Lettuce is a leafy vegetable that originated in ancient Egypt and has slowly made its way all around the world. This is majorly a popular green leafy vegetable used in salads, burgers, sandwiches, etc. A lot of varieties of this vegetable have been bred and cultivated with time.
It is generally a vegetable that is grown in temperate regions and requires a cooler climate and winter months to develop.
In India, Lettuce made its arrival fairly late and is still not a very regularly used vegetable. Not a lot of traditional Indian recipes use lettuce as an ingredient.
It is considered as almost a luxury and often as a fancy vegetable in the Indian subcontinent. Despite all this, India happens to be the third-largest producer of this green leafy vegetable.
Growing crisp, green, flavorful, and fresh lettuce is not a difficult venture. All you need is the proper temperature settings, the supply of key elements it prefers, and some time in your hands.
It is also a fairly easy home garden crop. Let us look into greater details of how to grow this bright and tasty leafy salad veggie.
Lettuce cultivation in India:
Lettuce grows in the winter months and loves a cool climate. Temperate regions are fairly ideal for the cultivation of Lettuce. It takes around 3 months to grow and mature completely and grows in small areas as well.
In India, Lettuce is grown in the northern and temperate regions and in certain other places with a cooler climate as Lettuce requires a temperature ranging from 60 – 70.
The Nilgiris region in south India is an important producer of lettuce in southern India. The cool hilly climate and low temperatures provide a suitable condition to grow lettuce.
The Nilgiris produce the famous iceberg lettuce variety and these are important ingredients for the multinational food joint of McDonald’s.
Firms and farms in and around the Bangalore – Mysore belt are also producers of lettuce. Gardens in Ooty, located in Karnataka, also produce the iceberg variety of lettuce that is supplied to McDonald’s food chains as raw materials.
In India, Lettuce is grown through various advanced techniques as well. Hydroponic systems are also used to cultivate lettuce in the country. It can be grown in greenhouses and polyhouses as well.
Lettuce has a growing demand in the vegetable market for its salad and medicinal uses. The various varieties and types of lettuce have grown over the years and now have significant commercial values.
Growing lettuce with the correct practices and planning can prove to be a good investment in commercial agriculture and can be a profitable business.
Different types of Lettuce:
Lettuce is found in a range of different varieties depending on shapes, sizes, colors, tastes, and benefits. Commonly lettuce is green and leafy, but some major varieties are also red.
Hybrid and newer types have come up with yellow, golden as well as blue leaves in lettuce. Shape and texture also vary from each kind to the other. There are many major types of lettuce, some of them are:
- Looseleaf Lettuce – These lettuces usually have red and green leaves. They are among the easiest variety to cultivate. They grow quickly and have a subtle taste with delicate leaves.
- Cos or Romaine Lettuce – This is a classic variety of lettuce. The leaves are upright, tight, and have a crispy texture. They have a mild taste and are commonly used in Greek salads.
- Butter head Lettuce – Also commonly known as Bibb or Boston lettuce has loose and soft leaves. They have a tender sweet taste.
- Iceberg Lettuce – A comparatively harder to grow variety in lettuces, this lettuce has a great demand for its crisp leaves. They are the famous ones used in McDonald’s food joints. It is white on the inside and has a very crunchy texture with a mild taste.
- Summer Crisp Lettuce – These varieties resemble the loose-leaf types and mature into growing rounded heads.
How to grow Lettuce?
As we know by now, that lettuce grows best in cooler climates and lower temperatures, it is best to grow these crops in areas with cool summers and mild winters.
These leafy vegetables grow well in fall and spring. But there is more than just the right temperature. Factors like sunlight, moisture, nutrition, soil, etc. also play important roles. Let us look into a step-by-step guide on how lettuce can be grown efficiently.
When to plant Lettuce?
As lettuce requires a cool season to grow and mature, it must be planted during fall or springtime. Hot weathers aren’t favorable for the plant’s growth.
Lettuce requires a temperature on an average of 15. Planting can also be started in late summers because, by the time the lettuce reaches maturity, the season will turn colder.
In India, lettuce can be planted during the October – November months. It must also be kept in mind that the climate and temperature requirements vary depending on varieties of lettuce available.
Soil Requirements for growing Lettuce:
Lettuce grows with ease in well-draining soils, preferably loamy soils. The pH of soil must be around 6.0 to facilitate good growth of the leaves. The lettuce is also slightly salt tolerant.
Soils rich in organic matter are god options for this farming. A wide range of soils can be utilized to grow lettuce. Hydroponic techniques are also often used where the lettuce is grown in water mediums and many a time using hydroponic agents like coco peat, Rockwool, etc.
It is advisable to check the soil for deficiencies in nutrient content when crops are going to be sown on a large-scale. In case of insufficient nutrition in the soil, micro-nutrients can be added based on the nutrition preferences for the growth of lettuce.
Planting and Sowing
Sowing of lettuce seeds in India can be carried out after the monsoon months. Seeds of lettuce are commercially available.
The seeds are very light and fragile and must be planted on nursery beds and once established, the seedlings can be transplanted to the main fields for further growth.
