Friday, January 23, 2015

Growing Fabulous Lettuce

 Fall and early spring is the time to plant your lettuces, broccoli, cauliflower, mustard greens, kale, swiss chard, spinach, arugula and cilantro transplants
in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas.

What do you think chef extraordinaire and gardener
Jessica Monique thinks of the flavor of her just picked
from the garden gourmet lettuce? I totally agree!


Let Us Talk about Lettuce

Gardening Question

My lettuce is really big - do I continue pinching the outer leaves off for salads or do I cut them back? If I cut them back will they continue to grow?

Answer

For those of you who planted your lettuces in the fall - they are really big and full now in mid January. (See Jessica's photo above.) Hopefully you have been getting lots of good salad fixings from them. (Some lettuces can be cut and will sprout leaves again but we are referring to the type you can harvest from the outside as the plant continues to grow in the middle.)

Once you see your plants are starting to grow vertically,
that means they are fixing to flower and go to seed.
The main stalk will start to thicken and stretch upward.
Harvest beforehand or they will become bitter tasting.

Once you see your plants are starting to grow vertically, that means they are fixing to flower and go to seed. You want to harvest the whole head beforehand, otherwise they will be bitter to the taste.

Some lettuces have anywhere from two or more multiple heads
that make up that big beautiful head of lettuce. Some have only a single stem.

When you go to cut them back, you may find there are several heads that make up that one beautiful lettuce. You can just cut one stem portion if that is all you need right now and let the others continue to grow unless they are starting to grow up and flower. If it looks like they may be starting to flower, I would cut them all and use or share. You can let them go to flower, die and they will reseed. I usually pull them out to make way for new plants. Once cut back to the ground, they won't regrow.

This lettuce variety has two main stems below the lettuce head.

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Tips for Growing Tasty Lettuce
in the Rio Grande Valley

  • Lettuce grows in cooler temperatures which means the fall and spring in our area.
  • As most soil here is a heavy alkaline clay it is best to plant in raised beds either together or interspersed in your vegetable garden for good drainage or in 12" or larger containers that include holes for drainage so as not to drown the roots. 
  • A good compost added to the soil will provide nutrients needed.
    Nothing beats fresh picked lettuce for easy salad fixings.
  • As lettuce has shallow roots it is best if the soil is kept moist so it will taste sweet but not so wet that it drowns and rots the roots or so dry that the roots dry out making it taste bitter.
  • A drip system can help with this or water early in the mornings to prevent foliar diseases caused by late evening watering practices. Check the dampness of the soil of the top inch of the soil with your finger to determine if you need to water or not. 
  • Often my other veggie plants don't need water but my lettuce plants have started to dry out due to the wind so I will water around their base and not soak my other plants.
  • Rather than pulling up the plants to harvest, you can pinch off outer leaves or cut them straight across with a serrated knife, above the crown (where the base of the leaves meet the root) and some may grow back. See the first half of this article for more details. 
  • For later season greens sow seed or plant transplants a couple inches from the original plant after the 1st harvest. Harvest the first crop before it goes to seed or once the second crop is big enough to start harvesting.

Enjoy the Bounty

Once harvested I use a salad spinner/colander to rinse lettuce leaves, than cover with water and a few ice cubes for several minutes, swish, drain until the water is clear then spin-dry. I wrap leaves in paper towels and place in the lettuce drawer till ready to eat. Tear them into bite size pieces. Enjoy with a fresh vinegar and oil dressing topped with fresh herbs, edible flowers and other goodies from the garden.