Keep those leaves coming

Sow and harvest lettuce for a continuous supply.

Sow and harvest lettuce for a continuous supply.

Published Mar 16, 2024


Durban — Summer meals aren’t complete without a salad and if you plant your own lettuce, you can harvest so you have a plentiful supply.

These tips are from Granny Mouse Country House & Spa.

Sowing and planting: Lettuce is adaptable to many conditions, but likes it cool around 15°C to 18°C. Generally, better results will be obtained during the cooler months. Lettuce grows best in full sun, though excessive heat can cause it to bolt, or leaves to wilt.

Full summer sun is too hot and they should be grown under 30-40% shade cloth. Keep the top few centimetres of soil moist (a good mulch helps).

Lettuce is tolerant of a wide range of soils, but prefers well-drained, cool, loose soil with plentiful moisture and a pH 6.2 to 6.8. To encourage tender and tasty growth, make sure the soil is rich in organic compost matter.

Prepare beds by working in manure or compost and raking smooth. Seeds need light to germinate; sow at a very shallow depth by covering with a thin layer of growing medium.

Direct-seeding: Sow seeds 2-3mm deep, 2.5cm apart in rows. When plants have two or three true leaves, thin to 30cm spacings for crisphead varieties, 15 to 25cm for other types.

Transplants: Sow in seed trays 3 to 4 weeks before transplanting outside. Harden seedlings for 3-5 days before transplanting.

Growing: Use row covers or cloches to protect very early plantings from cold or young plants from insects and to shade crops in warmer weather.

Make succession plantings every week or two, and grow several varieties with different maturity dates for a continuous supply. Locate plants where they will be partially shaded by taller nearby plants, latticework or other screens.

Harvesting: Many varieties of lettuce can be harvested as microgreens, baby greens, leaves, or the entire plant. Ideally, greens should be collected early in the day to prevent wilting.

Microgreens are usually harvested within 2 weeks after germination by cutting the entire plant just above the ground, once it is about 10cm tall.

Baby greens are harvested between 28 and 35 days after germination.

Looseleaf, butterhead and romaine types can be harvested as baby greens, while iceberg lettuce is not suitable.

Mature leaves can be harvested from all types of lettuce, except for iceberg, any time in the growing cycle, until a central stem begins to form.

Entire plants can be harvested in mid-development while the leaves are still plump and tender, but before a stem has started to form. Many varieties of looseleaf lettuce can be harvested numerous times during a single growing season. Leaf lettuce can be cut as soon as it is large enough to use, usually in 50 to 60 days from planting.

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