This month’s star vegetable is lettuce: humble, often underestimated, yet incredibly versatile. When it comes to growing your own champion of summer salads, not much can go wrong. Follow a few simple steps and you’ll be rewarded with a harvest of lush-coloured leaves within weeks.
Finding the perfect spot to start your crop is super easy, as lettuce can be grown either on a sunny indoor window ledge or sit happily outside in the garden. If growing outside, it’s best to plant the seeds in the spring to get the perfect growth. But as it’s a speedy grower, you can still plant now and continue to re-crop over the summer and into autumn.
Re-cropping lettuce means you can keep a steady supply. It’s a job that many prefer to apply a clockwork approach to. People often replant it monthly, so they always have something coming through. I usually have three rows on the go, with each row about a metre long. I go longer if I’m going to need more.
My favourite method of timing is to plant my first row and, when I see the little leaves coming up, plant my next row about 30cm further along. When I start to harvest the first leaves, I plant my third line a further 30cm along. I find by the time I’ve finished eating the first row the second row is ready for its first pick. I then remove what remains of the first line and plant it again.
I continue in this way, rotating the three lines throughout the summer and autumn. Each year I choose a different spot in the garden for my three rows and I try not to go back to the same place for a few years.
How to get started
Make a furrow in the ground (or in the soil in your container) about 1 in/2.5cm deep. Add a small amount of water to ensure its moist, then sow your seeds. Seedlings grow quickly, so make sure you give the leaves enough space to develop. Cover the seeds with soil and water gently. In a couple of weeks, you’ll see them peeking through the soil.
I like to pick a few leaves here and there and allow the other leaves to become larger. This way I can crop from one planting for many weeks.
How to use it
- In a smoothie Lettuce works well with virtually anything, but I love to combine it with pineapple, blueberry and coconut water.
- Fresh salads Show off the bright green of your leaves with clashing beetroot or pomegranate seeds.
- Griddled as a side Little Gem varieties are especially good – griddle the leaves until just charred and serve with a low-fat creamy dressing.