MASTER GARDENERS: There's a lettuce for everyone
When I was a child helping my Mom plant the garden in spring, we always planted lettuce. It was always "Black Seeded Simpson." I'm not sure if there were other varieties available, but that was the one we planted. It was a leaf lettuce, cut and come again, that bolted as soon as the days of summer got warmer. If you've looked at the seed catalogs or racks of seed packets at our local stores, you'll see that the number and types of lettuces available is mind boggling. I usually end up with far too many packets because I can't decide what to plant!
There are several types of lettuce roughly broken down into four broad categories: loose leafs, crispheads, butterhead and cos or romaine. Keep in mind that often lettuces are hybridized and the categories overlap. There is also a new type that's called Salanova, a registered trademark. This lettuce, I learned, has all the leaves joined at the base instead of a core. When you cut the base off, all the leaves come apart and are uniform, leaving you with a pile of beautiful, individual frilly red or green leaves. This lettuce fits in with a trend of growing smaller vegetables. Mini heads of romaine or any lettuce are just enough for two or a small family. You don't have leftovers to store.
Growing lettuce is fairly simple, all you need to do is grow some leaves. No waiting for fruit or blooms or whatever before its ready. Generally speaking, lettuce likes temps of 55 to 75 degrees so they can be started early in the spring. I like to start butterheads and romaines indoors under lights and transplant them at the end of May. That way I have nice heads around the end of June. I plant the leaf lettuce directly and use it as soon as the leaves have any size to them. I use the leaf lettuce as cut and come again by just slicing the leaves off an inch or so above ground and let them grow for a later cutting.
Lettuce can be planted in full sun, but also does very well in part shade. Giving the plants some shade helps to keep them from bolting from the heat. They need to be planted quite shallow, about an eighth of an inch deep. Most important is water; lettuce needs a lot of moisture to grow well. If you want to do successive plantings throughout the growing season, your best bet would be to start the seeds inside. The soil temps would have warmed up too much to germinate the seeds by mid-summer. The Batavia lettuce, a summer crisp lettuce, is one that will do quite well growing in the heat of summer. I have grown it and it's a good one.
Seed spacing depends on what you intend to end up with. Leaf lettuces can be planted very thickly and the leaves used when they are quite small. If you are planting transplants of Salanova or other miniature romaines, plant them on 6-inch centers, full size lettuces need to planted on 8 to 12 inch centers.
The time is almost here to get the lettuce seeds in the garden. Who doesn't enjoy a salad of freshly picked greens?
Please seek gardening information from the University of Minnesota Extension website—www.extension.umn.edu—clicking on "Yard and Garden." Local Master Gardeners are now responding to your questions via voicemail. Call (218) 444-7916, leaving your name, number and question. You can also find Beltrami County Master Gardeners on Facebook.