by Arizona producing nearly 29 percent. These states also produce over 98 percent of the leaf lettuce in the U.S. The California drought may cause some changes in those figures…. The most important vegetable crops grown in the state are lettuce and tomatoes.
In your kitchen…. Truly, when it comes to salads, the only limitation is your imagination. Use a variety of lettuces, add your favorite foods – vegetables, fruits, seeds, nuts, grains, croutons, meats or cheeses! Put nutritious red romaine lettuce in your green smoothies. Lettuce is the most beautiful garnish, laid under and around just about any cool dish! And, it is a superb sandwich layer peeking out, just inviting a bite!
In the interest of world peace, a Thich Nhat Hanh quote: When you plant lettuce, if it does not grow well, you don’t blame the lettuce. You look into the reasons it is not doing well. It may need fertilizer, or more water, or less sun. You never blame the lettuce. Yet if we have problems with our friends or our family, we blame the other person. But if we know how to take care of them, they will grow well, like lettuce. Blaming has no positive effect at all, nor does trying to persuade using reason and arguments. That is my experience. No blame, no reasoning, no argument, just understanding. If you understand, and you show that you understand, you can love, and the situation will change.
The Green Bean Connection started as correspondence for our SoCal Santa Barbara CA USA, Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden. All three of Santa Barbara city community gardens are very coastal. During late spring/summer we are in a fog belt/marine layer area most years, locally referred to as the May grays, June glooms and August fogusts. Keep that in mind compared to the microclimate niche where your veggie garden is. Bless you for being such a wonderful Earth Steward!