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Lettuce is a favorite in the garden because it is relatively easy to grow, is one of the first crops that can be planted, and is one of the first crops to yield in the spring. It doesn’t take a lot of room, and because of its shallow root system it also does well in containers.
Lettuce will do well with only 5 or more hours of sunlight a day, and in areas where the temperature will get fairly hot you can take advantage of that by planting on the east side of a building or fence, or putting up a shade structure.
In general lettuce is a light feeder, so an initial application of fertilizer is probably all that will be needed. A soil pH of about 6.0 to 7.5 is preferred. If you are planting in a container then try to get a soil depth of at lest 6-8 inches.
Because lettuce prefer cool conditions (great for the Ireland) they are ideal vegetables for inter-cropping. That is growing them near to other vegetables which crop at a different time, normally later. Plant lettuce where runner beans, broad beans, peas, brussels sprouts or sweet corn will provide them with shade in the hottest part of the day.
If you do grow lettuce near taller vegetables, take care that they are not deprived of water. Lettuce need lots of water to mature quickly and larger crops may take the lion's share of moisture. If this is the case, water the lettuce well in dry conditions.
You can plant lettuce 2-4 weeks before the last frost date, and in the fall should be planted about 6 to 8 weeks before the first frost date. Lettuce is somewhat tolerant of frosts, although it will not take extended freezing temperatures. On the other hand, it will tend to bolt in higher temperatures. Because of this it is very productive in fall gardens. Also, it doesn’t pay to let it go, lettuce is better picked early than late.
When you’re ready to transplant your lettuce, you should get it used to outside conditions. About a week before you’re ready to plant, set your plants outside a few hours, increasing the time to a full day after about 3 days. Your lettuce should be ready to plant after a week of exposure to outside temperatures. Wet down your garden beds several hours or a day before you transplant.
Make a hole with a suitable stick (A piece of an old broom handle is ideal). Place the seedling plug in the hole and firm gently around the roots, water well.
The key requirements are water and weeding. Both can be greatly assisted by laying a covering of organic material (or black plastic cut to allow the seedlings through) around the plants, this will keep the soil moist and stop the growth of weeds. It will also provide a slow but steady stream of nutrients.
Pests and diseases:
Lettuces have a few enemies which may not kill the crop, but they will slow down growth and make the plants less healthy.
The pests are, lettuce root aphid (yellowing and decaying roots), lettuce root maggot (maggots present on the roots), greenfly and slugs. All of these can be treated using chemicals from your local garden centre. However, a few basic precautions should prevent them in the first place.
1. Weed the bed - weeds provide a home for pests and diseases.
2. Remove harvested lettuces from the ground completely, do not leave the stump in the ground. It will rot and attract the attention of pests, root aphid in particular
3. Provide them with sufficient water especially in dry periods.
4. Water around the plants with derris (available from most garden centres) in late May.
5. Do not grow lettuce in the same beds as has been previously used for chrysanthemums. Doing so will increase the risk of root maggot.
Harvesting your lettuce at the correct time is important for maximizing its flavor and texture. If you let your lettuce crop sit in the garden too long, it will increase in bitterness and the leaves will become tougher. Lettuce is generally ready to harvest about 80 days after planting with seeds and about 60 days after using seedlings.
If you grow romaine or butter leaf lettuce, you should first remove the outer leaves, then dig up the entire plant and cut it off at the base. This way, it’s possible to have a second crop. With leaf lettuce, simply remove the outer leaves and let the plant continue to grow. For crisphead lettuce, let the center reach full firmness before you harvest.
Separate leaves and wash under cold water. A salad spinner is a worthwhile investment as dry leaves will keep in the fridge much longer.
When lettuce is washed and properly stored, it stays fresh in the fridge for about 5 to 6 days. However, note that lettuce that you've washed yourself and stored properly will last longer then pre-washed lettuce.