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In Praise of Home-Grown Lettuce : An Attractive Addition to Either Garden or Patio

February 27, 1988|BILL SIDNAM

Lettuce is a good bet for either garden or container. It is easy to grow, the fresh product is superior to that of the supermarket, and it is an attractive addition to either garden or patio.

When I mention lettuce for the home garden, I don't mean head (iceberg) lettuce. Leave the growing of that to farmers in Salinas or the Imperial Valley; head lettuce is finicky and difficult to grow.

The home gardener should concentrate on either butter, loose-leaf or romaine lettuce. All three are cool season vegetables that can be planted successfully through late April, and again in the fall in Southern California gardens.

Butter lettuce is my favorite. It has a delicate, sweet, buttery flavor and the leaves are soft and fragile. It is particularly pretty as a container plant. Butter lettuce is available as transplants in nurseries and garden centers; however, it is a fast-growing plant and you can sample more varieties if you grow it from seed.

My favorite butter lettuce is a variety called Cindy. It is a recent introduction, and an almost "no-fail" vegetable. It grows to maturity from seed in about 45 days and thrives even under adverse weather conditions; the flavor and texture are magnificent. At the present, seeds for Cindy are only available from Park Seed Co., Greenwood, S.C. 29647.

Available in Local Racks

Other good butter lettuce varieties include Butterscotch, Kentucky Bibb, Dark Green Boston and White Boston. Seeds for these varieties should be available in local racks.

Loose-leaf lettuce has a number of attributes--it grows very rapidly, it is an excellent container plant, it requires only minimal care, and it has a higher vitamin content than other lettuce types. In addition, depending upon variety, looseleaf lettuce comes in a rainbow of colors ranging from lime green to deep burgundy.

Good looseleaf varieties include Red Sails, Black Seeded Simpson, Prizehead, Oak Leaf, Salad Bowl and Ruby. Local nurseries should have a good supply of these seeds. For a colorful garden or container, mix several different varieties together when you plant.

Deserves Its Reputation

Romaine lettuce became famous as the lettuce in Caesar salad. And indeed, if grown and harvested rapidly, it deserves its reputation for excellence of flavor. In contrast to other lettuce, it has a bold, hearty flavor. Like the others, romaine forms attractive plants. The stately oval heads are bright green and upright. The two best romaine varieties are Parris Island Cos (yes, Parris is spelled with two r's), and Paris White. Seeds for both should be easy to locate in nurseries.

Locate your lettuce patch in a sunny portion of your garden. Cultivate the soil and enrich it with compost or other organic materials. Work in a dressing of an all-purpose vegetable fertilizer, water thoroughly and allow the soil to settle for two days before you do any planting.

Lettuce seeds are small, so plant them shallow--about an eighth of an inch deep. As for spacing and thinning, follow the planting instructions on the seed packets.

If there is no rain, irrigate once a week--more often during hot weather. Although I grow most of my vegetables in the garden, I grow all of my lettuce in large containers. I plant one container every 30 days from fall through spring, which assures a constant supply.

Growing lettuce in containers offers several advantages. Snails and slugs are not much of a problem, and weeding and cultivation chores are eliminated. And, as you use up a supply of lettuce from a particular container, you can replant easily, without elaborate soil preparation.

You'll need to water and fertilize lettuce grown in containers more frequently than that grown in the garden.

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