Salad Days are Here Again!
Fall has crept up FAST! Even if you’ve had no time to think about what kinds of fall vegetable crops you’d like to grow, it’s not too late to sow one that will grace your dinner table every night for weeks. Yes, it’s quick-maturing, space-saving, container-friendly lettuce!
First, choose the type of lettuce you want. You’re basically deciding between two growth habits: looseleaf, where you cut the leaves individually as you need them (and where the plant will grow new ones until the weather gets too chilly), or headed, where the lettuce forms a tightly wrapped ball of leaves that is best harvested all at once, at the base. Looseleafs offer instant gratification every time you check the plant; headed types can take a little longer, but yield a good amount of lettuce when harvest comes.
Second, decide where you want to grow your lettuce. Containers, the garden, or both? Lettuce is a joy for the urban or soil-challenged gardener, because it does well in pots and tubs of all kinds. Raised beds are an excellent choice too. And garden rows are the classic method, considerably improved by Easy Tunnels, which enable you to cover up the crop and protect it from nibbling creatures!
Third, decide how you want to sow the seeds. The good old-fashioned seed packet full of loose seeds awaits you, as well as seed tapes, which help keep seeds from washing away (and let you create straight rows and pretty designs), and multiseed pellets, which are mixes of several varieties that grow well together.
With all these decisions made, let’s look at some good choices for your fall lettuce crop!
If you fear an early frost, rely on Micro Mini Greens Mix to carry you through! These are very, very young lettuces, sort of a cross between sprouts and baby greens. They taste so tender and sweet, and are ready to harvest about 2 weeks after sowing — seriously! Can’t beat ’em!
Baby greens are the next to harvest, maturing about 3 weeks from sowing. Many of these can also be grown longer for full-sized leaves, making them very useful for unpredictable weather. Baby Leaf Riverside Spinach — not technically a lettuce, but who’s counting? — is one of the best. Babyleaf Lettuce Blend, sold in seed tape, is another fine choice, containing 3 premier varieties.
Ready any time from 1 to 2 months after sowing, these full-sized varieties deliver a big crop of mature lettuce. Many mixes offer a great range of flavors and textures within a single packet of seeds. Try the Simply Salad varieties such as City Garden and Alfresco Mix; they are sold as multiseed pellets you need only sow one to get 5 or 6 different types of lettuce!
If you are growing your lettuce in the garden, make sure that your soil is fairly rich, mixing in some compost or aged manure before you sow the seeds. If you are growing lettuce in a container, make sure the potting soil is fresh, and feed it as needed.
To sow lettuce from loose-seed packets, sprinkle the seeds on top of the soil, then press them in lightly with your hand or a board, so they are anchored in the soil but not covered.
The same applies to multiseed pellets; press them into the soil, covering only lightly or not at all.
If you are sowing seed tape, cover the tape lightly after sowing. No matter which type of seed you choose, keep the soil moist until the seeds sprout.
As the seedlings grow, thin them as necessary to make room for full-sized plants, and cut individual leaves as needed from loose-leafs. Lettuce will regrow if cut early enough in the season.
Lettuce doesn’t mind a little frost, but if you want to extend your season of harvest, slip an Easy Tunnel over the row. This breathable, hooped row cover raises the temperature several degrees, and protects from sleet. Easy Tunnels are also helpful throughout the growing process to prevent nibbling animals from getting at your crop!
Lettuce of all kinds makes a quick and easy fall crop. And as with most homegrown vegetables, once you taste lettuce from your own garden or pot, you’ll never want to go back to store-bought again!