Growing Lettuce During the Winter Months Growing Lettuce During the Winter Months
Growing lettuce during the winter months is great idea since these vegetables are ideally suited to cooler climatic conditions. Planting lettuce in time for the fall and winter rain will also conserve water usage. Stagger planting lettuce by planting your seeds a few weeks apart and you will have a continual harvest of this delicious, healthy addition to winter meals.
Begin with the Soil
Lettuce plants prefer soil that will hold moisture with a pH of approximately 6.0 to 7.0. Before sowing seeds turn the soil, or roto-till with fertilizer or manure to insure soil is nutrient-rich. Compost is also a good choice. Pick a shaded portion of your garden as lettuce does not like full sun or high heat. Lettuce seeds can also be grown in planters, clay or peat pots. Transplant seedlings when they grow to about 1-1/2 inches tall. Seeds grow very quickly, so thin lettuce at this time to keep your crop from becoming overcrowded. Lettuce seeds are very particular so it will be necessary to follow seed package directions very closely. Water during early morning or mid-day to avoid molding, mildew and disease. As a general rule of thumb, never water any plants in the evening.
Lettuce comes in several varieties: butter-head, loose-leaf and crisp-head lettuce. The quickest and easiest to grow is loose-leaf. Butter-head also grows quickly and will tolerate poorer soil. Crisp-head lettuce does very well in colder climates, however takes longer to mature. Growing either of these varieties, or a combination will greatly add to your winter enjoyment of gardening and augment your meals with crisp, delicious salads.
Thin lettuce seedlings according to instructions on package. Lettuce seeds are very quick to germinate. You may have a compulsion to "save" all your seedlings, but face it, more seeds will sprout than you can use. Snails, rodents and birds can create havoc with your newly planted seedlings, as can greenfly, so it will be necessary to take these facts into consideration and work to prevent and eliminate them from your garden. Snail bait, wire screening and organically produced insecticide will aid in protecting your garden from these elements. Mature lettuce plants will produce flowering stems just before they are ready to be picked. When you see the beginning of this formation you will have about a week to pick and use your lettuce. To conserve your watering and control weeds, apply a generous mulch of dried straw or cedar bark around your plants.
Pick Your Crop
Pick your crop as soon as you can see the heart of the lettuce forming. Lift the plant gently from the ground and cut it off from the root. Do not leave anything from the plant on the bed as this will attract pests as mentioned above. Alternatively, you can pick the most mature leaves from several plants and keep your plants in the ground to keep growing. This needs to be done with careful deliberation as plants left in the ground may soon begin to turn to seed, or worse, the leaves will turn bitter and not fit for consumption.