Originally from the Mediterranean Area, (the Egyptians ate one type a metre high), it is usually the main constituent of a dish of Salad Leaves. Easy to grow from seed, it is best sown in small quantities in succession, so that you have a continuous supply through the salad season. For the first early Lettuce leaves, grow an open-leaved type in a box or large pot in the greenhouse, cold frame or cloche. Keep the soil moist and protect against slugs and snails. Pick individual leaves for your early salad.
There are some that you can harvest through the Winter, but I find that I am bored with lettuce by that time and want something more substantial.
Sow the seed about 1 cm deep and 15 to 30 cm apart, depending on the eventual size of the lettuce variety, in drills 30 cm apart. Choose fertile, moisture retentive soil. Make sure that they are kept well watered, especially in hot weather. Sow little and often for a succession of lettuces.
Harvest lettuce leaves as required for loose leaf types. For the hearting type of lettuces, cut off the head, leaving the roots in the ground to re-grow more lettuce leaves.
There are several different types of lettuce with different colours and textures.
Loose leaf type. This is particularly useful for the earliest cropping of individual leaves for salads. Suggested varieties of this type are:-
Bronze Arrow. You will have to search for this variety. It is tasty, attractive and joy of joys, the slugs do not like it!!
Red Salad Bowl. A reliable performer with reddish brown curled leaves.
Lollo Rossa. Curled and red tinged edges to the leaves.
Round hearted types. These should be harvested when the heart of the lettuce feels firm to the touch.
These can take the form of a loose ball of soft leaves, the so-called
Butterhead lettuces. Suggested varieties of this type are:-
Alternatively, they can be much firmer with crinkly edged leaves, the so-called
Crisphead lettuces. Suggested varieties of this type are:-
Cos or Romaine lettuces. These are taller lettuces with long, crisp leaves and eventually a heart. Suggested varieties of this type are:-
Little Gem. A very popular sweet, quick maturing variety.
Winter lettuces. These are the hardier type of lettuce that will continue to grow during the milder spells of the Winter, especially if they have some protection of a cold frame or a cloche. Suggested varieties of this type are:-
Winter density. Sow in August for an April crop of sweet lettuces, but over-winter protection required.
Pests and diseases. Lettuces are prone to attack from slugs and snails. Therefore use suitable prevention. Take care to keep slug pellets off the lettuces themselves as the residue could give you an upset stomach.
Greenfly and root aphids sometimes give trouble. Also downy mildew can attack in moist seasons.