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How to grow lettuce from seed.

Colorful and attractive in the landscape or the vegetable garden, lettuce is also easy and quick to grow and will reward you with a long harvest.

In the flower border, plant the upright romaines in the background with the shorter loose-leafs and dwarf butterheads in front. Alternate varieties in the vegetable garden for interesting combinations of colors and textures. For some unusual European lettuces, turn to page 66.

To grow your own lettuce, start seeds in flats in a protected area if it's warm, since they won't germinate well in hot weather. If it's cooler, you can sow directly in the ground. To keep lettuce producing over a long period, plant every three weeks.

If sowing in the ground, rotary-till the soil well before planting. Mix in fertilizer and, if necessary, loosen soil by adding organic matter. For flats, use containers at least 2 inches deep. If you don't have ones in the correct size, try 1/2-gallon milk cartons sliced lengthwise or cottage cheese containers punched with a few holes for drainage. Fill with a mixture of potting soil and vermiculite or perlite. Set in bright light, but not in direct sun.

Next, scatter seed lightly over moist soil about 4 seeds per inch (it may help to mix seed with fine sand)-then press into the soil and cover with 1/4 inch of soil. Since seeds need light to germinate, don't cover them too heavily. Keep soil constantly moist, Soon after seeds germinate, thin plants to about 1 inch apart.

When seedlings are at least 2 inches tall, transplant into the ground or pots if sown in containers or flats (protect from direct sun for a day or two by covering with shadecloth or by shading with pieces of wood or with old umbrellas). Plant 4 to 6 inches apart or thin the ones in the ground to this distance. Keep the soil moist but not soggy. If plants are stressed, leaves become bitter. Any thinnings can be used in the salad bowl.

When plants first start crowding each other, harvest every other one so remaining heads are 8 to 12 inches apart (crispheads and larger loose-leaf varieties need more room than dwarf types do). Fertilize plants with fish emulsion or other complete fertilizer.

Check regularly for signs of aphids, snails, and slugs. To kill aphids, spray plants with insecticidal soap. Bait for snails and slugs or pick off at night.

Keep a flat of seedlings going, so when you harvest a mature head, you can plug in a new seedling. Also, plant next to vegetables that take longer to mature, such as peas or cole crops. The lettuce will be ready before plants become crowded.

Where to find seed

Some nurseries now carry specialty seeds that include a choice of interesting lettuce varieties. However, you'll find the best selection in seed catalogs that specialize in European vegetables (though not every catalog lists all the varieties mentioned on pages 66 and 67).

Johnny's Selected Seeds, 299 Foss Hill Rd., Albion, Maine 04910; (207) 437-9294 or 437-4301. Catalog free.

Le Marche Seeds International, Box 190, Dixon, Calif. 95620; (916) 678-9244. Catalog $2.

Shepherd's Garden Seeds, 7389 W. Zayante Rd., Fenton, Calif.95018; (408) 335-5400. Catalog $1.

The Cook's Garden, Box 65054 Londonderry, Vt. 05148; (802) 824-3400. Catalog $1.
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Copyright 1987 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Sep 1, 1987
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