written by: Lindsay Evans•edited by: Tania Cowling•updated: 4/15/2010
Organic lettuce is easy to grow in your home garden. With the right conditions and the proper procedure, you'll enjoy fresh, homegrown, organic salads throughout the growing season.
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You can grow your own organic lettuce through many months of the year. In some locations, lettuce can be grown year-round with the help of a simple cold frame or small greenhouse. Lettuce needs a relatively small space to grow and is even suitable for container gardening.
Before you begin your lettuce bed, first give consideration to the climate you're in. Lettuce grows well in mild to moderate climates. Many varieties can withstand some hot, dry weather when protected with shade cloth during periods of intense sun. If you live in the US southwest, for example, grow your lettuce during the cooler times of the year and be sure you have some shade cloth to protect your lettuce from sun damage.
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Amend Your Soil for Optimum Growth
Lettuce plants have shallow roots, and therefore need moisture and nutrients in the first few inches of your garden soil. A week or so before planting, turn the soil over in your garden bed to loosen the soil using a rototiller or a shovel. If your soil is particularly sandy or will otherwise quickly dry out in the summer heat be sure to add composted organic matter to improve your soil's water holding capacity.
Apply a basic organic fertilizer to the soil, such as a 5-10-10 fertilizer or fish fertilizer, according to the package directions. If you really want to make your garden soil the perfect environment for your organic lettuce, test the pH of your soil and amend it accordingly. Lettuce prefers a pH of 6.0 to 6.5. In general, testing the pH is not necessary as long as your soil is enriched with compost.
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Recommended Lettuce Varieties
Lettuce seed is broken down into four main categories: Crisphead, Cos (Romaine), Loose Leaf, and Butterhead. Though all types can be grown to maturity, Loose Leaf lettuces are generally best suited for growing baby greens. Crisphead, Cos, and Butterhead types will give you a nice full head of lettuce at harvest time.
Many different varieties of lettuce fall into these four categories. Some suggested organic lettuce varieties are listed below:
Crisphead: Iceberg, Great Lakes, Imperial
Cos: Valmaine, Little Gem, Romulus
Loose Leaf: Salad Bowl, Red Salad Bowl, Green Ice
Butterhead: Buttercrunch, Speckles, Esmerelda
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Planting and Caring For Your Lettuce Seed
Lettuce seeds are very small. When planting, be sure to leave enough room between seeds to allow for each plant to form a nice head. Follow spacing instructions on your seed packet, or plant at least 6 inches apart. Rows should be spaced 24 to 30 inches apart.
Rake your garden bed to a smooth, flat top. Make shallow furrows 1/4" to 3/8" deep. Plant your lettuce seed with proper spacing. Gently cover the seeds with soil so that they are planted no deeper than 3/8". Water the seeds in gently. Keep the soil moist, but not soggy, during germination.
After the lettuce plants are established, water your lettuce when the top of the soil seems dry. Do not let the soil become over dry, as your lettuce may taste bitter at harvest.
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Lettuce heads may be harvested whenever their size looks right to you. Use the "days to maturity" on your seed packets as a guide. Harvest loose-leaf lettuces by clipping the outer leaves, leaving the center to keep growing. Harvest head-forming types by clipping the base root.
Now, all you need is to make a tasty salad with the organic lettuce you learned to grow!
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Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet http://ohioline.osu.edu/hyg-fact/1000/1610.html
NC State University http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/hil/hil-8011.html
Photos courtesy of flickr.com creative commons license: http://www.flickr.com/photos/naturalmom/2583612831/