Lettuce

Lettuce has been always a popular vegetable as there is lettuce all year round.

It is the basis of all salads. People have turned to it to replace bread on their sandwiches. It comes in several varieties, some of which are sweet or bitter. Yes, we are talking about that versatile vegetable, the lettuce.

Lettuce has been always a popular vegetable. Lettuces come in different shapes and, because there are so many varieties, there is lettuce all year round. Each lettuce is referred to as a head. Most round varieties look like small heads. Lettuce is grown in different areas of the country year round. You will be hard pressed to see a grocery store that didn’t have at least one type of lettuce available every time you go in.

There are lots of lettuce species you can pick up in your local market or farmer's market, but iceberg lettuce is the most popular and the least expensive. It contains a lot of water which is good for you, but also has a blander flavor and fewer nutrients than a darker, leafier lettuce like Romaine or Green Leaf lettuce.

Lettuce trivia

Summerians keep records about using lettuce. Greek and Romans also used lettuce and not only for its culinary value but for medicinal purposes, as well. Lettuces used to be used as sedatives, even grown as a substitute for opium, because they a bitter component with calming properites. Careful selection and growing has eliminated the bitternes as it was not appreciated in the kitchen.

Popular varieties

Iceberg lettuce - The Name Alone is Refreshing Some people prefer iceberg lettuce because of its lighter flavor and crispness. It's also a favorite because of its value in these tough economic times. The most commonly used form of lettuce is iceberg lettuce. Iceberg lettuce heads are tightly compacted and the leaves are light green to white in color. The basis of most salads is iceberg lettuce. Restaurants use it as a garnish for dishes because of its mild flavor.

Romaine lettuce - This variety is tall almost like a stalk of celery. It is used in Caesar salads and has medium green leaves.

Bibb and loose leaf lettuce - These varieties are not so tightly packed as iceberg lettuce. They resemble flowers just opening up. Bibb lettuce is sweet and used in mixed green salads. Loose green, mesclun, and frisee have a taste that is more on the bitter side. All can be used in salads.

Lettuce growing tips

Lettuce is a great addition to any vegetable gardening. Not only is it healthy to eat, it takes up very little space, unlike pumpkins. But for an optimal crop a few simple guidelines are helpful.

As with all vegetable gardening, good soil is a must. Keep the nitrogen level high by the use of a good 30-10-10 NPK (nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium) fertilizer. That gives them lots of nutrition for producing healthy leaves.

Plant the seeds about 1/8-3/8 inch deep, separated by 6-12 inches (2-3.5 m) from the next plant. Romaine does fine at the smaller spacing, but crisp lettuce needs more room. If you plant in rows, keep the rows separated by about 20 inches (6m). Keep in mind that seeds shouldn't be planted too early, since they're subject to cold damage.

Keeping the soil moist but not soaked is good. Lettuce doesn't have very deep roots, so it needs to find moisture near the surface. Still, try to keep the water off the leaves and onto the soil, except for the occasional washing. Wet leaves encourages disease, especially when they're moist during nighttime temperatures.

Since their roots aren't very deep you'll also need to be diligent about weeding around lettuce plants. Many grasses and other plants can compete well because their roots go down to deeper soil. Infrequent but deep watering, letting the top layers dry out, will give most an advantage. But lettuce doesn't have that advantage, so you'll need to help them.

Like most vegetables, lettuce plants also have problems with diseases and pests. In their case, the variety is quite large. Many insects find the leaves irresistible and the folds offer many places for fungi to grow.

Aphids, flea beetles and leafhoppers are common problems. Slugs are even more so. Cutworms are often seen. Washing with a high pressure hose can help temporarily, but be sure to do it early to give the leaves time to dry before nightfall. A good insecticide lightly applied will keep them under control for the long term.

Anthracnose (Microdochium panattonianum) is a common fungal disease. It can stay alive in unplanted soil for many years, so don't assume you're safe because your garden is new. Bottom rot (Rhizoctonia solani) is another common fungus. It occurs usually in soil that drains poorly. Keeping the foliage dry and planting in good soil will help to reduce the odds of being infected.

Bolting is a common problem with lettuce, and it isn't a disease or pest, though it can be worsened by them. It occurs when the plant goes to seed and the leaves stop growing. Lettuce likes cool weather and bolting is more common when the temperatures are consistently too high. Keeping the plants shaded will help. One way to do that is to plant a shading crop, like corn, over the lettuce.

With the proper preparation, planting technique and care you can have lettuce several times during a growing season.

Storage

Lettuce stays fresh in a crisper compartment of the freezer. To keep the leaves from withering and turning color, sprinkle with water like they do in the store. Lettuce was once thought of as a weed and first seen in this country when Christopher Columbus landed in the New World in 1492.

Lettuce that is starting to wilt can be fed to animals like rabbits, Iguanas, and turtles. Certain soups call for lettuce as an ingredient. The soup can be frozen and eaten later. Lettuce doesn’t have a strong taste which is why it complements many foods.

Most do not save lettuce. They either eat it or throw it away. If you can find some helpful uses for lettuce in your recipes, consider freezing a portion of it for later. 

Preparation and use

A salad is what comes first to the mind and indeed a lettuce based salad is refreshing and helps to digest heavier meals. However, elttuce can be made into soup, braised, baked with cheese or stuffed with all sort of appetizing fillings.

Always wash lettuce several times before using. The leaves are closer at the base and can hide dirt, bugs, and bacteria. No one wants to get sick from their vegetables. Cleaning and coring iceberg lettuce is quick and easy. To get the core out, hold the head of lettuce, core side down, and gently but firmly bang it on the counter top. This should break the core apart from the rest of the head; grab it and pull out. Then run the head under cold water, rinsing out all the crevices and around the outside.

Chopped Romaine lettuce in a a salad

Roomaine lettuce