Grow Luscious Lettuce

With a little care, you can grow these delicious greens anywhere.

| March/April 2008

When you dream of delicious homegrown lettuce, is your ideal image clouded with bitterness, bolting and less than satisfactory results? That was the case with my greens-growing fantasy until just a couple of years ago when my husband and I decided it must be possible to produce the lush beds of lettuce shown in seed catalog photographs.

I have tried to grow good lettuce everywhere I’ve lived, but until now, my best results came from a little garden spot high in the Rocky Mountains, where morning and afternoon shade kept the soil cool and the lettuce sweeter. That location was far from ideal though, and my crop often suffered the same lettuce aggravations experienced by gardeners everywhere.

Planting the seed in cold spring soil, I waited days for the tiny seedlings to emerge. They took their time sending up the first true leaves in the cool spring weather, and, because of the morning and afternoon shadows, they seemed even more lethargic than usual. As the days grew longer, the lettuce finally took off, just as the weather warmed up.

The ensuing warm afternoons sent the plants into a growth spurt. Thinking they were almost ready to eat, I decided to hold off harvesting for a couple more days, to let the plants fill out a little. If you are an experienced lettuce grower, you know what happened next. The young plants started their vertical growth spurt and the leaves picked up a strangely soapy taste that quickly turned to a disagreeable bitterness. Suddenly they sprouted stalks, right behind my back, and went to seed. I’d hardly had a salad out of the whole bed.

Year after year, I tried to outsmart the lettuce by picking young leaves before the plants matured, but these yielded skimpy salads. I grew giant beds of lettuce and ate the immature leaves before the plants bolted, but soon tired of picking skinny greens. I tried to grow slow-bolting varieties, without success.

Finally, here in the high desert of Utah, with its nippy spring weather and broiling hot summers, my husband and I decided to face the lettuce monster head on. Our goal was simple: to create the perfect lettuce bed, and produce bounties of lush, sweet, generous lettuce in many varieties. And for the past two years, at last we have succeeded. Here’s how.

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