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Growing and Preparing Loose Leaf Lettuce

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gardener picking greensIf you’re paying $2 to $ 4 for a bag of lettuce at the grocery store, you’ll be delighted to learn growing your own lettuce can save you money, and it’s easy to do! Another plus: It tastes great!

Loose leaf lettuce is one of the simplest lettuces to grow in home gardens and the type grown by most home gardeners. You just plant it, water it, harvest it and eat it!

Loose leaf lettuce varieties are those lettuces that do not form a compact head. Their flavor tends to be mild and sweet. And, they come loaded with benefits:

  • colorful accent in foods
  • delightful, cool crunch
  • few calories –a cup of shredded leaf lettuce has about 5 calories
  • a source of vitamin A

Planting

Loose leaf lettuce is considered more of a cool weather crop. Seeds typically are sown in early spring and again later in the summer or early fall. For fall harvest of loose leaf lettuce in Maine, sow seeds in late July to early August. However, loose leaf lettuce can be grown during most of the season if you select varieties that are heat-tolerant. It may be planted earlier or later in other locations, depending on your climate.  Planting lettuce in a container garden can produce enough lettuce for several salads throughout the summer. For more information, see Growing Vegetables in Container Gardens, Bulletin #2762.

Harvesting

You can selectively harvest outer lettuce leaves before the plant reaches full maturity or as soon as the outer leaves are 2- to 3-inches tall. You can cut or gently break off leaves as needed without harvesting the entire plant. Or, if the plant has reached the desired maturity, the entire plant can be pulled.

Preparing

A benefit of growing your own lettuce is you can harvest it right before eating it. Rinse the leaves under running water. The easiest way to dry them is to place leaves in a salad spinner to remove the excess water. Or, you can dry them with a clean cloth or paper towel. If you wish to harvest lettuce earlier in the day for later use that day, store it in your salad spinner in the refrigerator. Or, refrigerate in a plastic bag and use within 3 – 7 days.

Eating

Here are some easy ways to enjoy lettuce in foods:

  • Toss with dressing for a simple side salad.Try making your own salad dressing athome to save more money.See our Basic Vinaigrette recipe below.
  • Mix with cooked meats and other vegetables for a heartier salad.
  • Cut into shreds and use in tacos.
  • Add lettuce to sandwiches.
  • Use leaves as edible plate “liners” on which to serve other foods. For example, serve a scoop of potato salad atop a lettuce liner.
  • Use large, pliable lettuce leaves as a “wrap” or a “cup.” One way of serving wraps or cups is to place your filling (such as chicken salad – just make sure it isn’t too “runny”) in the center of a large serving platter and surround it on the outer edge with the lettuce leaves. Let people spoon their own filling onto the leaf. Then eat on a lettuce “cup” or wrap the lettuce around it for a “wrap.”

Basic Vinaigrette

Ingredients

1/2 cup oil
1/2 cup vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme or basil
1 teaspoon mustard
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1/8 teaspoon salt

Directions

  1. Mix all ingredients in a clean screw-top jar.
  2. Cover and shake well.
  3. Store in the refrigerator and use within two weeks. Shake before serving.

Variations

Garlic vinaigrette: prepare as directed, except add 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder.

Parmesan vinaigrette: prepare as directed, except use oregano in place of thyme or basil. Add 2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese and 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder.

Create your own: use different types of vinegar and oil combinations. Try red wine vinegar, cider vinegar or white wine vinegar.

Cost per serving: $.06

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