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Kitchen Gardening

Grow Lettuce from Seed

There are many, many lettuces to choose from, way beyond what you can buy at the grocery.

  • So many varieties, so little space. Weave a tapestry of lettuces in your garden this spring.
    Photo/Illustration: Ruth Dobsevage
  • Young lettuce seedlings sprout in plastic containers, recycled from the olive bar at the local grocery.
    Photo/Illustration: Ruth Dobsevage
  • These seedlings have been transplanted into individual pots. Holes at the bottom allow excess moisture to drain.
    Photo/Illustration: Ruth Dobsevage

There are many, many lettuces to choose from, way beyond what you can buy at the grocery. And here’s good news: the “exotic” varieties are a lot easier to grow, and much more nutritious and colorful, than that old standby, iceberg.

I like to start my lettuce indoors, even though it’s not necessary. It gives me a head start on the season, it allows me to arrange them somewhat artfully in their beds, and maybe best of all, I can share them with friends and co-workers.

Warm, and safe from the dog
Salads to be await germination. The plastic bags retain moisture, and a nearby woodstove provides some heat. After four or five days, check daily to see if the seeds have sprouted.
Sowing the seeds is the essence of simplicity. I Fill a container with potting soil, sprinkle some seeds on top, add a little more potting soil, water, and enclose in a plastic bag to form a mini-greenhouse. In southwestern Connecticut, where I live, I plant the seeds by mid-March, and usually they sprout in 7 to 10 days. When sprouts appear, I remove the plastic and put the containers under fluorescent lights.

Sprouted seedlings
When seedlings sprout, remove the bags and bathe them in light. The first leaves, visible here, are the cotyledons, and look pretty much the same from variety to variety. True leaves follow.

     

When the seedlings have a set or two of true leaves, I transplant them into individual cups, which I’ve filled with garden soil. A week or two after that, weather permitting, I set them outside where they are sheltered from wind so they can acclimate to real-world conditions.

LEttuce seedlings hardening off

Below you’ll see some of my favorite varieties. You can check out these, and many more, at Fedco Seeds and Seed Savers Exchange.

Cracoviensis lettuce   Forellenschluss lettuce
Cracoviensis, a French heirloom, has been a reliable producer in my garden.   Forellenschluss, a speckled romaine, is a colorful and popular Austrian heirloom.
     
Merlot lettuce   Strela lettuce
For deep red color, it’s hard to beat Merlot.   Bright green and yummy, Strela anchors the salade palette.
     
Buttercrunch lettuce   Oreilles du diable lettuce
 Buttercrunch lettuce is slow to bolt.   Oreilles du diable (devil’s ears) adds muted tones to the salad bowl.

So get out those seed catalogs and make your selections. And we’d love to hear about your favorite varieties; post your comments below.

For links to articles, blog posts, and videos on starting vegetable and flower seeds, see All About Starting Seeds.

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