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Try lettuce in the Fall Garden

I love the vegetables from fall gardens. Turnips, collards, mustard, and cabbage are all favorites. In recent years, though, we have found out that we can grow some other things in the fall. Among these are broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and, best of all, lettuce.

Most local vegetable gardeners grow traditional fall vegetables such as turnips and collards. These are easy to grow and are certainly healthy. They have long been Southern favorites, but only in the South can we turn a perfectly healthy vegetable into something else. We add lots of fat to both turnips and collards, but that is the subject for another day.

Today’s subject is lettuce, which can be planted in the early spring and in the fall. Fall is the best time to plant lettuce because it is a cool-season crop that grows best in 60- to 66-degree temperatures. It will tolerate temperatures as low as 32 or as warm as 85 degrees. Lettuces need a soil pH of 6.5 to 6.8. Those of you in the Demopolis area with a higher pH could use raised beds for lettuce. Plant in a well-drained soil that is capable of holding moisture. Mulch will help hold moisture but be careful not to mulch too heavily. If you do, you may harbor snails that will feed on the lettuce, so mulch sparingly.

Plant lettuce in rows two feet apart. You can grow from seed or use transplants. Plant transplants with 12 inches between plants. Cover if there is a frost, and you can have fresh lettuce well into the fall.

There are four types of lettuces that you might consider. The type we all know best is iceberg. This is the one you can always find in the grocery store. It forms a compact head with light green leaves. It matures slowly and should be grown only in the fall. Another choice is the loose leaf lettuces. Loose leaf lettuces are a good choice for gardens in Alabama. This lettuce is fast growing with a maturity rate of 40 to 50 days. I particularly like the red leaf varieties. With loose leaf lettuce, you harvest the outer leaves and the center continues to produce new leaves.

Romaine lettuce is also popular It is a favorite for salads. This tall, upright lettuce has a fast maturity rate and can grow 8 to 19 inches tall. Its leaves are long and loose, and it is more tolerant of unfavorable weather conditions. The last type is butterhead lettuce. These lettuces have a loose heading and cup shaped leaves and take 55 to 70 days to mature. At maturity, this lettuce forms a small head with a light yellow appearance.

Try growing your own lettuce. If you don’t have a garden spot, lettuce can be grown in containers on a deck, porch, or patio or in a raised bed. Some, particularly the red-leaved varieties, can be added to ornamental beds and provide beauty and food.