How to Grow Lettuce in the UK
Our growing diary of lettuce in the UK 2019.
Lettuce is seen as something that is easy to grow in the UK, but many have heard this and found it untrue when growing from seed. Whilst we haven’t ever experienced difficulty in growing, we have had to learn different methods for growing a lot more volume of lettuce, and have spent time trying lots of different types.
A few of the types we have tried include:
-Little Gem Lettuces
-Speedy Lettuce Mix from Suttons
-California Lettuce Mix from Suttons
-Andean Super Mix
-Other cut and come again lettuces
In this diary I have focussed on Little Gem, Speedy Lettuce Mix and Salanova as they are the most succesful varieties that have sold best in recent markets as salad bags. (Mixed with rocket and watercress).
Our lettuce and salad bags ready for market this year.
A little gem and our eggs ready for market
Growing Little Gem Lettuce
We started our Little Gem lettuce in salad trays this year. Most salad / lettuce seeds are very small and therefore sowing them specifically can be difficult. Therefore I sow them in rows of seeds and prick out the strongest ones once they germinate and are an inch or so tall.
Most little gem lettuce seed packets will tell you to direct seed the lettuces however in early season I found it worked well to grow them on in the greenhouse (and windowsills) and later transplant them to the ground.
The first round we planted seeds in early April, to then transplant in early May. Which allowed for harvest in June.
For next years growing season we could bring the lettuce seeds on earlier and in a warmer controlled environment to give them a headstart.
Later in the year when the warmer days of the season began we have directed seeded back where we harvested and in other areas of the land plots.
The direct seeded little gem lettuces were planted on the 4th of June this year, and the seeds emerged on the 18th June. At the time of writing this 15th July, the leattuces are looking strong and could easily be harvested for baby leaves. We will allow them to continue to grow to full heads as they sell well at market, as well as add a crunchy texture to the salad bags.
When growing on a larger scale next year, then we will do the same… Bring early little gem lettuce on in the green house and transplant, then replacing and later season will be direct seeded.
Little Gem Seedlings. Ideally should have been pricked out a couple of weeks before this.
Growing Speedy Lettuce Mix
This variety of lettuce from Suttons is a “cut and come again” variety marketed for the home, so that you can sow it in a trough by the backdoor and cut parts of it off ready for dinner.
However, we have found good success in directly seeding this lettuce to long beds and being able to take several cuts of it for salad bags. It is a different texture to most and therefore we will likely continue this practice on a bigger scale next year.
With this lettuce we planted the seeds directly and quite densly in close rows across a long thin bed. (We also did the same in a large square bed with similar results).
The initial direct seed was sown at the end of May, and emerged in less than a week. We had the first full cut of this crop at the end of June and registered a 30 days to maturity round.
2 weeks later we had a second cut, with a slightly lower yield but still a strong amount. We are hoping for a third in a couple of weeks but understand it will be lower still.
A further direct seeding (square bed) had similar yield amounts and also the same days to maturity despite it being later in the season and considerably warmer.
This has led us to believe that bringing this seeds on in the greenhouse and transplanting before would not necessarily be of benefit for the work required as it seems they do not benefit from hotter environments.
Regarded as the newest innovation in salad mix production and a superior hydroponic lettuce, Salanova offers versatility, efficiency, and high value. Harvested as fully mature heads, the flavor and texture have more time to develop than traditional baby-leaf lettuces. From the unique structure of the core a multitude of uniformly-sized leaves develops that is harvestable with one simple cut. Salanova is more than 40% higher yielding, has better flavor and texture, and double the shelf life of traditional baby-leaf lettuce, making it an excellent option for field or indoor production. – Says Johnny Seeds.
Many US and Canadian Urban Farmers and Market Gardeners are growing this variety and our studying of Curtis Stone (Author of The Urban Farmer) led us to want to try it out. We have not been disapointed and therefore have begun to grow a lot more of it in 20 foot beds.
Vibrant Salanova Seedlings after transplanting.
To begin with we start all our Salanova lettuce in 60 cell trays in the greenhouse, here is exactly how in a recent video:
As these seeds germinate we are preparing our beds. The beds we are working with this year are 20foot long (ready to scale up 5x next year for 100 foot beds / 30metres.)
Following advice on growing Salanova lettuce heads we have invested in weed control fabric for the full length of the beds and dug them in and pinned them down. We then created a template for burning holes in to the Salanova from plywood and by marking out the spacings and cutting the holes with a holesaw.
After laying the fabric out and pinning it down, we used a weed burner to burn holes where we needed them. If I had cut each hole by hand it may have taken me a few hours to do 2 long beds, however with this I could set out the holes on a 20ft bed in 3 minutes.
The seeds were planted on the 9th June in the greenhouse and emerged on the 14th June (both varieties). The cells then looked strong enough on the 1st July to be transplanted and so were planted in the holes created already in the fabric on site.
The transplanting was quick and simple, we watered the holes before hand making sure the soil was nice and moist. With the warm weather, if the tranplant is more wet than the soil it’s being planted in to the soil will draw the moisture out of the seedlings roots rather than the other way around and this will stunt the roots of the seedling from spreading in to the ground soil.
Then with a dibber or my fingers a hole just bigger than the cell is created, the seedling dropped in and soil compacted. This can be done quickly in volume.
We are now a couple of weeks on from transplanting and the seedlings are looking strong. We should be a couple of weeks from the heads being full size and ready to harvest.
The spacings have been selected to be touching eachother at 3/4 full size. We will update here as they grow and are harvested.
Key learnings from 2019 lettuce growth season:
- Salanova will be the main source of lettuce growth
- Salanova is best transplanted and has around 60 days to maturity with potential 3 cuts over another month.
- Speedy Salad is a good addition to the salad bags and should be direct seeded densly.
- Little Gem Lettuces are pleasing at both markets and add a good crunchy element to salad bags.
- Little Gems should be transplanted earlier in the season and direct seeded later for the same results throughout.
- Rocket is a fantastic addition to salad bags for flavour (adding to this article soon).
- Lettuce is a low feeding option and fits in well in a rotation system, it can also be interplanted with crops such as tomoatoes to maximise space.
I will continue to add to this list over the coming months, so watch back here.