Friday, 25 July 2008

GROW YOUR OWN MIXED LETTUCE LEAVES

It’s very quick and easy (and cheap) to grow your own lettuce and you also have the satisfaction of knowing that it hasn’t been sprayed with any nasty chemicals, it is fresh (I pick mine 5 minutes before we eat it) and just outside your door! You don’t need a lot of space – it really can be done in a window box or on a balcony if you have no garden! If your containers are very small, just start off a new container roughly every 4 weeks. I used this blue plastic crate – chucked out from a supermarket, lined it with a carrier bag* pierced all over for drainage. I filled it with cheap potting compost, made 3 evenly spaced grooves down the length of it with a pencil and sprinkled in mixed lettuce seeds. These are very fine seeds and you need to take a small pinch at a time to spread them evenly along your grooves. I bought my seeds on a 3 for 2 offer in a supermarket in the spring – pays to plan – and you should have plenty if you sow thinly. Carefully cover your seeds up and water gently from a small watering can with a rose to sprinkle the compost. You do not want to flood your container with water. Keep moist and leave in a sunny spot – I propped mine up on two old bricks, and 2 weeks later, when I came back from holiday, the photo above shows just how quick they’ve grown! The sad little hole in the middle is, I’m afraid the result of over enthusiastic watering by my sons whilst I was away! Still, no matter, I am already eating the largest leaves as a way of thinning them out! Once they get to about 8 or 9 cm high and are a little better thinned out, don't pull the seedlings out, just nip leaves off when you need them.This is my second crop this summer - we have already eaten a whole crop I planted in an old kitchen sink in the garden, along with dwarf runner beans, chives and carrots. Another sink has already given us a huge crop of rocket - very expensive to buy in those tiny supermarket bags!

*I did not use a biodegradable carrier bag as I thought it may break down in the soil.

Tips:
Look out for seed and compost offers in the deep discounting supermarkets like Aldi and Lidl use whatever containers you can find (as long as they have drainage holes in them). Boot sales and charity shops often have old flower pots and containers.

This a great activity for kids in the school holidays - get started early now and help them plant a row of mixed leaves and they will be up in 2 weeks - plant a row each week if you have room - get the kids to harvest them and eat them in salads and sandwiches.

More ideas for school holidays here!


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