How to Grow Lettuce
Growing Lettuce In Your Backyard or Garden
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), in 2009 US farms planted 50,000 acres of leaf lettuce and 148,900 acres of head lettuce. Although the acreage under production has declined over the years, leaf and head lettuce are still a significant part of the US produce market. With frequent health alerts concerning lettuce and a growing health awareness in the US consumer, home grown leaf and/or head lettuce should find a ready market. However, you need to be aware that if you are growing lettuce to sell then you must conform to any appropriate state and federal regulations that apply.
Soil and fertilizer
Lettuces have small root systems and therefore require a good supply of nutrients in the surface soil. Correct soil preparation therefore is a vital ingredient for lettuce cultivation and will pay dividends later. The ph range for lettuce is between 6.0 and 7.0. Test your soil and talk to your Southern States dealer about applying lime or fertilizer that may be required to achieve the optimum ph. For location, try to select a field or plot that is well drained and moist rather than soggy. If your field or plot was heavily fertilized for its last crop then applying heavy irrigation will wash out unwanted salts; lettuce are particularly sensitive to salts, especially at the germination stage. You will now need to plow or till your soil deeply and apply your fertilizer, if required, prior to planting; mix your fertilizer and soil thoroughly. Depending on the condition of your soil you may need to apply a side dressing of fertilizer, talk to your Southern States dealer for a solution that suits your needs.
Seeding and planting
Some growers will use plants while others prefer seeding. In planting operations, optimal spacing can be achieved and thinning/transplanting can be largely eliminated. For seeding, as a rule of thumb, approximately 1lb (around 30,000 seeds) will seed an acre. The seeds are very small and you might want to consider buying or renting a precision belt planter if you are seeding a large area. Depending on your area you should be able to commence seeding/planting from late January to early April; fall crops can be seeded/planted, again depending on your area from late July to early September; lettuce is fairly tolerant to cold. Follow the directions for the seed that you purchase but broadly speaking you will be looking to seed leaf lettuce 8-12inches apart in rows that are 12-24inches apart and seed head lettuce 12-15 inches apart in rows that are 30-42 inches apart. Both varieties will be happy with being planted one quarter on an inch to three eighths of an inch deep; fungicide treated seeds will reduce damping-off. Your seeds should germinate in seven days and, depending on the variety, will mature in between 40-80 days; thin/transplant your plants once or twice for optimum spacing. If you do not want to your crop to mature at the same time space your seeding/planting operations at seven day intervals to ensure continuous harvesting during the season. Your lettuce will require around an inch of water per week from rainfall or irrigation; watering a few days before harvesting can crisp up the leaves nicely.
Weeds, pests and diseases
Weeds, try not to cultivate the soil around your lettuce too deeply as this will dry the soil. Frequent shallow cultivation will keep weeds under control; ensure however, that you keep the soil loose. For larger plots and fields you will probably require herbicides, talk to your Southern States dealer about a suitable product.
Pests are numerous including aphids, caterpillars, leafhoppers, slugs, snails and worms. Spring crops are less susceptible to pests but if you have a problem then there are commercial products that will help, talk to your Southern States dealer.
Diseases associated with lettuce include antracnose, aster yellows, bacterial leaf spot, big vein, bottom rot, corky root, downy mildew, lettuce drop and powdery mildew. Using resistant varieties, following an equipment cleaning regime, careful irrigation, ensuring adequate soil drainage, using commercial fungicides and practicing weed control can all help depending upon your problem; talk to your Southern States dealer about a solution.
There is nothing like fresh farm or fresh garden produced loose leaf or head lettuce, which is almost literally straight from the field to your plate and with a growing demand for locally produced food, you may make some money too. What tips do you have for cultivating lettuce?