With the warmer days of impending spring blowing through the Bluegrass, many are getting anxious to start planting a garden. It is still not too late to start seedlings indoors, but what if you want to start on the outside garden? Lettuce would be your answer.
Lettuces are naturally cool-weather crops, and can withstand air temperatures down as low as 20° F. Heat is the major problem with lettuces because they are notorious for bolting (going to seed) quickly in warm to hot weather.
Decide on a south facing position, the closer to the house the better. If the lettuce is near a path you use most of the time, then it will be easier to pick leaves for a salad when you walk by and keep the lettuce from bolting. The warmth from the south facing sun will do two things: warm the soil to help the seeds germinate quickly and help the lettuce grow before very hot weather arrives.
Lettuce does great in “square foot gardening,” a type of gardening where many plants are grown in a small space (this is what I do). If you use this type of gardening, divide your bed into quarters. Two of the most important things to remember about growing lettuce: keep starting new plants every few weeks and switch from a “warm weather” lettuce to a “cold weather” lettuce. A good rule of thumb is: if you are growing head lettuce and use at least one head every three or four days, then sow a new plant every three or four days.
Lettuces LOVES to eat, so they are heavy feeders. When laying out your lettuce bed, make sure you use good, rich soil and lots of compost. In the Bluegrass, we still have a few months before we can start lettuce seeds outside, so after applying soil and compost, cover the bed with black plastic. This will have to warm the soil even more.
Leaf lettuce is best grown from seeds in the prepared lettuce bed, so pick one quarter of your bed for leaf lettuce. Head lettuce and Roman lettuce are usually best started with plants, so you can either start them at home or buy from a reputable nursery as soon as they are available. Lettuce grows slowly in cooler weather, so don’t be surprised if you see little growth the first few weeks, but watch out for rapid growth when the weather turns warmer.