Growing Crisphead Lettuce
If you're tired of paying for lettuce at the grocery store, try growing your own romaine, crisphead, butterhead, or leaf lettuces. There are many colors, shapes, sizes, and textures of lettuce that you can easily grow so you will never have a boring salad again!
Why grow lettuce at all?
Growing lettuce is easy to do, it takes up little space and it's the perfect vegetable to grow on a deck or patio pot where it's handy at dinner time!
Not only that, but some lettuces can be planted several times every season for a continual supply and some will give you more than one harvest. So I guess my question would be, why wouldn't you want to grow your own lettuce?
This article will focus on Crisphead aka Iceberg or Head lettuce. See the end of the article for links to growing butterhead, romaine, and leaf lettuce.
Crisphead, or iceberg, is a rounded, compact lettuce with overlapping leaves.
Crisphead lettuce contains curved, overlapping leaves that form crispy, firm round heads. Inside, creamy white leaves are tightly packed. Deep green outer leaves are delicious when used as wraps.
Crisphead lettuce does have small amounts of fiber, potassium, zinc, calcium, folate, Vitamin A, and Vitamin K.
Due to its high water content, it is less nutritionally dense than dark leafy greens like spinach or kale.
Crisphead Lettuce Varieties
Varieties of crisphead lettuce include the classic iceberg-type, improved iceberg varieties, some with dark green heads, and a French type of crispheads that open like looseleaf lettuce but later develop a dense head at maturity.
Some of the head lettuces have been bred to be more heat resistant and/or slower to bolt. These varieties should be selected in areas with short spring cool temps. Ithaca and Great Lakes are suitable for these climates. Igloo is another great heat-resistant type. Crispino forms medium-sized, light green heads. Iceberg develops large deep green heads.
Here are some great recommendations of iceberg-type varieties to grow:
Sowing Lettuce Seeds
You'll need to know your first and last frost dates for your area to correctly time the sowing or transplanting of the lettuce seeds or plants.
If you're not sure when the first and last frost dates are for your area, check it here.
Direct sow lettuce seeds into the garden as soon as the soil can be worked. This is usually when the soil temperatures are above 60 degrees or one to two weeks before your last frost date.
Lettuce has a tendency to bolt quickly in hot weather, so it’s recommended to plant spring crops as early as possible.
Indoor Sowing for Spring
You can start lettuce seeds indoors 3 weeks before planting out and transplant the seedlings at or near the first frost date for your area.
For Fall Lettuce Crops
Fall crops can be sown in late summer in your area. Time the lettuce's maturity around the time of the first expected frost. Mature plants aren't as tolerant of freezing as seedlings.
Another way to sow lettuce seeds is by the winter sowing method. If you haven't tried winter sowing, you're in for a treat.
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 early Spring.
Read all about it here: Winter Sowing 101.
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Harvesting Crisphead Lettuce
Crisphead varieties take longer to grow and should be harvested as soon as a head develops but before outer leaves turn brown. If seed stalks appear, pick the lettuce immediately and store it in the refrigerator to prevent bitterness.
To harvest, remove the entire head once it’s large and feels tightly packed. The outer leaves are edible, but not as pleasant to eat as the sweet inner leaves.
Storing Lettuce For Later Use
To store lettuce, first wash it well by immersing it in water and swishing it around. Place it in a colander and rinse then drip dry. Do this especially if you have used chemicals on your crop.
When it is dry, place it in a plastic bag in the refrigerator or wrap in paper towels and place it in a bowl in the refrigerator. It keeps best at 32 degrees with 96% humidity.
Avoid storing lettuce with apples, pears or bananas as they release a natural ripening agent that will cause brown spots and the leaves will decay quickly.
Saving Heirloom Varieties of Lettuce Seeds
Lettuce plants will eventually bolt and go to seed. Each lettuce plant makes many hundreds of seeds.
You just have to roll the little dried heads between your fingers and let the seeds fall into your other hand. You can separate the seed from the chaff if you wish. It’s best to save lettuce seeds on a dry day so the seeds are also dry. Set out the seeds to dry thoroughly, then place the dried seed in a baggie or jar and store them in a cool, dry place.
No homesteading garden is complete without growing the foundation of your salad garden, lettuce! So get some lettuce seeds and get growing. You'll never have a boring salad again!
Where to go next:
More articles in this series:
Growing Leaf Lettuce
Growing Romaine Lettuce
Growing Butterhead Lettuce
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