Magazine article Sunset

Your Freshest Caesar: Romaine Lettuce Tastes Best When You Grow Your Own. (Garden)

Magazine article Sunset

Your Freshest Caesar: Romaine Lettuce Tastes Best When You Grow Your Own. (Garden)

Article excerpt

Determined chefs go out of their way to find the freshest, most tender heads of romaine lettuce available. Grocery shoppers, on the other hand, are often limited to big heads with tough, strong-tasting leaves.

Luckily, lettuce is one of the easiest crops to grow. Seeds germinate quickly and plants grow with little fuss. In most areas of the West, you can grow successive crops in fall and spring; in mild coastal areas, you can grow lettuce year-round. So get going and soon you'll be able to try our recipe on page 81.

SOWING. Start seeds three to four weeks before you plan to set them out into the garden. Sow in flats or sixpacks filled with moistened potting soil or seed-starting mix. Cover seeds with 1/8 inch soil. Place flats in bright, filtered light. Keep the soil moist and maintain soil temperature between 40[degrees] and 68[degrees]. For successive crops, sow seeds every week. Plant seedlings between developing heads.

PLANTING. When seedlings are ready to go in the ground, gradually introduce them to full sun over a few days. Transplant into rich, well-composted soil. Keep the soil moist--particularly critical the first week after transplanting. Lettuce can also be grown in containers filled with potting mix.

HARVESTING. For baby lettuce, harvest leaves when 3 to 4 inches long. For a crispy head, let it reach full size. Some greens are red: Six colorful lettuces are shown above and described below. Abbreviations after variety names refer to seed sources listed below.

1) 'Blushed Butter Cos' (S, T). Very tender romaine-butterhead lettuce grows 10 inches tall; 50 days from sowing to maturity.

2) 'De Morges Braun' (T). Grows 8 to 10 inches; 65 days. Slow to bolt (go to seed).

3) 'Rouge d'Hiver' (S). Heirloom grows 8 to 12 inches; 60 days.

4) 'Flashy Trout's Back' (T). Improved heirloom reaches 8 inches; 55 days.

5) 'Outredgeous' (T). One of the reddest, it reaches 10 inches; 52 days.

6) 'Remus' (C). Classic romaine grows 8 to 10 inches; 60 days. Resists bolting and mildew.

Seed sources: (C) The Cook's Garden; (800) 457-9703 or

(S) Shepherd's Garden Seeds; (860) 482-3638 or

(T) Territorial Seed Company; (541) 942-9547 or www. …

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