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How To Sow Lettuce(continued)

How to Sow Lettuce
Use the table on the previous page to determine when different types of lettuce can be sown. Note that where some from of protection, like cloches or poly tunnel (basically just garden sized supported plastic), is given to the seedlings, sowing can commence 4 weeks earlier than shown in the table. Click here to view and buy from a large range of GardenAction approved poly-tunnels and cloches.

Picture of lettuce sowingSow every three weeks to ensure a continuous supply rather than a glut at one time - lettuces do not keep well in the ground when they have reached maturity. Use a trowel to dig out shallow drills 1.3cm (half inch) deep, each drill being 30cm (1ft) apart from the next. Sow three or four seeds every 15cm (6in) as shown in the right hand drill of the diagram. The seeds can be sown in a continuous row (left hand drill of diagram), although this will require more seeds and more thinning out later.

Cover the seeds with soil, firming it down with gentle pressure. If the soil is at all dry, water well. The seedlings should begin to appear in 7 to 14 days time. Gradually thin out the seedlings until they are 25cm (10in) apart.

The sowing process is the same for all lettuce at all times of the year. Where sowing in autumn for spring harvest, cloche protection will be required from October to January.

Caring for Lettuce
Lettuce seedling picture
The key requirements are water and weeding. Both can be greatly assisted by laying a covering of organic material (or black plastic cut to allow the seedlings through) around the plants, this will keep the soil moist and stop the growth of weeds. It will also provide a slow but steady stream of nutrients.

Harvesting Lettuces
Harvest lettuces as soon as they mature, they will quickly bolt if left in the ground too long. When the heart of the lettuce begins to form a point and grow upwards, it is beginning to bolt and should be picked immediately. The easiest way to harvest them is to pull them out with the roots using a trowel and trim with a sharp knife.

With 'picking' lettuces, leave them in the ground, cutting the outer leaves away from the plant near the base - new shoots will soon grow to replace the harvested ones.

Pests and Diseases
Lettuces have a few enemies which may not kill the crop, but they will slow down growth and make the plants less healthy.

The pests are, lettuce root aphid (yellowing and decaying roots), lettuce root maggot (maggots present on the roots), greenfly and slugs. All of these can be treated using chemicals from your local garden centre. However, a few basic precautions should prevent them in the first place.

1.  Weed the bed - weeds provide a home for pests and diseases.
2.  Remove harvested lettuces from the ground completely, do not leave the stump in the ground. It will rot and attract the attention of pests, root aphid in particular
3.  Provide them with sufficient water especially in dry periods.
4.  Water around the plants with derris (available from most garden centres) in late May.
5.  Do not grow lettuce in the same beds as has been previously used for chrysanthemums. Doing so will increase the risk of root maggot.