You will probably laugh, but I love growing lettuce! Weather is obviously a big factor but continuous harvest and reseeding will keep you in nutritious greens almost year around. The key is to protect them from extreme cold and heat by using floating row covers and netting. There are many varieties that work well at altitude.
I prefer the red and green leaf lettuces to head lettuce. Curly endive, arugula, mache and mesclun varieties are a bit different and add color and interest to salads. I also like to throw in a couple of herbs and edible flowers to the bed. This year I tried pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium) and I always love nasturtiums (Nasturtium officinale). Both deter pests and nasturtium is fabulous for color (bright orange red and yellow) in the garden and delight in a salad. Nasturtium are a member of the watercress family, have a light peppery flavor and make your salad look like it came out of a gourmet’s kitchen! Pennyroyal, a member of the mint family, spread well, and did a good job keeping down the weeds.
To find the varieties I preferred to buy seeds with several different types, often called a salad blend. Watching them grow, you can determine what is most flavorful and prolific. It’s a good plan to always find choices with the shortest maturity dates but lettuce is such an instant gratifier that it sprouts almost overnight!
This year I tried a new variety of romaine lettuce called “Freckles” which was fun. It tolerated summer sun very well, stayed crisp and its red and green freckly color was an addition to the garden. The watercress wasn’t as successful. It was planted in a bed that wasn’t covered and it clearly didn’t grow as well. I think the light was OK but it got way too much rain (did I just say that?) so grew more slowly than I think it should have. I look forward to trying it again in a different bed.
Growing lettuce is pretty easy if I can do it; just protect it from all elements, harvest often, and enjoy your bounty. Pick right before you plan to eat, as some varieties will be a bit limp if harvested too long before serving. Taste is good but texture isn’t as appetizing. Try something new you’ve never eaten before and I promise you’ll be happy. If you don’t like it, I bet you have a friend or neighbor who will. I recently visited the Boulder Farmer’s Market and saw bags of salad greens very similar to the varieties I listed above. Imagine how pleased I was with myself seeing how much the farms were charging for “my crops”!!!
For information on the health benefits of home grown lettuce and pictures of many varieties, check out CSU Fact Sheet 9.373. General info on all leafy vegetables can be found in Planttalk 1820.