Friday, August 21, 2020

Growing Lettuce - Homesteading 101

No homesteading garden is complete without growing the foundation of your salad garden, lettuce! 

Growing lettuce is easy, takes up little space so you can easily tuck it between and under taller vegetables and even flowers.

Lettuce grows for many weeks in the mild weather of spring and fall, and it can be planted several times every season for a continual supply. 

The Basics -- Lettuce

Annual Height:  9-12:      Width:  6"

Lettuce comes in many different varieties including leaf lettuces, crispheads, summer crisps, icebergs, romaine, butterheads, and bibbs.  Here's a  short description of each.

Leaf lettuce.  Forms a loose rosette of tender, sweet-tasting leaves in 4-6 weeks.

Summer Crisps.  Loosehead of large, crisp leaves with good flavor.

Crispheads.  A combination of romaine and iceberg types.  Crunchy texture.

Romaines.  Oblong leaves that form fairly loose, upright heads.

Butterhead and Bibb.  Broad rosettes of tender, wavy leaves with a delicate flavor and creamy texture.


There are early varieties for spring planting and heat-tolerant varieties for Fall planting.

Starting Seeds of Lettuce

Seed Depth: 1/4" - 1/2". Need light to germinate.

Seed Spacing: Thin to 6-8" apart.

Days to Germinate: 7-14 days.

Days to Harvest: Leaf Lettuce 30-50 days.

Head Lettuce 100 days.

Seed Longevity: 2 Years

Sowing Indoors:

Start Romaine, iceberg and other head lettuces indoors 4-6 weeks before the average last frost date, making three small sowings at weekly intervals.

Sowing Outdoors:

Spring: Direct sow as soon as soil can be worked.

Fall: Direct sow 4-8 weeks before your average first frost date.

Salad Spinner 

Winter Sowing:

If you haven't tried winter sowing, you're in for a treat. This method is especially good for sowing herbs and greens. 

Winter sowing is basically sowing seeds in the bottom of a milk jug during the winter, setting the milk jugs outside for the winter and leaving them there until the seeds germinate in Spring.

For our separate article with details about Winter Sowing, click here.

Salad Tongs

Growing Lettuce Plants

Growing Temperature: 55-60 degrees during the growing season. Will survive light frosts.

Plant Spacing: Leaf Lettuce - 1" for continuous harvest.

Head Lettuce - 8"
Summer Crisps - 8-12"
Iceberg - 8-12"
Romaine - 10"
Butterhead - 8-10"
Bibb - 6-8"

Container Size: Shallow Roots. 6" deep.

Sun/Shade: Full sun for best yields. Tolerates part shade.

Soil: Plenty of compost will encourage fast growth.

Watering: Consistent water for the best flavor.
Lack of moisture causes bitterness.

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Since greens are such a  fast-growing crop, as long as they are grown in rich soil there may be little need for further fertilization.    

That said, a liquid balanced fertilizer when the seedlings are 4" tall will give your greens a boost and carry them through their short season.  After the temperatures warm, though, the leaves of Lettuce will turn bitter and no amount of fertilizer will help at that point.

Growing Tips

Extending the Growing Season:

Start romaine, iceberg and other head lettuce indoors 4-6 weeks before the average last frost date, making three small sowings at weekly intervals.

Set out the seedlings and direct sow leaf lettuce outdoors at 2-week intervals.  If you plan to harvest only leaves, sow entire loose-leaf crop at once.

Harvesting Lettuce

Leaf Lettuces.  Harvest outer leaves as soon as they're a usable size.

Harvest entire plant at 2" above soil level for cut-and-come-again.

Head Lettuces.  Cut the head away from the stalk when the head is still firm.  Head lettuce will be freshest when harvested in the morning.

Salad/Food Crispers

Storing Lettuce For Later Use

Tendergreen leaves, like Lettuce, can't be preserved well.

FreshLoose leafed lettuce will store 7-10 days in a crisper.

Head lettuce will store 1-3 weeks in the crisper


To read the other articles in our Homesteading 101 Growing Your Greens series, click on the name below:

Where to go next!

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