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These tips and tricks will teach you how to grow lettuce organically in your garden to get huge, continual yields!
We admit it: we love “rabbit food,” as veggie-averse folks often refer to lettuce.
Throughout spring, fall, and winter, we eat piles of fresh salads, which almost invariably include lettuce greens from our organic garden. In our area (Ag Zone 7B), lettuce goes to seed by June and doesn’t much care for our extremely hot, humid summers.
We’ve notice that many gardeners who grow lettuce, don’t get nearly the production from their lettuce beds as they could.
We’ve learned a lot about how to grow lettuce organically over the years, so we want to share our top lettuce growing tricks with you so you can boost your lettuce harvests.
How to grow lettuce: 3 tips to boost your garden’s lettuce production
These tips are not intended to rehash growing instructions you can find on a seed packet. They’re here to help you grow piles of ridiculously healthy, beautiful, vigorous lettuce.
1: Sow your lettuce seeds densely, then start “thinning” for continual harvests
We grow lettuce using organic/permaculture methods in no-till garden beds.
We start by pulling back the surface mulch on our beds to the point that the soil is exposed. Then we scatter lettuce seeds on the soil surface like you would sprinkle pepper on the surface of your food.
Next, we water in the seeds to make sure they have good seed-to-soil contact and the moisture they need to trigger germination. (If your beds are lacking fertility/biology, now is a great time to top-dress them with 2″ of compost or worm castings, sowing your seeds into the surface of the amendment.
Within two weeks of the seeds germinating, we’re harvesting lettuce microgreens. Within four weeks, we have lettuce baby greens.
We get a continual harvest of lettuce greens for several months after, thinning out the smaller plants as we go to make room for the most robust lettuce plants. At the end, we have a bed full of large mature heads of lettuce, some of which we leave to produce seed, some of which we harvest.
Since it helps to have a visual aid, we made a short 5 minute video to show you exactly how to do what’s described above:
2: Get multiple harvests from the same mature heads of lettuce
There are four broad types of lettuce (Lactuca sativa):
- Head (or Bibb) Lettuce – Produces loose heads of soft, folded leaves.
- Iceberg Lettuce – Produces a tight head of crisp, watery leaves.
- Leaf Lettuce – Produces loose leaves (not heads) that can be harvested when very young.
- Romaine Lettuce – Produces a tall crisp head with ribbed leaves.
You may not have known that lettuce varieties which form heads can produce several flushes of leaves IF you don’t cut the crown too low when harvesting from the mature head. However, if you cut the plant at the ground or cut too deeply into its crown, you will kill the plant.
When harvesting lettuce types like Romaine of Head lettuce, don’t cut the entire plant down to the ground. Leave a few inches of leaf/crown on the plant and it will produce new leaves within a couple of weeks.
Depending on the variety and the vigor of the plant, you should be able to get 2-3 additional harvests from the plant. Note that each successive harvest will be smaller than the previous harvest. Here’s a really helpful visual guide to show you exactly what this looks like in an in-ground lettuce plant.
Interestingly, this even works with lettuce you get at the grocery store. To demonstrate, we purchased a bag of organic Romaine lettuce heads to show you how it works:
For leaf lettuce varieties, don’t harvest the entire plant all at once. Rather, harvest the outside leaves only, allowing the smaller center leaves to mature and the plant to continue producing more leaves for future harvests.
How to Grow Lettuce, Tip #3: Grow organically & save your seeds
What does it mean to “grow organically” in your own garden? After all, there’s no certifying agency there to inspect your work. Basically, we mean be ecologically sensible.
If you have to use a pesticide, use an OMRI listed, organic pesticide. OMRI listed pesticides are almost always either:
- living cultures of beneficial bacteria,
- live predatory insects or microbes.
This helps you grow healthier, more nutrient-dense plants and sets you up for something else… producing incredibly vigorous seeds.
Want to grow robust, gorgeous lettuce varieties that are adapted to your specific garden and ag zone? Learn to save seeds from your open-pollinated lettuce varieties.
It might be hard, but instead of harvesting your healthiest, most gorgeous lettuce plants, consider leaving them to flower and make seeds. Save and plant the seeds, repeating this process year after year.
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You can certainly tell how #lettuce got its botanical name (Lactuca sativa). The Romans called it lactuca, which means “milk,” due to its milky latex/sap. They bred the original “romaine” varieties. Not to get too graphic, but you might also be able to tell why the ancient Egyptians (who first domesticated lettuce) considered it a sacred plant revered as an #aphrodisiac and #fertility enhancer. It was also believed to be the favorite food of Min, the Egyptian God of fertility. #FoodHistory #heirloomseeds #organic #gardening #permaculture #GrowJourney
As we explain here, inside each seed, the parent plants will pass on epigenetic information to their offspring allowing them to grow better in your specific conditions (climate, pests, soil, etc.). The better you can get at seed breeding and the more generations you can save your lettuce seeds, the better off your plants will be. You can also breed for your favorite colors, flavors, textures, etc.
If you have any questions about how to grow lettuce, please ask in the comments below. Otherwise, get out there and start growing your own organic lettuce (and seeds)!
Another great article for you lettuce lovers
Celtuce is a variety of Asian lettuce grown for its edible stems, not its leaves. Celtuce is grown a bit differently than regular lettuce. Learn how to grow, harvest, eat, and store celtuce on TyrantFarms.com!