Since it is shallow rooted and almost entirely made up of water, it needs to be watered copiously, writes Thilaka Baskaran
If you have a spot of shade in your garden, this may just be the vegetable to grow. Lettuce, the most popular salad green prefers a cooler climate, and in Bangalore it is possible to enjoy fresh lettuce salad the whole year through.
When all the right conditions are present — sunny days, cool nights, sufficient water and fertile soil — you could have your crop of lettuce in 30 to 45 days.
Though there are many varieties of lettuce, India has primarily two. The first and most popular is the ‘crisp head' variety popularly known as ‘iceberg'. They are slow maturing and must be harvested as the entire plant.
And when the temperature goes up, the plant tends to ‘bolt' to premature flowering and seeding. When this happens, the leaves tend to taste bitter. The second variety is a leaf-type that forms in loose, crinkled bunches. They are fast maturing and can either be harvested whole or by picking the outer leaves.
All lettuce requires a rich humus-laden soil that will hold moisture. It can be grown in punnets and transplanted, or directly sown. Prepare the soil with compost and manure. Rake and mix it well and leave for two weeks. Then mix the tiny seeds with a little coarse sand and sprinkle the sand-seed blend over soil surface and sprinkle water. Directly sown crops should be thinned as soon as the seedlings are large enough to be handled.
Lettuce can also be easily grown in containers. One benefit is that you can shift the container to a cooler area in summer. Choose a container that is about 15 to 20 cm deep and add a handful of gravel at the bottom for drainage and fill the container with a mixture of cocopeat and compost.
Moisten the soil and press the seed just below the surface and brush the soil back to cover the seed. Leave a space of 20 cm between each seed.
Once the lettuce head starts growing, you can start harvesting the outer leaves. You can make your container colourful by mixing the red and green leaf varieties.
The most important factor in succeeding with lettuce is meeting its moisture requirement.
Since it is shallow rooted and comprises mainly of water (nearly 95 per cent) it needs a copious supply of water.
Nitrogen-rich fertilizer every two weeks will keep it healthy. Very few pests attack lettuce, though aphids can be a problem. Get rid of them with a blast of water, chilli and garlic spray or soap solution.
Loose leaf lettuce does not keep well after harvest. So gather just what you need for the meal. Wash individual leaves thoroughly and drain well. Soaking leaves in iced water increases the crispness.