I wish my favorite garden crop was something sexy or dramatic, like seedless watermelon, scarlet runner beans or Zebra tomatoes. Mind you, I do grow all three, as well as an entire garden full of wonderful crops, but lettuce by far is my favorite.
If someone imposed a rule limiting me to only grow one garden crop, I wouldn’t even have to think about it. Lettuce planting gets my vote. Why grow lettuce in the garden?
- Lettuce grows early and often. I live in San Francisco, a city famous for foggy summers and mild winters. Lettuce is a cool weather crop, and given our weather, I grow it all year long. I start it in early spring, refresh the crop through summer, then sow it again in fall. Even in regions with four real seasons, you can keep growing lettuce plants throughout spring and fall.
- Lettuce is made for hanging baskets. No room for lettuce in the garden or just want a more convenient place to put it? If you aren’t growing lettuce in hanging baskets, you are missing out. I keep four wire baskets planted with three heads of lettuce each, moving them to shady locations on hot days and into cool sunshine when possible. No snails, no slugs, no rabbit damage and no bending down to harvest.
- A packet of seeds lasts forever. If lettuce seeds aren’t the tiniest vegetable seeds, they have to be among the smallest. One packet of lettuce seeds usually lasts me from spring through fall. Lettuce transplants well, so I always have seeds germinating in six-pack containers. As the seedlings grow strong, I sub them into the baskets and sow a few more seeds.
- Lettuce can be picked by the leaf. With most vegetables, you need to harvest more than you can eat in a meal. Think zucchini, broccoli or melons. But with leaf lettuce, you pick what you need. I am a vegetarian and eat a salad every day, and I pick it just a few minutes before sitting down for a meal: fresh, crisp and straight from the garden.
- Lettuce comes in many varieties. Growing up in central Alaska, I thought that all lettuce was iceberg and very expensive. My mom would buy a head for special occasions. Now that I’m a California girl, I try new lettuce varieties every time I plant, from crunchy French crisp to compact Tom Thumb butterhead to beautifully speckled oak leaf and curly New Red Fire loose-leaf. It’s fun to build salads with pretty leaves.
- Fresh lettuce makes salads easy. Everyone knows you should eat more vegetables for good health, and eating salads regularly is one of the easiest ways to do that. I am a vegetarian and I’ve resolved to eat a salad with dinner every night to prevent an all-pasta diet. My hanging lettuce baskets are literally five feet from my back door and the freshness of the lettuce always makes the salad tempting.
- No guilt for not canning. When I have a bumper crop of beans, tomatoes or even basil, I feel I should preserve, can or freeze the excess. It’s never good to waste food, but I must admit that one of the things I like about growing lettuce plants is that I don’t have to deal with the leftovers. It’s pretty rare that I have lettuce that doesn’t get eaten, but if it happens, it happens. I send it guilt-free into the compost.
Why grow lettuce in the garden? Planting lettuce is easy and offers gardeners, both new and old, a myriad of growing options and varieties. Of course, you don’t need to simply take my word for it – try it out for yourself!