Lettuce, Loose Leaf – New Red Fire - €1.80

Lettuce, Loose Leaf – New Red Fire is a dark red lollo type with high resistance to bolting.  Delicious sweet, crisp leaves with wine red tinges.

Sow small amounts every 2 weeks from late March until July.  Sow 1 seed per cell in modular trays and plant out 4 to 5 weeks after sowing.  Do not cover the seeds!

Spacing:

Between rows: 25cm

Between plants in the row: 25cm

Seed count: 200

Growing Lettuce:

Family: Compositae

Related to:  Endive, chicory, Jerusalem Artichokes, Globe Artichokes, Cardoon, Sunflowers.

Botanical classification:  Both its common and its Latin name are based on an easily noticeable characteristic – it has a heavy, milky juice when cut. This juice is highly narcotic.  The word “lettuce” is probably derived from the Old French laitues (plural of laitue), meaning “milky,” referring to this plant. The Latin root word lac (“milk”) appears in the Latin name lactuca.

Introduction:  Lettuce is without doubt the world’s most popular salad plant.

Loose leaf:  These lettuces do not form hearts thus making them suitable for picking individual leaves as required.  They mature quickly and are very easy to grow. There are hundreds of cultivars, which include Lollo Rossa and Bionda, Red and Green Salad Bowl.

 

Note:  Many people believe that rocket, mizuna, mustards or cresses belong to the lettuce family.  This is not the case. It is important to remember that they are in the Brassica family (Rotation).

Soil and site: Any reasonable garden soil will do for lettuce.  Half a bucket of well rotted garden compost per square metre is sufficient.  I advise not to use fresh or semi-decomposed manure for lettuce as it makes the plants grow too fast and they will become more vulnerable to pests and diseases.

The organic standards do not require that lettuce has to be rotated, but I think it is better to do so to prevent a build up of lettuce pests (root aphid) and diseases (downy mildew).

Lettuce prefer a pH of 6.5-7.5.

Planting:  When planting out lettuce which has been raised in a greenhouse or windowsill it is absolutely crucial to harden the seedlings off before planting out (see p.)

 The seedlings should be planted with their seed leaves (cotyledons) just above ground level.  If your seedlings did get a bit leggy you can safely plant them a little bit deeper in order to cover the stem but only up to the seed leaves.  The plants definitely seem to appreciate this extra care.

But never plant the seedling deeper.  If the growth point of the plant is buried, it will rot away.

Rotation:  Lettuce does not to follow a strict rotation.  You can use it as a gap filler, either before a late planted crop or after an early harvested crop or even in between widely spaced crops at the initial stages.

Plant care:  It is important to keep your lettuces weed free at all times and avoid spilling earth onto the leaves while weeding.  During dry spells you may have to water the plants.

Harvesting and storing:  I think with lettuce you will often have the same problem: it is either a glut or a famine.  They nearly always ripen at the same time and quickly go into flower.

You can pick leaves from the leafy lettuces as soon as they are of a usable size.  You can also cut loose leaf lettuce about 3cm above the base of the lettuce and it will send out new leaves which can be cut again about 2 to 3 weeks later.

Tip:  Harvest lettuce at sunrise!

It is really true: the earlier in the day you harvest your lettuce the longer it keeps and the more nutritious it is.  If you harvest lettuce at 6am and put them in a plastic bag in the fridge it will keep for a week as fresh as when harvested.  If you harvest lettuce on a sunny day at 2pm it is already wilted.

Potential problems:

Pests:

Leatherjackets

Leatherjackets are the larvae of the cranefly (Daddy Longleg). They eat the stem of newly planted lettuce.  It is important to check your newly planted seedlings regularly and inspect the soil under each destroyed lettuce and pick up the larvae before it moves onto the next plant.  You can then replant the empty space with a spare lettuce.

 Cutworms

Cutworms are the larvae of some moth species.  They do similar damage as the leatherjackets.

Slugs and Snails

Everybody knows that lettuce is one of the favourite slug gourmet dishes.  Apart from the general tips on slug control and prevention, ensure that your lettuce seedlings are properly hardened off before planting.  It might be a good idea to spread organic slug pellets (Ferramol) around the  plants, especially for the first crop.

Leaf aphids

Every year you will get a spell when aphids suck out the juice of your lettuce.  Most of the time, the damage is not severe and you can simply rinse off the aphids.

Root aphids

I have noticed in various gardens that root aphids are becoming an increasing nuisance.  You notice them when you pull up a sick looking lettuce plant and you find white powdery looking dust and small white aphids all around the roots.  Once you have it there is no cure for this lettuce.  To prevent further outbreaks try the following combination of methods:

– Do not grow lettuce in affected areas for a couple of years.

– Do not plant lettuce after lettuce.

– Do not leave your plants in the ground for too long.  As soon as a lettuce is ready, harvest it and pull out the roots.  I appreciate that a bolted lettuce looks very attractive, but if you have root aphids, leaving bolted plants will exacerbate the problem.

– Use tolerant varieties.

Diseases:

The two most common diseases in lettuce are downy mildew (Bremia) and grey mould (Botrytis).

There are now many Bremia resistant varieties available and grey mould can be avoided if they are grown in a clean weed free garden.

Disorder:

Tip burn is a physiological disorder associated with a lack of calcium, especially if the soil is too dry.

Leggy seedlings

Lettuce seedlings are prone to become leggy.  The reason is generally lack of light.  So make sure that your propagation area is in full sun.  In Ireland we get plenty of natural shade, especially the last few summers.

Leggy seedlings are weaker and the plants are thus more prone to pests and diseases.

How much to grow?  Most people sow too many seeds at one go and have a massive glut at some point and nothing afterwards.  From one sowing they will all ripen around the same time and will only last for a week or two in the garden before they bolt (go to seed).

A little bit of planning will provide you with lettuce for many months.  For example if you eat 5 heads of lettuce per week sow 15 seeds every fortnight.  The 5 extras are spares for potential slug or leather jacket casualties.

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