If your are a newbie to organic terrace gardening, its always better to start with the leafy vegetables that yield in a short period of time so that you will be more encouraged and happy to try other vegetables. Lettuce is becoming more popular in India with its great health benefits. It’s a rich source of moisture, energy, protein, fat, carbohydrates, dietary fibre, and sugars. The minerals and vitamins found in lettuce include calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, along with vitamins like thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, folate, vitamin-B6, A, C, E and K. Its widely eaten raw in salads.
Lettuce is a cool season crop and growing lettuce in pots is possible during winter in India. Almost all the lettuce varieties grow well in pots/ containers. Their shallow roots don’t require deep soil, they do best in wide and shallow containers. The pot must have adequate drainage holes in the bottom and should be at least 6 inches deep.
Sowing: Sow lettuce seeds densely and thin out the seedlings as they grow picking young, tender leaves regularly. Keep the plants 4-6 inches apart (depending on the size of the leaves you want and cultivar).
Position: Place the pots/containers in a spot that receives only a few hours of morning sun. During the hottest hours of the day (in the afternoon) it is recommended to create a shade for the plant to prevent the drying of the soil as lettuce prefers slightly moist soil constantly. Also, move the container in a cool spot when the temperature rises as this favourite green is heat sensitive.
Soil: The best soil to harvest great lettuce should be rich in organic matter, moist and well draining. Use nutrient rich and well draining potting mix that has a plenty of organic matter.
Watering: Lettuce loves water. If you want a big, crisp, delicious lettuce crop, you’ll need to keep your plants well watered. In shallow pots, you may need to water frequently so that the plant will not dry out completely. Make sure that you not only keep the soil slightly moist but also avoid to overwater your container grown lettuces as overwatering can kill the plants due to root rot. If your region is going through a dry season, make sure to remember to water it multiple times a week.
Nutrition: The lettuce plants mature quickly, so a single or double application of organic fertilizers will be sufficient to boost the production
Pests and Diseases: Growing lettuces in containers require care from leaf eating insects. However, if the plants are healthy there are fewer chances of infestation of pests or diseases. Mildew, leaf spot, rot and a variety of bacterial infections are common diseases that can attack lettuce. In pests and insects– caterpillars, cutworms, aphids, maggots and beetles can cause damage to the plant. While lettuce tends to be a pretty healthy kind of vegetable crop, it’s not without its possible diseases. In particular, you’ll want to keep an eye out for bottom rot, tip burn, and damping off. To prevent disease, make sure your lettuce is planted in good soil not too close together. Also, make sure that you’re watering it appropriately.
Harvesting: Once the lettuce leaves have reached the height of 4-6″ (the baby green size perfect for cut and come again method) that takes around 5 to 7 weeks after germination or according to your desired size, either pick the outer leaves individually or
harvest them by cutting the leaves off 1″ (2-3 cm) from above the base or crown (don’t cut into or below the crown or else your plant will die). This way the plant will grow back and you’ll be able to harvest it again. You can also pick the leaf lettuce before maturity, it’s simple, just remove the outer leaves when you need them in salads and keep the center leaves growing.