Lettuce (Lactuca sativa)

Lettuce is a vegetable that we consume all year round, and it is one of those that needs less time to mature . In fact, in just about three months we will be able to collect it to prepare, for example, delicious salads.

But one of the good things about it is that it can be grown in the garden, as well as in a pot. For this reason, even if you only have a balcony, you can enjoy delicious lettuce without having to buy it in a supermarket.

What is lettuce?

Lettuce, whose scientific name is Lactuca sativa , is an herb that, depending on the climate, can be annual (that is, only a few months pass from germinating to blooming) or biannual (living about two years, dedicating the first to produce leaves, and the second to flower and fruit). It is native to the temperate regions of Europe, although today it is cultivated in much of the world, except in cold areas such as the poles.

Its leaves grow to form a basal rosette that does not usually exceed 30 centimeters in height. They are normally green in color, but may brown / reddish depending on the variety. When it reaches maturity, a flower stalk emerges from the center, measuring up to 1 meter high. The flowers are about 10 millimeters long, and produce 6-8 millimeter fruits called achenes.

Types of lettuce

There are many types of lettuce

Image – Wikimedia / CostaPPPR

There are many kinds of lettuce, but the most widely grown, by far, are the following:

  • Lettuce ‘Batavia’ : forms a rounded rosette, composed of curly leaves.
  • Lettuce ‘Oak Leaf’ : it has a certain resemblance to the previous one, but instead of having green leaves, it has green and brown ones.
  • Lettuce ‘Iceberg’ : forms a rosette of smooth green leaves, close together. So much so that only the oldest stick out sometimes. See file.
  • Lettuce ‘Summer wonder’ : it has smooth, yellowish-green leaves. Sometimes the margins are brown.
  • Purple lettuce : it is one that has purple leaves, as its name suggests. Unlike others, its taste is a bit bitter.
  • Curly lettuce : it is a type of lettuce with green and very curly leaves.
  • Romaine lettuce : has smooth, green leaves that tend to grow upright.
  • Lettuce ‘Trocadero’ : it is similar to the Iceberg, with the difference that it does not form such a tight bud.

Lettuce cultivation

How is lettuce grown? For everything to go well, we recommend that you take the following into account:

Location

The Lactuca sativa is a plant that is to be exposed to the sun directly . And it is that if it were put in the shade, the leaves would grow without force, and the bud would not have a good development. Consequently, you would end up with weak lettuce.

But also, you have to think that it has a taproot, but harmless. As it does not grow much, it does not need to develop a root system that is neither very long nor very strong; with which, it is possible to grow it in a pot without any problem.

Land

  • Potted : it is important that it be filled with light substrates, such as urban garden substrate, mulch mixed with 30% perlite, or universal substrate.
  • In the garden : Lettuce requires fertile, well-drained soil, otherwise it would have a hard time growing.

Irrigation

It has to be watered frequently, but avoiding excesses . In general, if it is grown in summer it will be watered about 3-4 times a week, depending on the temperatures it is and whether it rains or not. And the warmer it is, the faster the soil will dry out, especially if it is in a pot.

If it is grown in other seasons of the year, it will be watered less but always bearing in mind that waterlogging should be avoided.

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Lettuce is a short-lived vegetable

Since lettuce is an edible plant, it is preferable to fertilize it with natural fertilizers and not with chemical fertilizers . But if we have it in a pot, it is better to use liquid fertilizers since this way it will absorb the nutrients faster.

As examples of good fertilizers for our plant, we highlight guano and seaweed extract (for sale here ), both for their great nutritional richness and rapid effectiveness. But yes, the latter should only be used from time to time, as it is very alkaline. For example, you can pay one month with one, and the next month with the other.

Multiplication

It multiplies by seeds , normally in spring but it can also be in summer, and even in autumn if you have a greenhouse. Just remember that it takes about three months for its leaves to mature and be ready for consumption, and that it cannot stand the cold.

The seeds can be sown in seedling trays (they are ideal for cultivation, since they allow them to be controlled and facilitate subsequent transplantation), pots, planters. Put them separate and in a sunny place. Water from time to time and you will see that they grow well.

Transplant

The transplant will be done as soon as the roots appear through the drainage holes of the seedbed . If doubts arise, what is done is to press the pot or the seedbed a little with the fingers to detach the soil from it, and then with one hand grasp the plant from under the leaves, and carefully pull it upwards.

If we see that the root ball comes out without falling apart, then it is a good time to plant it in a larger pot or in the ground.

Pests

Lettuce pests are as follows:

  • Thrips : they are insects similar to earwigs but much smaller. They feed on the sap of the leaves, and can transmit diseases such as the tomato tan virus. 
  • Miners : they are dipteran larvae that excavate galleries in the leaves.
  • Whitefly : it is a white, flying insect that measures approximately 0.5 centimeters. It also feeds on the sap of the leaves. 
  • Aphids : aphids are a pest that we will see on the leaves. They measure about 0.5 centimeters, and are green, yellow or black. 

They are fought with ecological insecticides, such as diatomaceous earth, potassium soap or neem oil.

Diseases

If we talk about diseases, those that can affect you are:

  • Anthracnose : it is a fungus that causes the appearance of brown spots on the margins of the leaves.
  • Botrytis : it is a fungus that covers the leaves with a whitish powder
  • Mildew : it is another fungus that covers the leaves with a kind of grayish powder. 
  • Sclerotinia : it is a fungus that affects the leaves, causing them to become covered with a kind of white powder.
  • Septoriosis : it is a fungal disease characterized by the appearance of whitish spots with a blackish margin on the leaves.
  • Lettuce mosaic virus: it is a virus that affects the leaves. It makes them grow somewhat deformed, lose color and even turn brown.
  • Tomato Tan Virus : Despite its name, it infects other plants as well, such as lettuce. We will see that it has leaves with chlorotic spots, which turn brown over time starting from the margins.

Fungal-borne diseases are treated with copper or sulfur , which are fungicides. But for viruses there is no treatment.

Harvest

The lettuces will be ready about three months after planting . Once they have reached sufficient maturity, the buds are cut and kept in the fridge for about a week. You don’t have to keep them any longer as they spoil quickly.

Rusticity

Lettuce withstands the cold , but not freezing temperatures.

What uses does it have?

Lettuce is a herbaceous plant

The Lactuca sativa is cultivated for its nutritional value . For example, for every 100 grams it provides us only 13 calories (1% of what is recommended daily), 3.7 milligrams of vitamin C (6% of the recommended amount), or 3312 milligrams of vitamin A ( 110% recommended). As if that were not enough, it contains 95.63 grams of water, and 1.35 grams of protein (2% of the recommended daily amount).

It is common in salads, but we can also find it in hamburgers, pizzas and the like . You can even prepare a lettuce infusion that will help us sleep better. To do this, we only need about five leaves that we will boil in a saucepan with water. Later, we remove them and we are left with only the resulting liquid. This is what we should drink before going to sleep.

What are the benefits of lettuce?

It has multiple benefits. In fact, it is very interesting to include it in the diet, at any age. For instance:

  • Helps fight anemia , as it is rich in iron.
  • It is used to treat constipation , due to its high fiber content.
  • It is rich in various vitamins , such as A, E and C.
  • It is very low in calories , so it is recommended for those who want to lose weight or maintain their weight.

And although it is not a benefit, it is light and fresh. Ideal for preparing lettuce salads, especially on the hottest days of the year, when you want to enjoy light meals.

That you really enjoy growing lettuce.

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