Saturday, February 26, 2011

Enjoying and Growing Lettuce

Lettuce is one of the easiest plants to grow in your garden. It can also be grown in boxes, pots and window baskets. Lettuce is well adapted to Tasmanian conditions as it prefers cooler conditions. With planning it is possible to harvest lettuce almost all year round. It is also cheaper to grow lettuce than to purchase it. Growing lettuce can mean eating a much wider variety of lettuce and it tastes better as well.

There are basically 4 common types or cultivar groups of lettuce.

Crisphead (or Iceberg) Type
This is the most common and familiar type of lettuce. Crispheads form a cabbage like head or heart. They have a delicate flavour and as their name suggests have crisp and crunchy leaves. Their middles leaves are blanched and pale. These are the most difficult to grow of the 4 lettuce types.

We grow Webbs Wonderful which was the very first variety of crisphead and a great summer lettuce. We also grow Red Iceberg and Reinne Des Glace or Ice Queen which is ideal for over wintering.

Looseleaf Type
These lettuces have no heart and have soft rather than rather than crunchy leaves that come in a wide variety of shapes and colours. These lettuces are great for continuos harvest. Varieties we grow include Lollo Bionda, Red Salad Bowl, Green Oak, Australian Yellow, Black Seeded Simpson, Prizehead, Amish Deer Tongue and Darwin.

Butterheads have loose fully formed heads. Their leaves are soft and their flavour is delicate.   They grow well all through the year but are particularly well suited to winter and cool growing as they will grow (albeit very little) when days are short. We grow Speckles, Grandpa Admires (great for winter or summer) and Buttercrunch.

Cos or Romaine Lettuce
Cos or Romaine lettuce have elongated heads with tight hears. The leaves are crisp, thick and distinctly flavoured. Cos is famous for being the lettuce used in Caesar Salads. We grow Freckles which is an Austrian heirloom cos that has red and green leaves. We also grow Paris Cos White and Cimmaron.

Lettuce needs plenty or organic matter in the soil, good water and sun (except in the height of summer when light shade is preferable). Before planting dig animal manures (sheep is best) and decomposed compost into the soil. Mulching is recommended to maintain soil moisture. Bitter lettuce is generally caused by poor soil or lack of moisture. It is best to grow different varieties to ensure a more consistent supply. Successive planting with new lettuce going in every 2-4 weeks maintains a consistent supply.

Lettuce suffers from few pests and diseases with slugs and snails the biggest problem.  

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