13. May 2018

Growing lettuce: which lettuce should you pick?

There are so many different types of lettuce that you can grow at home. There’s one for every taste, time of year, meal and growing space. Here are my best tips on how to choose which lettuce to grow.

Spring is the right time for colorful salads. My family just can’t wait to dig into the large salads made from fresh crispy lettuce leaves, radish, asparagus and my other home-grown delicacies. I’m not a huge fan of the lettuces you can get at the supermarket. I think they all taste the same and there just aren’t that many different varieties to choose from. 

But I can grow as many different types of lettuce as I want in my own kitchen garden. One of the hardest parts of growing lettuce is picking the right varieties! I make my decisions based on the season and the preferences of my family. Some grow in early spring, others in summer, fall or even winter.

 

Sallat i varmbänk.

I grew no less than seven different kinds of lettuce in my hot frame early last spring.

 

Growing lettuce – picking varieties

I’ve received a question about lettuce from one of my readers: “I’d like to try growing my own lettuce, but I’m not a huge fan of lettuce in general. I think that many lettuces are quite bitter. Others (like store-bought iceberg lettuce) are just completely bland. But I want to learn. I’m sure that home-grown lettuce is a lot better than the lettuce from the supermarket. There are so many different varieties though, which lettuce should I pick?”

I like growing many different types of lettuce that I can mix. When we think about lettuce, we often visualize a large lettuce head that we harvest only once. But you could also harvest it leaf by leaf. Mixing many different kinds of lettuces makes a really beautiful and tasty salad too! I usually only sow a few seeds from every variety and that’s how I get such diversity. Keep reading for more tips about how to sow your lettuce.

 

 

Huvudsallat i grönt.

Many butterhead varieties taste very sweet and have a nice, creamy consistency. They’re a great side dish with a good vegetable oil too.

Different types and varieties of lettuce

Butterhead lettuce has a loosely packed lettuce head with a nice, subtle taste. I really like the variety Murielle, it’s buttery and creamy. Almost like candy.

Romaine is used in many different salads, for example Caesar salads. Their heads are oval and have a distinct taste. My favorite is the variety Little Gem that produces about 15 centimeter (6 inches) long lettuce heads. They are sweet tasting with a medium crisp.

Leaf lettuce produces individual plants with leaves that don’t connect the same way as butterhead lettuce does. You can sow them in quite tight rows and harvest them individually by cutting the leaves off quite close to the ground. I especially like the variety Giant Red Oakleaf. It has a distinct taste but it’s not bitter or too spicy.

Batavia lettuce produce lovely, crispy leaves. Some of the varieties have a similar structure as butthead lettuce and others produce individual leaves. It’s a classic lettuce and it’s also said to be easier to grow than iceberg lettuce. One of my favorites is the variety Cardinale.

I’ve successfully been growing iceberg lettuce for a few years now. It tastes really nice and is one of my children’s favorites. Just like with cabbage, I like harvesting a large lettuce head that looks like the one you can buy in the shop (but tastes so much better since the sepals are included). Home-grown lettuce just tastes a lot better than the store-bought kind.

 

En bataviasallat i grönt och rött.

Many different batavia varieties look like iceberg lettuce and produce crispy lettuce heads.

 

En röd sallat med krusiga blad.

Other types of batavia lettuces look more like this. This is the Lollo Rossa lettuce Sanguine. One of our children refuses to eat red lettuce though so I don’t grow so much of it. Which is a shame since it’s so pretty!

 

How, when and where?

How the lettuce ends up tasting depends on many different factors and not just which variety you pick. You also have to think about where, when and how you'll be growing lettuce. Lettuce needs a lot of water and if it doesn’t get enough, it starts to bolt quickly (so it doesn’t miss that part of the life cycle). When this happens, the lettuce becomes quite bitter. I know that it’s not always possible to be completely in sync with the watering schedule. That’s why you should choose the varieties that thrive in warm weather and can handle some drought without getting “stressed” in summer. You can pick other varieties in early spring and fall.

I think that everyone who's growing lettuce will notice that some plants start to bolt at times. That’s why it’s a good idea to sow many times on different occasions, so that the plants are in different stages of development. I sow lettuce once a week in little troughs. This way, I always have access to brand new plants, ready for the garden beds.

 

Sallat i olika färger med höga blomstänglar.

This is what a bed of mixed lettuces looks like when it bolts. The tall flower stalks are very decorative and often self-sow. It’s not uncommon to find little lettuce plants on the spot the year after, since the seeds can survive the winter in the cold soil and start to germinate in the spring.

 

Pick many different lettuces – sow few seeds

My family and I have become devoted lettuce fans since I started working on the kitchen garden. I think this is partly because I decided to grow so many different kinds and didn’t just stick to one single seed bag (which after all contains a lot of seeds). I have so many different types and varieties now and like I said, the key is that I sow a few seeds of each type every time. The remaining seeds aren’t thrown away though. Instead, I use them for new sowings in early spring and fall. Good luck growing lettuce!

 

/Sara Bäckmo

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