Growing lettuce from seed? Yes, pots are just as good as garden beds

The perfect storm of fuel price rises, rain, floods, cold and more rain delivered the $10+ iceberg. In response gardeners rushed to grow what they couldn’t afford to buy and turned lettuce seedlings into the new toilet paper.

At my local garden centre there is not a lettuce punnet to be found, no greens of any kind in fact. “There’s been a run on lettuce seedlings,” confirms Kathy Hill, marketing manager of Oasis Horticulture, which is the country’s largest grower of flower and food seedlings. “We’ve never seen anything like it.”

The lettuce crunch.Credit:iStock

Oasis acted once the crunch started and immediately put more lettuce into production. In this cold weather it takes four or five weeks to get a lettuce from seed to store, and Hill says garden centres will once again be well-stocked with a dozen different lettuce options by mid-July. Oasis punnets include iceberg and cos, as well as multi-cut varieties to pick leaf by leaf, and Asian leaf veg such as mizuna.

To grow your own, first find a sunny spot. Lettuce prefers part-shade in Sydney summers, but right now it wants a good five hours of full sun a day. Lettuce is not a deep-rooted plant so pots are just as good as garden beds. Self-watering container systems, such as Vegepod, or wicking beds, make growing salad even easier by radically reducing how often you have to water.

Fill containers with quality potting mix. In garden beds, enrich the soil with compost or manure-based organic fertiliser. Plant the seedlings as soon as you get them home. Soak the punnet in half strength seaweed solution while you prepare the holes. The seaweed solution promotes root growth, making stronger plants. Water in with the rest of the seaweed solution and carefully mulch around the plant. Protect against snails and slugs.

“The seaweed solution promotes root growth, making stronger plants.”

Keep the soil around the plants moist but not sodden, and water with half-strength liquid feed, such as Eco-amingrow, Gogo Juice or Powerfeed, after they have been growing for a month or so to keep them powering along. Alternatively use a weak compost or manure tea.

Keep an eye out for caterpillars. You’ll see the droppings, called frass, well before you find the culprit. The size of the little black pellets is an indication of the size of the caterpillar that made them. Search out the invader and squash it or snip it in half with secateurs – poisons definitely not required.

Pick cut-and-come-again crops such as oakleaf and coral lettuce from the outside so that the plant can continue to produce new leaves from its centre. Cos can also be picked leaf by leaf, but iceberg is harvested in one go. Plants will continue to produce leaves for months before going to seed.

Growing from seed makes lettuce even more affordable. At current prices a single iceberg costs the equivalent of more than 200 seeds – that’s about a decade’s worth of lettuce!

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