Get a jump start on your spring sowing by starting lettuce seeds now! Growing lettuce indoors in winter isn’t hard, and by doing so you’ll have a fresh and continuous supply of greens ready in just a few weeks!
I know, I know! You’re thinking to yourself that I’ve officially gone off my rocker. It’s winter; it’s not time to grow anything. What it is time to do is cozy up next to the woodstove and peruse the seed catalogs like any other sane gardener.
Well, believe you me, I am doing my fair share of that! And you know what? Those catalogs, with their bright and beautiful color photographs of tomatoes and beans and sunflowers, are making me want to plant things! I suppose that’s the point of seed catalogs, but it does leave me feeling antsy and impatient to get my hands in the dirt again.
Thank the heavens for leaf lettuce!
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Leaf lettuce is a group of lettuce varieties that don’t produce any type of head. Instead, loose clusters of leaves grow from the stem, and can be cut over and over again! Leaf lettuce can be easier to grow than other varieties and will produce multiple harvests throughout the season.
This is the best type to sow and start growing in winter. Although all lettuce prefers cooler weather, loose leaf lettuce will grow quickly and profusely even with the small amount of sun available this time of year. Since it doesn’t have to form a head, it’s typically considered mature at 40-45 days, but you can actually start to eat it as early as you like!
Growing Lettuce Indoors in Winter
Loose leaf lettuce is quick-growing and the most nutritious of all lettuce varieties, full of vitamins A, C and B6, as well as iron, potassium and dietary fiber. When you grow your own you don’t have to worry about pesticides, chemicals, or those awful recalls that plague commercially grown produce.
1 // Choosing a Location
The best way to start growing lettuce indoors is by making sure you put them in a sunny, south-facing window that gets at least seven hours of sunlight. All lettuce grows best in temperatures between 60-75 degrees, so try not to place them too close to heater vents or fireplaces.
If you don’t have a good window to use, or a fancy seed-starting setup, you might consider getting a small grow light. A light will let you grow anywhere, even down in your basement or out in the garage! Any sort of fluorescent shop light will work, and a seedling heat mat won’t hurt, either.
2 // Preparation
You can grow loose leaf lettuce in almost any shallow container. Terracotta pots, recycled salad containers, black plastic seedling flats, peat pots, newspaper pots and even old yogurt containers will all work to grow leaf lettuce in. Make sure there are drainage holes in the bottom, and trays underneath to catch the excess water.
Lettuce will grow best in a loamy, lightweight, sterilized seed starting or potting soil mix with good drainage and moisture retention. It also helps to dig in an all-purpose fertilizer to feed your growing seedlings.
3 // Sowing Seeds
When sowing leaf lettuce seeds, you don’t need to worry about spacing them any set distance apart. Just scatter or broadcast the seed — not too thickly, but not too sparsely, either. You’ll be cutting them before they get even remotely crowded.
Most guides will recommend sowing lettuce seed under 1/8″ to 1/4″ of soil. However, lettuce seed is photodormant and will not germinate without light. I have much better germination rates when I just drop my lettuce seeds on the top of the soil. If you’re worried, you can sprinkle the teeniest tiniest amount of loam on top. Then cover your seeded containers with a clear plastic top (or plain old plastic wrap), but make sure to remove the plastic covering the top once the seedlings emerge.
The most important thing to remember is that if you want a continuous supply of lettuce, you should plant a new container every week or two. That way you’ll always have a pot ready for harvesting while the others regrow.
4 // Care and Watering
Loose leaf lettuces are shallow-rooted and will need to have their soil kept constantly moist. You’ll have to be careful not to over water though, since too much moisture will invite mold and disease. I know, it’s a fine line to walk, but you’ll figure it out.
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Before the seeds have sprouted, I mist them pretty regularly throughout the day so they don’t dry out. After they germinate, I like to water in the morning, from the bottom, so that my seedlings have a chance to dry off during the course of the day.
5 // Harvesting
Harvesting your leaf lettuce is definitely the most fun and easiest part!
Using clean, kitchen scissors, grab a handful of leaves and cut them at their base. Just make sure you don’t cut the stem of the plant, otherwise they won’t regrow! You can also cut each leaf individually, but that will take you a lot longer.
It’s best to cut the lettuce right before using it, otherwise it may wilt. Chilling wilted lettuce leaves in the refrigerator will crisp the leaves up again, and leaves will keep in the refrigerator for about a week.
Best Loose Leaf Lettuce Varieties
Most varieties of leaf lettuce will perform well inside in the winter. I would suggest sowing a mixed variety, or several containers each of a different kind:
- Red Oak Leaf
- Salad Bowl Blend
- Red Sails
- Black Seeded Simpson
- Lollo Rossa
I hope that this article will help you get a jump start on your spring sowing by starting lettuce seeds inside now! Growing lettuce indoors in winter isn’t hard, and by doing so you’ll have a fresh and continuous supply of greens ready in just a few weeks!
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This post is part of a Self-Reliance Challenge organized by a group of bloggers and websites. The challenge is designed as a way to share ideas for how to increase your self-reliance and live a more abundant lifestyle.