Saturday, 9 August 2008

Lactuca sativa

Lettuce
Latin Name: Lactuca sativa
Family: Asteraceae
Annual.
Soil: Rich well drained soil.
Sow: Most of the year except in extreme heat or cold.
Spacing: 20-30cm apart depending on variety.

Lettuces are a favourite salad green which with careful attention to their growing requirements can be grown most of the year. Successive plantings will maintain healthy growing plants that remain sweet. Here in Scarecrow's garden they need plenty of shade and water during our long hot summers.

Their optimum growing temperature is only 20C and they struggle with our temperatures up around 40C. Loose leaf varieties are most successful and allow constant harvesting by picking off the side leaves.

Liquid feeding with seaweed solution promotes healthy strong plants without giving them too much nitrogen which can make them too lush and prone to insect attack.

Main pests are slugs and snails which can destroy seedlings overnight. During wet times we often go out into the garden at night armed with gloves and buckets to collect snails and slugs and have a scrunching time in our rubber boots. When the bodies have dried in the sun they make great treats for the chooks but shouldn't be fed 'live' as they form part of the intestinal chook worm cycle.

At the moment I've recently planted:
Rouge d'Hiver Lettuce~ Diggers Seed
Green Cos Lettuce ~ DT Brown
These 2 are Cos types that grow long upright leaves growing in both winter and summer. The Rouge d'Hiver are red-brown coloured and said to be slower to bolt in summer.
They are best grown quickly for crisp, juicy leaves and should be planted every 2-4 weeks for a continuous supply.
Red Coral Lettuce ~ Eded Seeds
A non-hearting lettuce with a frilly leaf with red edges.
Sucrine Lettuce ~ Phoenix Seeds
A French variety with crisp sweet loose heads of green leaves.
Butternut Lettuce ~ Phoenix Seeds
Is a long standing, loosely leaved lettuce with round, light-green leaves.

Seeds germinate best at temperatures below 25C and in warmer weather germination is helped by placing the seed in the fridge for a few days before sowing. As these seeds require light to germinate it's best to only lightly cover them and keep them moist.

Companion Plants:
Strawberries, Beetroot, Carrots, Shallots, Cabbage Family, Radish, Marigolds
They are fairly friendly plants so I intend to pop them in all sorts of shady spots around the garden...they are good for a quick crop as other things grow too.

Sources:
Organic Vegetable Growing by Annette McFarlane
The Australian Organic Gardener's Handbook by Keith Smith
Companion Planting in Australia by Brenda Little
Seed packets and catalogues where my seeds were purchased.

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