Lots of people don’t care much for lettuce, and for good reason.  The kind most of us buy and/or eat at restaurants is usually rock hard commercial iceburg lettuce that’s watery and has essentially no flavor at all.  Some restaurants and supermarkets do offer other kinds, and that’s a blessing, but there’s a world of lettuce types out there, and with just a tiny patch of land you can grow your own, and that means LOTS of kinds.

Actually, many of us plant lettuce every spring because the plant is quick to grow and handles cool weather.  I rarely fail to plant several kinds, including the old standard Blackseeded Simpson, along with radishes and onion sets which also handle cool weather.  I just get impatient, as doubtless do you, to see something green and growing after a long winter. 

But once again, there are plenty of different kinds of lettuce, each good in its own way, lettuce ranging from firm and crunchy to melting and buttery, and in colors that range from pale lime green to burgundy bronze.  You can get them as “mesclun” too, with several kinds in a single package and sometimes even endive, mustard and cress for more tangy flavor.

Actually, there are only three basic categories of lettuce.  Romaine is one, and its various types have upright leaves around thick, juicy full flavored hearts.  Romaines are sweet and crunchy, and in both the Middle East and Asia they’re  used as edible food wrappers or servers.  This lettuce is often bred for large size and weight, and is a favorite in Caesar salads.

Then there are the Batavians, which have been long popular as fresh market lettuces in western Europe.  You won’t find it here often, so you’ll need to buy seed and grow your own.  They’re available in several garden catalogs, and can be ordered direct from such as Renees Garden  or by calling the company toll-free at 1-888-880-7228.  The Batavians are very resistant to hot weather bolting, and their tasty leaves can be harvested from baby to full sized plants.  They’re eye pleasing too, coming in handsome reds and greens.

Finally, come the Butterheads with softly folded smooth leaves.  They’re the lettuce of choice in Europe, outselling all others, because of their delicate flavor, and are also eye pleasing with loose, open rosettes on tighter, semi-solid heads.  Butterheads pair nicely with fruity vinegar and soft cheeses. 

Lettuce isn’t hard to grow, and I often simply make a shallow row, add fertilizer and seed, and rake gently to barely cover the seeds.  But you’ll have best luck growing them in flats or containers, so the seed can be kept evenly moist.  Use containers at least 2 inches deep filled with a good seed starting mix, and sprinkle the seeds thinly, about a quarter to half inch apart.  Then cover lightly and keep them moist in an environment of 60 – 70 degrees.  They’ll germinate quickly and once several inches tall, can be transplanted to your garden.

To keep them growing well, add moisture as needed, and fertilize several times with a half strength fish emulsion.  Watch for snails and slugs, and hand pick them as needed or place slug bait around the outside edges.  And to extend your season, place a shade cloth above on hot days.  Simple tactics for a simple plant, but the result will be salads with “Zing.”

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