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Growing Lettuce
In your Backyard Gardening

By Rick Tomsu

Lettuce is a very easy crop to grown in backyard gardens, especially in the spring and autumn. In early spring, plant a short row (about five feet) of cutting lettuce as soon as the soil can be worked. Cutting lettuce are so called because the lettuce leaves are cut or pinched from the plants when the leaves are 4-6" tall, allowing the root system to sprout additional leaves.

Virtually any leaf lettuce can be used as a cutting lettuce. Plant lettuce seeds an inch or two apart, barely covering them with a fine, loose soil. Keep the seeds moist but not water logged. Plant an additional short row of lettuce every 10 to 14 days to ensure a continuous supply of lettuce throughout the spring.

To grow full sized lettuce, start the lettuce plants indoors 4-6 weeks before the last frost date. Seeds should be planted in cell packs, or an inch apart in flats using a soil-less potting mixture. Seedlings need at least 12 hours of strong light every day. Grow lights or fluorescent fixtures placed a few inches above the seedling work well.

Once seedlings are an inch or two tall, gradually acclimate them to the outdoors. This is called hardening of. On an overcast day, place the seedling outside for one hour. Continue this every hour, gradually increasing the a mount of time outdoors, and keeping the soil moist. Protect the seedlings from strong wind and hard rain.

After the seedlings have been hardened off for 12-14 days, transplant them 10" apart on an overcast day, or late in the afternoon. Water the seedlings thoroughly. Most lettuces tolerate light frosts, so they may be transplanted 2-3 weeks prior to the last frost date. Delay transplanting if a hard frost is threatening. a floating row cover will provide some protection and improve growing conditions.

Keep lettuce weed free by hand rather than mulching, which encourages slugs and slimy stem rot. If slugs appear, they can be removed by hand trapped in jar lids of beer, or discouraged by sprinkling diomaceous earth around the plants.

Lettuce is a cool weather crop, and by mid summer, most lettuces either become bitter or go to seed. Select only those varieties which are reputed to be heat resistant. Keep summer lettuces well watered and harvest as soon as they mature.

There are four types of lettuce. Romaines have a strong flavor and are extremely nutritious. Leaf lettuces are also nutritious and tasty. Crisphead lettuces include Batvian and iceburg. Butterhead lettuces are sometimes called Boston Lettuce and are prized for their beauty, satiny tenderness, and superb flavor.

Perhaps someday supermarkets will recognize the importance of selling flavorful, nutritious and genuinely fresh lettuce. Until then, one of the ways to enjoy a truly outstanding, delicious lettuce is to grow your own.