Every gardener I know grows lettuce for salad greens, because it is one of those vegetables that we tend to eat on a daily basis, and usually with at least one meal every day year round. So, we need a lot of it, and we need it often and always. Luckily, salad greens are one of the easiest crops to grow for a perpetual crop.
Perpetual, or year round, salad greens can be grown indoors or out and I do both. I have two 4’ x 6’ raised beds that I use outdoors, and a table set up with grow lights indoors. I should mention that I also have a greenhouse that I use for winter growing. With these three resources for growing year round salad greens, I always have some to harvest.
The beauty of growing what’s generally referred to as “cut and come again” lettuce is that you don’t have to space the seeds for full growth because the plant never gets a chance to reach maturity. You’re going to cut it and eat it every time it reaches a height of a few inches and no thinning is necessary.
For “cut and come again” lettuce, it’s best to grow loose leaf varieties. I prefer the mesclun mixes to get a good selection of variety, taste, and texture. You can make your own mix of loose leaf lettuce, mustard greens, and spicy greens too.
For outdoor growing, start your lettuce in April and September here in the southeast. You may be able to start earlier in both seasons with the protection of shade cloth in hot weather and plastic coverings in cold weather. I have had outdoor fall crops of lettuce go right through the winter with plastic covers over hoops here in Asheville, NC if the winter is not too severe. I also use my greenhouse to extend the growing season of fall plantings.
Indoor growing is much easier, if you have the right set up. By that I mean a room with a constant temperature range of 55 to 75 degrees, a good grow light, and some organic nutrients to feed your plants. My grow room for lettuce is usually around 65 degrees. I use T5 HO (High Output) fluorescent lamps and I have a small fan going to circulate the air. I grow in soil trays and in floating grow trays. I find the floating grow trays to be faster, more productive, and easier to care for, mostly because I don’t have to worry about watering as long as the float tray stays full.
The trick to a perpetual crop is to plant seeds at different times. A new seeding every two weeks works for me. This will depend on how much lettuce you eat and how much you grow at any given time.
When harvesting your greens, use scissors and cut the leaves about 1” above the crown of the plant. You can expect to get at least three cuttings from each plant. I use the hair cutting method of grabbing a handful of leaves, and cutting the leaves just above my fingers. You’ll develop your own technique.
When you take into consideration the rising cost of buying greens at the grocery store, it makes sense to grow some of your own. Not to mention, they are fresher than store bought.
If you don’t already have a lighting setup, this will be your biggest expense, but well worth it. Buy a good quality indoor grow light for lush growth. We recommend High Output T5 fixtures, or the new Light Emitting Ceramic (LEC) if you have a bigger budget. You will be using primarily a blue light spectrum for vegetative growth, so keep that in mind when choosing lighting.
Here’s one of my lighting set ups:
Once you have all the tools you need in place, it’s easy to grow year round salad greens in or out of your home.