If you’ve got a hankering to munch on lots of fresh lettuce, listen to learn about the types you can grow and how to get them started.
If a gardener wanted to turn over a new leaf, he could certainly do it with lettuce, over and over again. Way back in 1889, the Annals of Horticulture listed 119 varieties of lettuce. Today there are more than 800.
All the varieties we grow today are descendants of prickly lettuce, a weed still found growing wild in Asia. Sometime around the middle of the 14th century, lettuce was introduced to England, where it thrived in the cool, moist climate. The Pilgrims, in turn, brought seeds of this favorite green to America.
There are four major types of lettuce grown today, romaine (or cos), head, butterhead, and leaf. Romaine, the lettuce grown by the Pilgrims, forms a loose, upright head with thick, flavorful leaves that are more nutritious than those of any other lettuce. It takes almost two months to mature.
True head lettuce, such as ‘Iceberg’ , is not popular in the home garden because it takes as long as romaine to mature, and tends to
become bitter and bolt (set seed) when temperatures get above 70°F.
Butterhead varieties, considered the most tender and succulent of the lettuces, include ‘White Boston’, ‘Bibb’, and ‘Buttercrunch’. They form a small, loose head with blanched hearts. Butterheads mature faster than romaine and head lettuce and are slower to bolt.
Leaf lettuce is the most popular type grown today, especially where summers are hot. Varieties like ‘Black Seeded Simpson’, ‘Oak Leaf’, ‘Salad Bowl’, and the colorful ‘Ruby Ruffles’ provide a crisp nibble in about 45 days.
Lettuce can be planted as soon as the ground can be worked in the spring. Leaf varieties are sown directly into the garden, but romaine, butterhead, and head lettuce are best given a month’s head start in a sunny window and set out at the same time leaf lettuce is seeded.
Garden lettuce can add the crowning touch to an egg salad sandwich, make a landing place for a scoop of cottage cheese, or provide crunch in a tossed salad. Or you may just like it the way honeymooners do: “Lettuce alone.”