by Colleen Morrissey, herb manager and container designer at Mischler’s Florist and Greenhouses
If you love salad and enjoy gardening, plant a “lettuce bowl” container garden.
It’s a quick and easy project. You don’t need much space, so you can have a “lettuce bowl” container garden on a sunny balcony, front stoop or just outside your kitchen door. Setting the container on a picnic table or other tabletop may discourage rabbits, slugs and other pests.
This is also a project you can do with kids. When you get kids involved in growing and harvesting their own vegetables, they are much more likely to eat them!
Your container garden can look beautiful, too, because lettuce leaves come in so many different colors and shapes.
Lettuce is a cool weather crop grown primarily in spring and fall, but with successive sowing of seeds or biweekly planting of starter plants, the bounty can continue through the sunny months of summer. You should be able to harvest from one plant for a month or more.
Our modern selections of lettuce are the cultivated descendants of the wild Lactuca serriola, which is native to Asia, Eurasia and the Mediterranean. The earliest varieties were stalky with loose leaves, and eventually the ancient Romans bred them and “brought them to a head.”
Today there are hundreds of distinct varieties to choose from. Most are compatible with each other in growth habits and culture requirements, so you can be creative and mix several varities in one container.
The most popular greens for pots include the loose-leaf varieties: butterhead, mesclun, cos or romaine, kale, mustard and pak choi. As seen in the first photo, they can be interplanted with leafy herbs such as basil, parsley, cilantro, oregano, lovage and arugula.
When planting a a “lettuce bowl” container garden, have all your supplies ready.
Choose your planter. Lettuce has pretty shallow root system, so anything that is at least six inches deep will work. Your container can be anything you like—be creative.
Fill your container to the brim with a humus-rich, light potting mix, patting it down with your palm gently to level.
Select a mix of seedlings, preferably an inch tall or thumb size. Water them well and let drain.
Next use a skinny spade to plant the seedlings a couple inches apart. They can grow quite happily in close quarters, so maximize the space.
Plant trailing herbs such as thyme or oregano along the edge so they can grow over the edge. Water thoroughly.
In a couple days the plants will perk up and start to take off.
If you want organic lettuce, make sure you start by mixing compost or humus into the soil. Fertilize with kelp meal or liquid seaweed, or the organic powders that come in a bag.
Lettuce will require a steady supply of moisture. Your plants will be bushy and ready for harvest in about a week to ten days.
Don’t just admire your plants; you need to keep culling or harvesting leaves to make space for growth. When you harvest, take the outer leaves of the rosette, leaving the growing tips in the heart center to keep producing new leaves.
If your container is getting crowded, try the cut-and-come-again technique. Cut off the leaves of an entire plant an inch or so above the soil and it will regenerate. You can do this to every other plant.
Now, you just need a nice dressing.
Maple Dijon Dressing, from Kitchen Explorers at pbs.org
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- ¼ cup balsamic vinegar or red wine vinegar
- 2 tbsp. pure maple syrup
- 2 tsp. Dijon mustard
- ½ tsp. herbes de Provence or dried thyme
Whisk all ingredients (or let your kids shake them vigorously in a jar) and store it in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
Colleen Morrissey is herb manager and container designer at Mischler’s Florist and Greenhouses, 118 South Forest Rd., Williamsville. Mischler’s carries lettuce plants in six-packs and carries mustard and other gourmet or unusual greens in 3.5-inch pots.
All photos are from Mischler’s Florist and Greenhouses.