Now Sowing: Leaf Lettuce (mid-September)

Image of Leaf Lettuce
Image courtesy of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

Common Name: Lettuce (Lactuca sativa)

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Seed Saving Level: Easy; perfect, self-pollinating flowers. Little out-crossing with lettuce so isolation is not a big concern.

Varieties: Loose-leaf varieties, suited for cut-and-come again harvests, mature in 40-60 days.

Planting: Sow directly ¾ inch deep, 4-6 inches apart. Stagger plantings every 10 days, planting smaller amounts more often as weather becomes hot. Full sun in spring and fall, shade in summer (lettuce requires afternoon shade in warm regions). Heavy feeder, water evenly. Companion plants include carrots and radishes. Ready for picking when leaves are clean, crisp and healthy.

Watering: Near the base, not the leaves, don’t forget to mulch to help keep soil moist. Be sure the mulch is pulled an inch or two back from the crown of each plant. Mulching near the crown can cause the plant to rot.

Fertilize: Lettuce and leafy crops need plenty of nitrogen. Feed lettuce with manure tea or fish emulsion 1-2 times during the growing season to ensure growth.

Seed Saving: Outer leaves can be pulled without affecting seed production. Collect seeds from plants that bolt later so as not to select for early bolting. Put a paper bag around some seed heads so they’re not eaten by birds. When stalks are completely dry, cut and thresh over a sheet. Sieve seeds and leave on newspaper to dry for a few weeks.

Sources: Saving Seeds (2011) by Robert and Cheryl Gough, Seed to Seed: Seed Saving and Growing Techniques for Vegetable Gardeners (2002) by Suzanne Ashworth, Seedswap (2013) by Josie Jeffery, Old Farmer's Almanac, Native Seed Search, Vegetable Gardner