Lettuce (Lactuca sativa) – Vegetable garden
Lettuce (Lactuca sativa) is an annual leafy herbaceous plant that can vary in size, shape, and leaf type but generally, the leaves of the plant form a dense head or loose rosette and eventually along an upright stem that supports the flowers. The leaves can be smooth or curly and are usually green or red in color. The dandelion-like flower-heads are pale yellow, less than 0.5 in across, and borne in dense clusters above the leaves on an erect branching stem. It flowers from July to August, and the seeds ripen from August to September.
There are six popular types of lettuce that are Butterhead, Chinese lettuce, Crisphead or Iceberg, Looseleaf, Romaine, and Summer Crisp, Iceberg forms tight, dense heads resembling cabbage.
Species: L. sativa
Scientific Name: Lactuca sativa
Common Names: Lettuce, Garden lettuce.
Synonyms: Lactuca scariola var. sativa (Moris), L. scariola var. integrata (Gren. and Godr.), L. scariola var. integrifolia.
How to care for and grow Lettuce
It thrives best in cooler temperatures, desiring full sun in cool weather and light shade in warmer weather.
It grows well in fertile, well-composted, medium moisture, well-drained, nitrogen-rich soils with a pH of between 6.0 and 6.8.
It prefers optimum temperatures are between 60 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit. When temperatures rise to 75 and 80 degrees, the lettuce plant will try to flower and produce seeds, which is not good if you want to harvest your lettuce. Grow this plant in the cooler months for the best results. Temperatures above 27 °C (81 °F) will generally result in poor or non-existent germination of lettuce seeds.
It grows best with consistent watering throughout the growing season. keep the soil moist but not soggy water. Bitter leaves are an indication of excess heat, over or under watering, and overmaturity.
Lettuce prefers soil that is high in organic material, with plenty of compost and a steady supply of nitrogen to keep if growing fast. Use organic alfalfa meal or a slow-release fertilizer.
It can be easily propagated from seed. Start seed indoors about 6-8 weeks prior to last spring frost date. Seed may also be planted directly in the ground about 2 weeks prior to the last spring frost date. Additional seed may also be planted in the ground from the last spring frost date to mid-June at two-week intervals for purposes of extending the harvest season. Plant seed in late summer for a fall crop.
Pests and diseases
Aphids, flea beetles, slugs, snails, leafminers, and whiteflies are common garden pests found on lettuce plants. You may also have problems with fungal diseases if you water lettuce plants too much.
Lettuce is ready to harvest when a firm heart has formed. Cut the stem with a sharp knife. Loose-leaf types are harvested as and when needed once the plants are about 3-4inches high. You can either pick individual leaves or harvest over the whole plant with scissors. It is best to cut in the morning when the plants will be at their freshest. Observe carefully as the mature plants produce fruits that are bitter in taste.
Benefits of Lettuce
- Lettuce is a great source of all the B vitamins, as well as vitamins A and C. It is rich in beta carotene, high in calcium, containing almost as much calcium as milk, it contains folic acid, magnesium, and potassium.
- Lettuce is eaten raw as a salad green. A mild slightly sweet flavor with a crisp texture, lettuce is a very commonly used salad leaf and can also be cooked as a potherb or be added to soups, etc.
- Sprouted seeds are used in salads or sandwiches and edible oil is obtained from the seed. The seed is very small, extraction of the oil on any scale would not be very feasible.
- It is a rich source of vitamin K and vitamin A and a moderate source of folate and iron.
- Leaves are extremely nutritious and have major health benefits to solve skin and hair problems. Consuming lettuce can protect your skin from pollution, UV-rays and stimulates hair growth.
- It contains milky sap called lactucin that induces sleep and relaxation. It blocks the excitatory signal processes of muscular and neural tissues.
- Lettuce contains fiber and cellulose that improves your digestion. It’s good to lose weight if you are fat as it is essential for long-term weight control. It can remove bile salts from the body.
- It is beneficial in reducing the risk of diabetes. It has very few calories and makes glycemic index (GI) zero. It controls the sugar levels in the blood and reduces the risk of diabetes.
- Lettuce is a good source of fiber to aid with digestive problems and provides instant relief for those who are suffering from stomach aches.
- Bad cholesterol in your body results in cardiovascular disease, heart attacks, and strokes. Lettuce is good for your heart health as it contains lipid peroxidation that helps to control cholesterol.
- Studies show that chlorophyll pigment in dark green leafy vegetables may reduce the risk of colon and liver cancer. Vitamin A, vitamin C, and antioxidants like anthocyanin and phenolic acid help to control malignant cells in the body and protects against DNA damage.
- Also, it is ornamentally effective in beds and borders or as an edger.