Posted 29th Mar 2017
The recent fruit and vegetable shortages and supermarket rationing has thrown the idea of growing your own produce sharply into focus
The reality is that home-grown food not only taste better but will work out cheaper over time, prompting many gardeners to start their own personal supply. Now, the knowledge that there can be shortages has given us a fresh reason to start growing.
For those who invest in a greenhouse, growing your own can mean year-round fruit and vegetable abundance whatever the weather. A greenhouse can be a reliable source of fresh produce and also some of the tastiest at that.
To get you started, Hartley Botanic, now the RHS’ preferred supplier of aluminium greenhouses and glasshouses, has produced a handy guide to producing the perfect lettuce:
1 When to grow
The best time to sow lettuce seeds is between March and August. Sowing lettuce seeds now is the ideal time for early planting out in the garden.
Tip: Sow in fortnightly intervals for a regular source of salad leaves.
2 Start in a greenhouse using cell trays
Sowing lettuces in cell trays ensures each one has its own individual cell. This means there is less root interference once they are transferred. Generously fill up the tray with compost and water before sowing and keep to one or two seeds per cell. Trays that have been sown can then be placed on a greenhouse bench. Make sure temperatures are not too high as this can inhibit growth.
Tip: Out of season lettuces can be grown in greenhouses throughout the year. Lettuces and other salad crops can be grown in large pots or growing-bags if there is no border soil.
3 Planting out
Once the lettuces are 5-8cm (2-3 inches), they can be planted on a plot outside. Dig a small hole and drop the lettuce in. You can plant it a little deeper than it was in the seed tray to prevent wind rock. Water the hole and then fill up with soil.
Tip: Space the lettuces according to size so they have room to grow - about 15cm (6 inches) apart if growing narrow Cos or 30cm (12 inches) apart if growing lettuces with larger heads.
4 Pests and disease
Slugs and snails can be a troublesome issue at the start of growth, while aphids (greenfly) can also cause a problem. Fungal diseases can also create issues, especially during the cooler, damp weather. Keep polytunnels and clothes well-ventilated and avoid growing the plants too close together. It's also a good idea to keep beds clean of debris, removing and dead stems and leaves.
You don't want to wait before harvesting a young lettuce. Lettuces can be harvested when they begin to thicken or wait until they are fully mature and cut through the base of the stem.
Tip: Most seed companies produce mixes of ‘cut and come again’ salad greens. These can be harvested a little at a time, and if sown at regular intervals, will produce greenery all year round.
Lead image - Hartley Botanic Victorian Villa greenhouse