The seasons are pretty amazing, really. Winter root vegetables are ready to harvest just when all you want to eat is a hearty roast dinner and a wonderful warm soup. And then comes Spring, just when you are starting to feel a craving for leafy greens and salads.
When I was growing up, I could've been forgiving for believing that lettuce only came in one type – iceberg. Always served with salad dressing made from sweetened condensed milk and malt vinegar. To this day, my father is still unswervingly loyal to this type of lettuce.
I have to admit that my lettuce loyalties have swerved greatly towards butterheads and loose-leaf lettuces. It's so much fun to throw a salad together with a variety of leaf shapes, colours and contrasting degrees of crunch! Now that the weather is warming up and it's approaching salad season again, it's time to choose some lettuces to grow this season.
All of the lettuces in the Kings Seeds organics range are heirloom lettuces and there are some lovely lettuces from which to choose. Here are a few picks from our Organic Lettuces:
Lettuce Merveille des Quatre Saisons
This pre-1885 French heirloom has been lovingly cultivated in kitchen gardens for centuries. It was featured in French seed company Vilmorin’s 1885 book - “The Vegetable Garden”, where it was listed as the most “highly coloured of all the Lettuces grown about Paris.”
This an extremely popular lettuce and is one of my own favourites which I grow every year. This lettuce is a crispy butterhead variety with a big, open structure. It has beautiful, crumpled bronze outer leaves around a pale green heart.
The bronze/red colouring becomes more pronounced when this lettuce is grown in cooler conditions.
Merveille des Quatre Saisons has a great flavour, and it performs well throughout the growing seasons (hence its name, which translate to Marvel of Four Seasons). Highly recommended – if you haven't tried growing this already, then give it a go this year!
Cos lettuces are popular with gardeners and foodies, with a lot of rather glamorous dishes specifying cos lettuce (also known as romaine).
Cos lettuces have long narrow leaves, forming an upright, cylindrical head. There are only a few varieties of cos lettuce available.
Paris White Cos is one of our most popular lettuces, but if you want something a bit different, you could try Lettuce Silvia.
Silvia is a red cos lettuce, with a sweet taste and a buttery texture. Double the glamour, with the classic cos shape and the gorgeous deep red colouring! Again, as with most salad plants, the red colour is deeper in cooler weather. This lettuce is also a variety that can handle a range of growing conditions. Keep it well watered and it can tolerate heat, and it will also grow well into the colder months. Definitely a variety worth a try if you haven't grown it yet. Pair it up with Paris White Cos for colours in the garden and on the plate!
Lettuce Green Salad Bowl
Lettuce Green Salad Bowl is a loose leafed lettuce that produces a large rosette of wonderfully tender, bright green leaves.
This is lettuce is definitely worth its place in the salad garden. It is a great choice for baby leaf production and it is also wonderful grown to full size - one lettuce will fill your whole salad bowl!
If you want a bit of colour contrast, you can always team this lettuce up with another of our organic varieties, Red Salad Bowl.
The nice thing about growing lettuces is that they really aren't too hard to grow. Grow lettuce in full sun where the growing season is cool - they need a minimum of four hours sunlight every day. In the heat of summer, grow your lettuces in partial shade - you can grow them as a catch-crop in the shade of taller plants in your garden. Keep well watered. Leafy varieties generally do better than heading varieties in the heat.
A few tips for growing lettuce from seed
Lettuce seeds lose their vigour more quickly than most other types of seed, so your lettuce seed needs to be fresh - check that you are not sowing seed that has expired and should be discarded.
Lettuce seed is photodormant, which means that lettuce seeds need light to germinate. Sow your seeds on the surface of the soil and barely cover them, so they will get enough light to ensure germination.
Sow more seeds every few weeks for a continuous supply of lettuces.
Grow lettuce in full sun where the growing season is cool - they need a minimum of four hours sunlight every day.
In the heat of summer, grow your lettuces in partial shade - you can grow them as a catch-crop in the shade of taller plants in your garden. Leafy varieties generally do better than heading varieties in the heat.
Keep well watered. Lettuce are shallow rooted and are taking their moisture very close to the surface of the soil, so don't let the soil get too dry.
We are not the only creatures who think lettuces are delicious! Protect the seedlings from birds, snails and slugs.
Bring on the salad season!!