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Get star ted now! Here’s how to grow crisp, crunchy, colour ful leaves for summer salads


Good old lettuce is easy to grow and provides healthy, delicious salad all year. Romaine (or cos) lettuce is par ticularly rich in vitamins A, C, and K, folate, calcium and potassium, and research shows that women who eat it daily suf fer half the number of hip fractures as those only eating it once a week. As well as being a nutrient super food, lettuce’s green and red leaves add colour to the vegetable patch.

At this time of year, lettuce can be sown direct into good, friable, welldraine­d soil in semi-shade. A hot position can prevent germinatio­n and encourage bolting, so a cooler nor th or east-facing bed that only receives half a day of sun is ideal.

However, it is arguably better to star t lettuce of f under cover (for example, in a greenhouse or on a windowsill) to protect the seedlings from slugs. Fill module trays with peat-free multi-purpose compost, firm in, and water; then sow one seed per module and cover with a ver y thin scattering of compost. Keep the compost moist (not waterlogge­d) and avoid hot conditions, as this will prevent germinatio­n. The little lettuces should be ready to plant outside after around 4 weeks.

Whether planting or sowing direct outside, lettuces need to be about 30cm apar t. Weed the area, remove large stones and rake. If it hasn’t just rained, water the soil before planting or sowing. Protect the area from slugs – for instance, by using beer traps, organic slug pellets, seaweed granules, or Nemaslug.

If you eat a lot of lettuce, opt for ‘hear ting’ types (such as ‘Lobjoit’s Green Cos’), which can be har vested whole; but if you only want to pick a few leaves at a time or you’re growing in containers, choose a cut-and-come-again lettuce (eg ‘Navara’) and remove outer leaves first.

Rotate lettuce around the vegetable patch (wait two years before growing it in the same place) to prevent pests and disease. Sow hardy winter lettuce in late summer and early autumn, and enjoy a non-stop supply of fresh, nutritious leaves.

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