I don't know about you, but sometimes there is nothing like a crisp cool salad (and sometimes there is nothing like a big steak) on a warm summer evening. For many, growing lettuce seems daunting, but, it is really about the easiest thing to grow. A typical head of lettuce grows in about 8 weeks, but I have found that I can start harvesting off of it sooner than that. Believe it or not, this particular head of lettuce has been the foundation for two salads that I had to take to events - not just a small bowl of my own!
The key to lettuce is part shade. If they are in extreme heat, they tend to bolt, which means they grow up into weird plants with flowers on top. Pretty, but not tasty. In my Square Foot Garden I try to plant lettuce behind other taller plants so that they will get dappled sunlight throughout the day. It works.
There are wide varieties of lettuce, but my favorite is always Romaine. Lettuce grown in my garden tends to be a bit denser because it isn't mass produced. It is important to rinse the leaves well, and then use a salad spinner or some other method to get the water off. Otherwise, you may end up with a very flat salad base. I harvest the leaves from the outside, and that allows the lettuce head to expand outward from the heart.
As I mentioned, the outer leaves are denser. Most of us are probably used to bagged lettuce or romaine hearts. The flavor of the outer leaves is stronger than the hearts, and a darker green. It really makes a beautiful salad. Last week I picked some leaves and took it to my book club with tomatoes, cucumbers and avocado. I tossed it all in Italian dressing.
Growing Season - All year depending on where you live. Can grow in greenhouses in the winter.
Seed to Harvest - 7-8 weeks
Indoor Seed Starting - 7 weeks before last Spring frost (in cold weather climates)
Earliest Outdoor Planting from seed - 4 weeks before last Spring frost
Recommendations - Plant new seeds every other week so that you have a staggered harvest and don't have to try to use 8 heads of lettuce in one week.
Problems - Slugs love to latch onto the base of the plant. Try to check once or twice a week to make sure that your lettuce is slug-free.