For years, I had trouble growing lettuce. My California climate meant the lettuce tended to bolt–i.e. form flowers–before I had a chance to harvest it. Either that, or I just never got enough lettuce to justify the work of growing it.
However in the last few years, that all changed. I hit upon a system that allows me to eat lettuce deep into the summer. Here’s how I grow lettuce:
1. In early spring, I sow a mix of salad seeds in the ground.
I sprinkle the seeds liberally in a shallow trench, cover, and water thoroughly.
Currently, I’m using the Rocky Top Lettuce Mix Salad Blend. I like a mix of seeds because lettuce, like everything else in life, is enhanced by variety.
2. As the lettuce grows, I eat the lettuce I thin.
With daily watering, the lettuce quickly becomes big enough to thin. When it does, I begin to pull the small lettuce plants out, leaving the bigger ones in their place. I break off the dirty roots and collect the leaves. I usually end up with a salad’s worth of lettuce.
The lettuce remains very densely planted, but you know what? Lettuce seems to like being densely planted.
What you’re looking at here is a row of lettuce in my garden. As you can see, I plant the lettuce densely together so that they grow into each other. The plants are happy and shiny and delicious.
3. When the lettuce begins to form heads, I begin breaking off the outer leaves for the salad.
As I go along, there are fewer lettuce plants in the row, but they are bigger. Instead of pulling whole plants, I start pulling leaves from the outside of each plant, which are very tender because the plant is still young and in the ground. This stimulates the plant and makes it put energy into making more leaves into making flowers.
Every time I want a salad, I go out and collect a bowl full of lettuce.
4. To keep the lettuce from bolting, I cover it with a grate, like so.
Bolting means that the lettuce plant starts making flowers. For most lettuce, this makes the leaves taste bitter and nasty. To slow this process, I put a grate of wire over the plant. This lets light through but keeps the lettuce from getting too hot. (Alternately, you could just plant the lettuce in dappled sunlight.)
5. After a month or two, the strongest lettuce plants have formed heads, like you see in the grocery store.
That’s when I pluck the whole thing out and take it inside for dinner.
That’s my method. What’s your favorite kind of lettuce?