How to Grow Lettuce and Green Salad Recipe with Strawberries, Watermelon, and Cashews
This gorgeous lettuce, grown in our garden, was served at a dinner party last week where I made a Green Salad Recipe with Strawberries, Watermelon, and Cashews. It was the hit of the party!
Growing lettuce is one of the most rewarding experiences a gardener can have, because it’s delicious, saves money and isn’t as hard as some think. For the past 10 years my husband and I have grown lettuce, mostly in the spring and early summer, and when the beds are bursting with color and bright, beautiful heads, we take a knife, cut off the head, and place in a brown paper bags to give to our friends before it gets too big and turns bitter.
To me, a fresh head of lettuce is the perfect hostess gift, “just because” gift, or way to spread the love of spring and summer and the gift of a garden. And when people come over for dinner and know they are eating fresh, home-grown organic greens, it often becomes their favorite part of the meal.
Varieties we grow.
We only grow loose leaf lettuce, mostly buttercrunch, and romaine. This year, with our great greenhouse from Lowe’s, we grew most of ours from seed, though we did “cheat” and bought one six-pack of romaine slips.
Our biggest challenge is figuring out when to put them in the garden to take advantage of cool nights and warmer days. This is important, because if you put them out there too early, they’ll live, but they are also sitting ducks for insects, especially slugs and snails, which are prevalent here. We take our chances anyway and plant in March. Usually we win the coin toss and all is well. We only bait for slugs and snails with a product that is very safe. We are happy to share our garden with other insects that aren’t as damaging. We don’t mind a few holes in our lettuce and frankly, our world would be a healthier place if more of us were willing to live with imperfect but superior produce, given the high cost of needless insecticides upon the natural world. We say “needless” because we understand that we don’t make a living from growing plants, so to us, insects don’t challenge our livelihood. We take our gardening hat off to those who make a living off the soil. No judgment here.
We don’t contend with most animals, in part because we live in the city, but have some small wildlife still around. But since Haggis lives to chase things with the desire to kill them, even if they are much bigger (he is both brave and foolish at times), we don’t see much from rabbits and others who can chew an entire garden to the ground on a warm summer evening. Haggis (our Cairn Terrier) makes sure of this!
Lettuce, like so many other garden plants, doesn’t need great soil. And we don’t fertilize ours either, because we prefer our lettuce on the young side. It tastes better and wards off bitterness later in the season.
After six weeks or so, as the heads grow and mature, they’re finally turned in to a fresh salad on the table, usually with guests indulging with us. Even though the crops are tender, lettuce really is one of the easier things to grow. Especially in the spring with cooler weather, you can grow them in beds, a trough, or even in pots.
When to grow: Lettuce is a cool-weather crop, and seeds can go in the ground about four weeks before the last frost. (We live in a warm region, southern Oregon, so we started back in March.)
Seed to plate: Most lettuce varieties go from seed to a salad or dinner plate in about 45 to 80 days. Plant seeds every 8 to 10 days; you should have a constant supply all spring and into early summer, even in a small space.
Till the soil: We till before planting, but you don’t have to. We use our Ryobi tiller attachment, and then we top the soil with at least one year old straw, to keep the weeds down and water in. Paul likes how the straw looks on the beds. I’m not as sold as he is, but since weeding is more his thing than mine, fine with me. And since he rarely has the time to weed with his busy speaking schedule, the older the straw the better. We have bales in rotation on our property from new to older ones. This year we’re even going to put plants directly into the older ones, part of the straw bale gardening movement that is becoming more and more popular. We’ll see.
Planting seed: Lettuce seeds are so tiny, so burying them too deep can make it hard for them to germinate. Scatter the seeds directly onto the ground; you will thin the plants as they grow. We use a seed planter that only lets out a few seeds at a time. They are cheap and can be found at any gardening store.
Watering: Depending on your climate and weather, water a few times a week or every day if it’s really hot. Watering will prevent the plants from wilting. Use the spray nozzle if you don’t have a sprinkler system in place. You don’t want direct force on the tender plants.
Thin. Pick. Wash. Dry. Eat.
We plant leaf lettuce because you can start harvesting it pretty early, without killing the plant. When leaf lettuce plants are about one inch high, you can begin thinning from the outside and eating the lettuce.This will prevent the roots of the remaining plants from being disturbed and give the plants room to continue to grow.
When the lettuce is fully grown, pick it immediately and enjoy. If you don’t pick when it’s ready, it will “go to seed,” and become very bitter. It will eventually become bitter even if you pick the head regularly, but picking regularly should prolong the life of the good-tasting leaves. Compost overgrown plants, which will make room for new seedlings.
Lettuce is art.
Looking out into our garden, and seeing these lovely pictures, makes me smile. I’m grateful for the work that goes into gardening, and the joy and nutrution that it brings to our family. We get to share it with others, and talk about the spiritual side of gardening with our friends, and quite honestly, just looking at this gorgeous head of lettuce to me looks like a piece of ART.
It really is quite an experience, the growing and harvesting lettuce. And nothing tastes quite like it.
What is your favorite kind of lettuce to grow, or if no garden, to buy at the local market or Farmer’s Market?
Green Salad with Watermelon, Strawberries, and Cashews
- 2-3 heads of lettuce (such as butter crunch), washed, dried, cut in large pieces
- 2 cups of watermelon, cut in small chunks
- 2 cups of strawberries, sliced
- 1/2 cup onion
- 1/2 cup feta cheese
- 1/2 cup cashews
- 1/4 cup fresh basil, finely chopped
- 1/4 cup pesto
- 2 Tbsp. honey
- 2 Tbsp. lime juice
- Chop the lettuce in small to medium pieces, and place in a large bowl.
- Cut the watermelon and strawberries into 1/2-inch pieces and lay on top of the greens.
- Sprinkle the feta cheese, onions, and cashews on top.
- Mix together the pesto, honey, lime juice.
- Right before serving add the dressing; toss and serve.