Are you interested in growing an edible garden but feel overwhelmed at the idea of starting yet another new hobby? Or, are you hesitant because a houseplant or two didn’t survive in your care? Don’t worry. Growing your own food has a bit of a learning curve, but like most new experiences, it’s all about shooting your shot and being consistent.
It’s true that some things are waaay easier to grow than others. So, if you want to start off with something that will build your confidence, (aka: something that’s easy-peasy), consider cultivating a lettuce garden! Lettuce is easier to grow than most veggies. And, at the same time, there’s a lot more variety to it than meets the eye.
Though lettuce may not be the most notable vegetable, you probably enjoy it in a lot more foods than you realize (sandwiches, burgers, tacos, salads, etc.). Or maybe you began a new salad habit mainly because you want to up your veggie intake. Either way, growing different types of lettuce can be a wonderful way to support or enhance your diet.
So, if you think lettuce is boring, you may want to think again because aside from its creative uses, like being a versatile stand-in for bread, homegrown lettuce flavor blows store-bought flavor right out of the water. It’s so much tastier! And you’d likely be surprised by the varieties that exist within the lettuce world that never grace the produce aisle. There’s a lot of diversity in nature! There’s a lot more than iceberg for your wedge salad.
You can grow lettuce indoors or outdoors, depending on your space and climate. Typically, lettuce is grown in the spring and fall when the weather isn’t too hot. Knowing your geographical zone is important so you’ll know whether it’s best to start planting outdoors or if you’re better off sowing seeds indoors. Oh, and if you don’t have a huge backyard, patio, or even a balcony, a windowsill will suffice.
Items you’ll need to start your lettuce garden
- pots or upcycled containers or a garden bed
- potting soil
- compost (natural plant food)
- lettuce seeds or starter plants, aka seedlings
Remember to poke or drill small holes in the bottom of the container where you’re putting your soil to ensure the water drains. Otherwise, this can cause mold or other problems.
Choose your lettuce type
There are four main types of lettuce:
Loose leaf. This type of lettuce doesn’t grow into a head. Instead, it forms a bunch. When you cut off the outer leaves at the base of the stem, new leaves will regrow so you can enjoy a second harvest! The seed-to-plate window is around 40 to 50 days, but you can always enjoy them sooner. Another bonus of this type is it can handle heat better than other types of lettuce, and it won’t bolt as quickly. Bolting is when it goes to seed faster and leaves become coarser and often bitter. Mesclun is also fun and you’ll get an array of different types of baby lettuce leaves. They’re usually ready in less a month.
Romaine. This one is well known in the salad world for being the go-to leaf for Caesar salad, but it’s also part of a group of lettuce known as cos. These types of lettuce have long, narrow leaves that are sturdy yet tender and grow upright. They look like miniature versions of romaine, but they still take around the same amount of time to grow — slightly more than 2 months — as regular romaine.
Butterhead. This type of lettuce also forms a head, but the leaves are softer, almost like butter. It also goes by the name bibb or Boston lettuce. When it comes to harvesting, you can snip the outer leaves near the stem or wait 2 to 2 1/2 months for the whole head to be ready.
Iceberg or crisphead. As the name implies, this one grows into a sturdy head with crispy and crunchy leaves. This type of lettuce is ready to eat when the head becomes firm. Despite it being pretty ubiquitous on restaurant menus and at grocery stores, growing iceberg can be finicky and difficult. It could make sense to give other varieties a go before taking on this challenge.
Elements needed for growing
Sun. Lettuce prefers cool-to-warm weather with at least partial sun. But beware that too much heat and intense sunlight can cause the plant to bolt — basically, go to seed sooner. There isn’t much you can do once it bolts, except try to harvest what you can of the leaves. Yeah, it’s a total bummer. Bolting can also happen if there’s a sudden change in warmer temperatures.
Soil. Rich, well drained soil with compost or organic matter added is a lettuce garden’s perfect bed.
Water. Keep the soil moist but never soggy or saturated.
This is really a matter of preference and how long you want to have lettuce growing and available. I prefer to sow seeds every couple of weeks (called succession planting) so I have access to a consistent, fresh rotation of leaves for several months. Otherwise, I’ll end up with too much lettuce in a short amount of time. I like to mix and match planting seeds and buying seedlings from my local nursery.
Whichever planting cadence or lettuce type you choose, be sure to have an idea of how much lettuce you want to use in a given month to maximize your harvest.
Growing your own lettuce garden can be a really fulfilling, enlightening, and surprisingly simple process that provides a bunch of wellness and nutritional value. The main things you want to keep in mind are the lettuce types you want to grow and the conditions you’re growing them in. The materials aren’t hard to get a hold of, and with the right care, you’ll start seeing leaves in no time.
Happy planting (and eating)!
Lauren David is a freelance writer from the San Francisco Bay Area. She writes about food, travel, and lifestyle. See more of her work on her website or follow her on Instagram.