Lettuce Types for Your Coronavirus Victory Garden

Reader Contribution by Shelby Devore and Farminence
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Lettuce is a staple in many refrigerators.  We use it to make salads and add as topping for burgers and sandwiches.  Lettuce is a great way to add some extra nutrition, much needed fiber and less calories to our diets.  If you’re missing your lettuce or having trouble finding it at the grocery, don’t worry.  It’s easy to grow at home.  Lettuce is a crop that has a fast turnover rate.  This means that you’ll be able to harvest it sooner than many other crops, even if you plant it from seed.

Growing Lettuce

Lettuce is a simple crop to grow, but it may be slightly different than what you’re used to growing.  When you think of gardening, you probably think of summer vegetables, like tomatoes or watermelons.  These crops require long, hot days and rich soil to grow.  Lettuce are cool weather crops. They prefer shorter days, cooler temperatures and moist soil. Ideally, lettuce likes to grow when daytime temperatures fall between 65-75 degrees Fahrenheit and night temperatures are around 55 degrees. When lettuce is grown in warmer temperatures, it’s subject to bolt. Lettuce that ‘bolts’ is trying to bloom and becomes bitter to eat. Growing lettuce in containers is an excellent way to make sure that your lettuce is grown in the right conditions; simply place the containers inside or in the shade to ensure that the plants don’t get too warm.

Types of Lettuce

You’re probably well aware of a few types of lettuce, like Iceberg or Romaine, if you purchase bagged lettuce. You may have even tried some spring mixes, which is mostly leaf lettuce varieties.  Even if you’ve tried some of the bolder lettuce mixes, you’re still only skimming the surface of the lettuce varieties that are out there. Growing lettuce at home is a great way to skip the grocery store and experiment with some of the more unique lettuce varieties.

Iceberg. Ah, Iceberg lettuce. This lettuce is one that you probably have a love/hate relationship with. Most people either love it or they hate it. Iceberg lettuce gets a bad wrap more than other types of lettuce as having a lack of flavor. So let me point out a few of the positives. 

Iceberg has a high water content, which means if you’re eating lettuce to shed some pounds, then iceberg may be your guy. It can fill you up with fewer calories than other lettuce types  It also creates a perfect head. This helps prevent it from wilting as fast in the refrigerator. You can cut the head into wedges and serve yourself a steakhouse style salad quickly. Iceberg lettuce will require a little more space to spread out in the container. Plan on giving it almost 12 inches of growing space and lots of water to accommodate the high water content. Plan on reseeding Iceberg as this is a one-cut crop.

Romaine. Romaine is a popular lettuce type that is often found side by side with Iceberg lettuce in the grocery. Romaine has more color and nutritional value than Iceberg lettuce. If you’re a fan of the crunch that Iceberg lettuce has, you’ll be happy with Romaine since it also has a profound crunch.  Romaine is the star of the Caesar salad. Romaine doesn’t take up as much space around it as Iceberg lettuce does. The heads of Romaine grow more elongated than spherical, so you can fit more Romaine plants into one container. Romaine is also a one cut crop since it creates a true head.

Butterhead. There are two main types of butterhead lettuce: Boston and Bibb. Both create looser heads than Iceberg or Romaine. They don’t have the ‘crunch’ that the first two lettuce types have.  They are more similar in texture to a thick spinach. They are high in nutritional value and are often dark shades of green or purple. Boston lettuce creates large heads and will take up more container space.  Bibb lettuce on the other hand, looks like a smaller version of the Boston lettuce. The heads of Bibb lettuce are usually fist-sized while Boston lettuce is slightly larger than a head of Iceberg. These lettuce varieties are also one harvest types.

Leaf. If you’re looking for a lettuce type that you can continually harvest from, then you’ll want to check out leaf lettuce. Leaf lettuce comes in three main types: oak, red and green. Obviously, these come in both red and green varieties, which makes them an easy winner if you want to add some color to your salad. Leaf lettuce is what you find in many baby lettuce or spring mixes in the grocery.

Leaf lettuce doesn’t make a true head. This means that you can harvest leaves from the stalk as you need them and get multiple harvest from one plant. When you harvest them, you’re removing the leaf from the stem instead of taking a bit of the stem with it like you would a head of lettuce. Since the leaves are being removed from the stem, they tend to wilt much faster, so only harvest them as you need them. Leaf lettuce can be grown more closely together in containers and is a great variety to grow to max out your container space.

Frisee. Frisee lettuce is a really fun lettuce to grow.  It has leaves that are highly curled and are anything but smooth. It’s similar to leaf lettuce in the fact that it can be harvested multiple times since it doesn’t make a true head. It can also be used to max out container space. Frisee lettuce is a perfect variety to grow if you like vinaigrette or oil based dressings since the curled leaves are perfect for holding thin dressings.

Growing lettuce at home is easy and can have you harvesting your own lettuce in as little as six weeks.  Have fun with it and experiment with multiple types of lettuce to create nutritional salads that are full of flavor and texture, without a trip to the grocery store.

Shelby DeVore is an agricultural enthusiast that enjoys writing about gardening, raising livestock and simple living. You can read her most recent posts on Farminence.com or follow Farminence on Pinterest and Twitter. Read all of Shelby’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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