Lettuce seeds can be planted ¼ to ½ an inch deep. The lettuce seeds must be positioned at about a distance of 20 – 30cms from each other as the leaves bunch out and need space to do so. Seeds can also be planted in containers or pots for garden-grown lettuce. Usually, the lettuce starts to germinate from the seeds between 8 – 10 days.
Sunlight requirements for lettuce:
It is best if the lettuce is planted in an area that receives full and direct sunlight. Partial sunlight can also be great if the temperatures are too hot.
Too much heat and warmth can affect the growth of the leaves and the lettuce in turn would develop a bitter taste. Therefore, the plants must be protected from heat. In cooler environments, full bright sunlight is ideal.
Irrigating the lettuce:
A maintained and uniform irrigation schedule is necessary for the proper growth of lettuce. Frequently and lightly watering the lettuce is the right way to irrigate them.
The lettuce can be irrigated at intervals of 4 – 5 days. Excess water must not be allowed to stand. Proper drainage must be ensured and heavy rain waters must be prevented from getting collected.
Watering must be light as roots of the lettuce do not need to grow; it is the leaves that need to flourish. Over-watering may lead to rotting of the root and slow growth.
Too much moisture can invite germs and can develop diseases. Various techniques of irrigation like – furrow irrigation, sprinkler irrigation, and drip irrigation can be used.
Fertilizing the growing lettuce:
The growth and production of the lettuce can be assisted with the use of fertilizers. Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium can be added to the soil along with manures to make it rich and organic.
Providing manures and fertilizers at regular intervals can add to the efficiency of plant growth and can lead to better yields. The amount of nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus needed to be added to the crops depends on the soil varieties.
Protecting from pests and diseases:
Lettuce in fields and gardens must be protected from infestations by pests and other disease-causing germs. Diseases and harmful pests can negatively influence the quality and quantity of produce.
It is very necessary to select seeds that are healthy and free of diseases. Pests like aphids, cutworms, bollworms are common lettuce pests. These can cause the leaves to curl and wither.
The pests feed on the lush leaves and many a time they also give rise to mold growth. To prevent pests, neem oil or horticultural soap can be used.
Horticulture management agencies can also be contacted to provide solutions. Natural pest predators such as beetles can be used to prevent these pests. Insects, snails, caterpillars, slugs, etc. can also be major intruders. Insecticides can be used to avoid them.
Trimming the lettuce
A lot of times lettuce leaves tend to curl and turn brownish. Their appearance can be stale and unhealthy. This condition is referred to as – tipburn.
Due to insufficient moisture, the tips of the lettuce leaves can go dry and begin to wilt. The browned areas of the leaves must be trimmed and separated. To avoid further tipburn, the lettuce must be watered efficiently.
Harvesting the Lettuce:
The time needed to grow entirely depends on the types of lettuce grown. The period required to be ready for harvesting can vary from 30 days to even 3 months. Softer and loose-leaf lettuce varieties are harvested early; they are usually ready within a 6-week duration.
On the other hand, Head lettuce varieties are harvested comparatively late. They are allowed to grow to a good size and firm structure. It must be kept in mind that if kept on for longer, the leaves may acquire a bitter taste. Timing can be based on preference in home gardens.
The lettuce must be carefully cut off from near the ground. While harvesting it must be ensured that the wrapper leaves are not damaged. Lettuce can also be harvested by only cutting off some leaves and letting the rest of it to regrow.
After being harvested, the Lettuce must be stored well in a box or container. It is best to use fresh lettuce leaves to enjoy its flavor and crispiness properly.
Thus, it is essential to store the lettuce efficiently and deliver to customers or markets within a time duration of 2 days.
Lettuce can even be grown all year round in regions that have a colder climate. Places that usually have temperatures around 60 over the year can plant and harvest lettuce over and over again.
A lot of times, greenhouses, cold frames, row covers, etc. are used to regulate the temperatures to promote longer seasons of growth for the lettuce.
China is the largest producer of lettuce followed by the USA. The dietary benefits and growing popularity of lettuce in salads has led to increased cultivation of lettuce.
With the introduction and growth of western food cultures in India, the use of lettuce has been increasing rapidly.
Benefits of Lettuce:
Apart from being an ingredient in burgers, sandwiches, tacos and a popular salad item, the fresh crunchy and flavorful lettuce has various health benefits as well. Some of them are:
– This leafy green is very healthy and has very low-calorie content. The lettuce also has zero fat content and is thus a dietary ingredient.
– Lettuce is rich in various vitamins and minerals.
– This green leafy vegetable is also healthy for the heart and includes omega-3 fatty acids. It works in reducing blood cholesterol levels too.
– Lettuce works in weight reduction as well.
– It is also proven to be assisting psychological issues such as sleep disorders and anxiety.
– It also has excellent antioxidant qualities.
– Lettuce prevents the growth of harmful cancer cells.
– Lettuce is safe to be consumed by diabetic patients as well.
– Lettuce has high water content, rendering it to be a good cooling agent during summers.
– It is rich in calcium and potassium.
Thus, lettuce is a good green to add to your dishes and salads. This leafy green is nutritious and adds a crunchy texture and subtle taste to your food.
With all the right methods you can always grow your favorite variety of lettuce in your gardens. It is an easy to grow plant and a perfectly healthy veggie!