Grow Lettuce from Seed

comments (8) November 11th, 2009

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Ruth Ruth Dobsevage, Web producer
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So many varieties, so little space. Weave a tapestry of lettuces in your garden this spring.
Young lettuce seedlings sprout in plastic containers, recycled from the olive bar at the local grocery.
These seedlings have been transplanted into individual pots. Holes at the bottom allow excess moisture to drain.
So many varieties, so little space. Weave a tapestry of lettuces in your garden this spring.Click To Enlarge

So many varieties, so little space. Weave a tapestry of lettuces in your garden this spring.

Photo: Ruth Dobsevage

There are many, many lettuces to choose from, way beyond what you can buy at the grocery. And here's good news: the "exotic" varieties are a lot easier to grow, and much more nutritious and colorful, than that old standby, iceberg.

I like to start my lettuce indoors, even though it's not necessary. It gives me a head start on the season, it allows me to arrange them somewhat artfully in their beds, and maybe best of all, I can share them with friends and co-workers.

Warm, and safe from the dog
Salads to be await germination. The plastic bags retain moisture, and a nearby woodstove provides some heat. After four or five days, check daily to see if the seeds have sprouted.
Sowing the seeds is the essence of simplicity. I Fill a container with potting soil, sprinkle some seeds on top, add a little more potting soil, water, and enclose in a plastic bag to form a mini-greenhouse. In southwestern Connecticut, where I live, I plant the seeds by mid-March, and usually they sprout in 7 to 10 days. When sprouts appear, I remove the plastic and put the containers under fluorescent lights.

Sprouted seedlings
When seedlings sprout, remove the bags and bathe them in light. The first leaves, visible here, are the cotyledons, and look pretty much the same from variety to variety. True leaves follow.
     
When the seedlings have a set or two of true leaves, I transplant them into individual cups, which I've filled with garden soil. A week or two after that, weather permitting, I set them outside where they are sheltered from wind so they can acclimate to real-world conditions.

LEttuce seedlings hardening off


Below you'll see some of my favorite varieties. You can check out these, and many more, at Fedco Seeds and Seed Savers Exchange.

Cracoviensis lettuce   Forellenschluss lettuce
Cracoviensis, a French heirloom, has been a reliable producer in my garden.   Forellenschluss, a speckled romaine, is a colorful and popular Austrian heirloom.
     
Merlot lettuce   Strela lettuce
For deep red color, it's hard to beat Merlot.   Bright green and yummy, Strela anchors the salade palette.
     
Buttercrunch lettuce   Oreilles du diable lettuce
 Buttercrunch lettuce is slow to bolt.   Oreilles du diable (devil's ears) adds muted tones to the salad bowl.

So get out those seed catalogs and make your selections. And we'd love to hear about your favorite varieties; post your comments below.

For links to articles, blog posts, and videos on starting vegetable and flower seeds, see All About Starting Seeds.


posted in: Lettuce, seedlings

Comments (8)

JavaJunkie43 writes: Miss Ruth,

Great article and I always love pics :) With regards to the fluorescent lights, do you recommend a particular type? There are so many different kinds and I came across one article that said make sure it's a certain wattage and it got kind of confusing for this newbie container gardener!

Thanks in advance,

JJ
Posted: 9:18 am on March 18th
Lavender22 writes: Love your lettuces and i am going to do some myself for the first time in a container. I have a little put together green house my husband bought himself for his tomatoes and i use it also. Our Meyer lemon tree is in there right now and waiting to get out soon. I will be coming back to your post often:)
Posted: 5:48 pm on March 6th
Ruth writes: mart1, it's the "just pull two out" part that I have a problem with. I can't bear to discard viable plants. (It took me YEARS to be able to thin a row of radishes.)
Posted: 10:03 am on February 22nd
mart1 writes: Wouldn't it be easier to start in the individual pot? Saves a lot of work, just put 3 seeds in each pot. If they all germinate pull out 2, eat them and relax.....
Posted: 1:18 pm on February 20th
Annya writes: Hi Ruth: Your lettuces look wonderful and I hope that mine do as well. Since I have very little garden and it is shaded by lemon and olive trees, I do a huge amount of container gardening, sometimes in what my mother calls "troughs". I usually start my seeds in my small green house, but this year put some out in February to see what would happen. Of course, it snowed for the first time in living memory (and many of our locals are 90 to 100+). When the snow melted, I was amazed to see gangly radishes, feldsalat and kohlrabi all looking great! I ate the first 2 thinnings in salads and they were delicious. Even the failed radishes made a spicy contribution to the salad. Feldsalat is common in Germany and is a delicious kind of winter lettuce. Somehow it has translated in the USA into "corn plant", although it has nothing whatsoever to do with Indian corn. I plant them in groups every couple of weeks to keep a regular supply going and at this point I begin to mix in lettuces. I truly admire your color mix and shall make an extra effort to see if I can find any of these marvelous colors here in Italy. Unfortunately, our stores do not stock large varieties of seeds and the nurseries stock none. However, we do get several varieties of radicchio and even red endive so I hope to use these for color! Thank for your inspiration to all of us!
Posted: 11:12 am on March 22nd
EdiefromCheshireOR writes: Beautiful is ALWAYS best! I like the idea of planting more densely, in a diamond pattern - creating a tapestry look. Also, how about tucking in some "edible blossom" Mexican or 'Gem' marigolds for yellow, orange, or gold flowers among the lettuces.
This article has stimulated me to try lettuces this spring. Thank you.
Posted: 1:33 pm on March 6th
Ruth writes: That's a nice idea, Shirley. I tend to use the block approach, but hey, whatever works for you is fine. The lettuces certainly don't care one way or the other.
Posted: 10:07 am on March 2nd
ShirleyBovshow writes: Hi Ruth,
Looking at your lettuce photos gets me excited about my own veggie garden. How can anyone resist being able to grow the varieties of vegetables that they like the most?

I also like to mix things up in the garden and aim for beautiful and bountiful combinations. Hey, the garden might as well look great while its growing and getting ready to feed my family.


Just for fun, I place two different colored lettuces in one planting hole and enjoy the "hybrid" results.
Shirley
Posted: 10:32 pm on February 27th
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