DIY a Lettuce Tray
Fall is a great season to grow a variety of lettuce. The scorching summer days are over and the cooler temperatures make for perfect lettuce growing conditions. Build a lettuce tray and you'll have your own supply of this healthy veggie for salads well into the cooler months.
A lettuce tray is a shallow, portable tray used for planting baby spinach, arugula, mesclun, or other varieties. The trays can be moved around the yard to suit your needs and brought indoors if there is any danger of a fall frost.
All you need to make your own are a couple of hours and a few basic materials that you likely already have around your house.
Step 1 – Build Your Tray Frame
To build your tray frame, you'll need four pieces of wood, one for each side of the tray.
Cut your wood into two 12-inch boards and two 24-inch boards. Drill one 24-inch board and one 12-inch board together forming a butt joint. Repeat with the remaining two boards.
You should now have two L-shaped pieces. Drill the two L-shaped pieces together to form a 4-inch deep rectangle. This is the frame for your tray. Attach exterior door pulls (if using) on the short sides of the rectangle. These will serve as handles.
Step 2 – Build Your Tray Base
With the tray on a work table or other sturdy surface, insert the mesh wire into the tray. Bend the mesh wire along the bottom edges and up the sides of the tray to form a base. (Be careful with this step as the mesh wire can be sharp.) Staple the mesh to the inside sides of the tray with a staple gun or with wood staples and a hammer. Make sure that the mesh is taut and does not droop beneath the tray. You can trim any mesh sticking up above the top of the tray with wire cutters.
Step 3 – Build a Soil Screen
Now you need to build a screen to keep the soil from falling out of the bottom of the tray. Insert the window screen into your tray on top of the wire mesh. Fold the screen at the bottom edges and up the sides. Staple the screen to the inside sides of the tray, folding any excess down.
Step 4 – Plant Your Seeds
It's time to plant your seeds! Fill your tray with a good potting soil made for growing vegetables. Be sure to fill your tray to the top as the potting soil will settle over time. Sprinkle your seeds evenly over the top of the potting soil, and cover the seeds with an additional thin layer of soil. Water lightly at first so that you do not disturb the seeds. You may need to water a couple of times the first day.
Step 5 – Lettuce Tray Placement
Most lettuce can be grown in full sun or partial shade. Make sure you read your seed package for any specific requirements.
You can place your lettuce tray on a stone wall, outdoor table, raised cement blocks, or even on the ground. If placing your tray on the ground, be sure that you place it on a cleared area as grass and other weeds or plants can grow up through the bottom of the tray.
Water your lettuce regularly because the tray can dry out. The soil should be slightly moist, but not dripping wet. An overly wet lettuce tray can rot out the lettuce roots. On warmer days you may need to water your tray twice.
Step 6 – Harvesting
In 30-40 days your lettuce should be ready to harvest. If you planted a “cut and come again” lettuce, harvest by clipping the lettuce at the bottom of the plant. It will regrow on its own. Otherwise, harvest your lettuce and then empty the soil out of your tray. Add new soil and plant a new batch of lettuce!
Build more than one lettuce tray and plant the second tray a week or two later. This way you will have a regular crop of lettuce throughout the fall season.
When you're finished with your lettuce tray, be sure to empty the soil and rinse it out. Store your tray in a garage or shed to prevent it from rotting prematurely.
In the spring, you can plant another crop of lettuce or use your tray to start other vegetable seeds indoors. After transplanting those seeds, your tray will be free to plant lettuce again.