Lettuces come in a variety of colors, textures, and flavors. Photo by bcballard under the Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.
Lettuce is gorgeous in an edible landscape.Photo/Illustration: Chris McLaughlin
My fall lettuce goes out into my cold frame.Photo/Illustration: Chris McLaughlin
It’s flat out boring to let the grocery store show us what lettuce is all about. To be fair, there are a couple of red-leafed and butterhead lettuces hanging around in the produce aisle, certainly. Still when I think of grocery stores, I can’t help but think of iceberg lettuce. Iceberg lettuce is just the tip of the, well – iceberg. There are literally hundreds of lettuces that come in all shapes, colors, textures, and flavors.
This is one of the best arguments I can think of for growing some heirloom lettuces. Another great reason to try your hand at growing your own lettuce is that it’s really easy to grow – we’re talking ridiculously easy. Lettuce is also a fast-maturing crop, so there’s some instant veggie gratification. The one thing to keep in mind is that most varieties won’t fare well in a heat wave. Lettuce is a cool-weather worshipper, although a little bit of sun can be tolerated.
I usually start my first spring crop of lettuce indoors about four weeks before the last frost. The next sowing I do is in late spring, when I just seed them directly into the garden beds. We don’t have hard winters here, but we do have hard frosts regularly. So during the fall or winter, I plant them in a cold frame that lets me take advantage of what sun I have (for growing) but keep the freezing temps from killing the tender leaves.
There are four general lettuce categories. Romaine or Cos lettuce produces long, thick, and crinkly leaves. It’s an upright type with succulent leaves that will tolerate a fair amount of heat. It’s also the healthiest of the lettuces.
Butterhead or Bibb lettuce has short, loose-leaf heads and yellow interiors. The leaves are thin and soft and this lettuce is fairly good at tolerating heat. It’s the second runner-up to romaine in nutrition. You’ll find the widest selection of heirlooms in this lettuce category.
The last groups of lettuces are the crispheads or icebergs and Batavian lettuces. They’re the most popular type of lettuce, and you’ll recognize the tightly layered leaves that form a nice head. While they’re thought of as having the least nutritional value, icebergs are a good source of choline and vitamin K. They need cool weather to form proper heads.
Another reason I love growing lettuces is that they make a beautiful addition to edible landscaping.
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