Serves You Right
There's nothing like the feeling of walking outside, cutting
lettuce and tasting a delicious salad.
Lettuce is a rewarding vegetable to grow in the home garden, or even in a container. From baby leaf lettuce to big, crisp heads, lettuce is easy to grow in spring and fall, when the soil is cool. A major benefit is the $7 per pound that you save.
Lettuce seeds may be planted directly in the soil after the beginning of May. They typically sprout in two to eight days when soil temperatures range between 55 and 75 degrees.
Prepare your bed by loosening the soil to at least 10 inches deep. A soil test will let you know how much lime and other fertilizers you may need to add. The pH should be 6.0 to 6.7. Add a 1-inch layer of compost to the surface of the bed. Sow seeds a quarter of an inch deep and 1 inch apart in rows or squares, or simply broadcast them over the bed.
As the seedlings grow, thin leaf lettuce to 6 inches apart, thin romaine lettuce to 10 inches and allow 12 inches between heading varieties. After thinning, mulch between plants with grass clippings, chopped leaves or another organic mulch to deter weeds and retain soil moisture.
For extra flavor from your salad bed, sprinkle in a few seeds of dill, cilantro or other cool-season herbs. There are salad seed mixtures available that contain a variety of seeds.
Never allow the soil to dry out while lettuce is growing. In most soils, you'll need to water lettuce every other day between rains.
Harvest lettuce in the morning, after the plants have had all night to plump up with water. Wilted lettuce picked on a hot day seldom revives, even when rushed to the refrigerator. Pull (and eat) young plants until you get the spacing you want. Gather individual leaves or use scissors to harvest handfuls of baby lettuce. Rinse lettuce thoroughly with cool water, shake or spin off excess moisture, and store it in plastic bags in the refrigerator.
Here is an easy to make dressing recipe that is excellent on baby kale, baby chard, or any type of lettuce. Makes enough to dress four dinner salads.
1/2 clove garlic
1/4 teaspoon salt
Juice from 1 lemon
3 tablespoons olive oil
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Black pepper as desired
1/4 - 1/2 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup croutons
Mash together salt and garlic clove. It helps to have a mortar and pestle, but you may use the side of a knife or other utensil on a cutting board.
Place in a small bowl and add the lemon juice, olive oil, red pepper flakes, black pepper and cheese.
Pour over greens of choice and toss in croutons. You have to toss well, as this is a thick dressing.
If you want to learn to grow more than lettuce, plan on attending the Organic Gardening 101 Workshop, to be held June 6 to 10, from 9 a.m. to 12:30 each day in Valle Crucis. Contact the Watauga County Extension office for more information at (828) 264-3061.
Margie Mansure, M.S., R.D. is a registered dietitian/nutritionist and extension agent with N.C. Cooperative Extension. She offers personalized classes to improve the health of citizens in Watauga County through worksites, schools and community groups and is the local food coordinator for Watauga County. To contact Margie, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call (828) 264-3061.