How to grow Lettuce

Lettuce is a staple in our home, fresh leafy lettuce in a bowl with carrot cheese boiled egg and cherry tomatoes is a favorite at a BBQ.

Lettuce from the supermarket just doesn’t taste the same, or give you the variety that you can get when you grow your own.lettuce seedlings
There are four main lettuce varieties

Head lettuce: This is the most common type found in the supermarket. It’s a family sized dude. However, it’s also the most temperamental when grown in the home garden. It takes the longest to grow and in hot weather will bolt to seed very quickly.

Butterhead lettuce: Similar to Iceburg (head lettuce) but has smaller, softer and more loosely packed leaves.

Leaf Lettuce: These types have open growth leaves. With a wide variety of shape, taste and colour, they mature quickly and are easy to grow. These are often referred to as ‘cut and come again’ varieties.

Romaine or Cos Lettuce: These plants are sweet with big, crunchy leaves. They grow upright with tubular heads of leaves and can get up to 10″ tall.

First off, prepare your soil so that it has been dug to around 30cm deep and has had rotted manure and compost forked in. You can grow lettuce from seedlings or from seed. I prefer to do a little of each, as the seedlings will come into production much quicker.

When you visit your local nursery, pick up a couple of punnets of lettuce seedlings and two packets of mixed lettuce seeds. When you get home plant the seedlings and a couple of rows of seeds at the same time. It is best to soak the seedlings in water while they are still in their punnets for 10 minutes, this will reduce the amount of transplant stress on them.

Plant the seedlings about 10cm apart, and water them in with a gentle sprinkle from a watering can. It is best not to fertalise them in the first two days, as they are getting used to their new environment.

Plant two rows of seeds in trenches around 1cm deep. It does not matter how many seeds you plant, as you will thin them out at a later date to leave only the strongest seedlings. It is best to plant a row or two of seeds out each week. This allows for enough time for each planting to grow and while another planting is being eaten. By doing this you should never run out of lettuce.

Planing seeds when other plants have been is fine to do, as long as you refresh the soil with some nutrients. Compost, rotted animal manure or blood and bone make for excellent soil rejuvenators.

Watering your lettuce is important, on hot days expect your plants to wilt slightly in the afternoons. Make sure you water the plants and let them absorb the water before picking, if you wanted to eat wilted lettuce you would buy it from the shops!

Lettuce grows very quickly, so it is a great plant to get the kids involved in gardening.
Let us know what your great lettuce growing tips are by posting a comment!

How to grow Basil

About basil

Basil is a herb that is native to India and tropical Asia, but grows well in the warmer months of cooler climates or all year around in warmer climates. Used in a wide range of foods, mostly Italian and Asian, it is one of the easiest herbs to grow even from seed.

Growing tips

Basil loves to be grown in pots or in well drained humus rich soil. It loves to have rich organic matter such as rotted manures and compost blended with the soil, as the more nutrients and food you give it the bigger the leaves will grow.

For a quick result purchase a punnet of 8 seedlings, these are usually six to eight weeks old and are ready for picking within about 4 weeks. Plant them in a large pot (~750mm) or plant two to a 250mm pot. Ensure they get plenty of water and a mixture of seaweed and fish emulsion every two weeks. Start picking the leaves when obvious new growth is occurring.

TIP: if you use fish emulsion on the leaves, make sure you wash them before using them in the kitchen!

Basil seed looks a lot like fine charcoal. To grow from seed, 4/5 fill a 250mm pot with quality potting mix and top off with a seed raising mix. The best way to get the correct depth is to take a couple of handfuls of soil out of the pot and set aside, firm down the mix then spread the seed evenly from the packet over the pot and cover with the removed soil. Firm it down, then water.

In cooler climates germination may take up to 10 days, but warmer climates expect to see seedlings within 7 days. When the seedlings grow their second leaves, you will need to separate them into individual pots two to three seedlings fit nicely into a 250mm pot.

Basil Care

Pick your basil regularly! You will encourage new growth and better flavour. While saying that you must also continue to feed your basil to maintain the vigorous growth. 8 weeks after the plants mature you will notice that flower buds are forming, pinch these off as soon as you see them to increase the lifespan of your plant. Basil will try and seed as it matures but this is also increased when not enough water is applied.

If I get a good pot of plants that are very healthy and grow well I will let it go to seed to collect the seed and plant out again.

Basil seedlingsHow to preserve Basil

Basil is a vigorous producer and you will need a method to store it. Drying basil works well but the dried product only remains good for a couple of months, then it begins to taste different and not unlike hay.

The best method to store basil if you can not keep a plant all year is to pick a batch of leaves, wash them under cool water then quickly blanch them in boiling water for a few seconds. Transfer from the boiling water directly into ice trays (1 or 2 leaves per cell) then fill with fresh cool water and freeze them.

When you need some basil, simply take a basil cube out of the freezer and throw it into your cooking. Alternatively you can defrost and chop to the required size.
It may be possible that you could blanch the basil and chop it prior to freezing.

If you are looking for a place to plant your basil, plant it beside your tomato plants. Basil and Tomato are great companions as the sweet aroma from the basil keeps pests away from your tomato!