Not just for Caesar salads, romaine lettuce, also known as cos lettuce, is an excellent choice of greens for your garden. These plants will develop narrow, upright, long leaves with a well-defined central rib. The leaves will bunch up into the familiar elongated head shape when the plant reaches maturity. The taste is slightly bitter, but delicious, with inner leaves being lighter in color and milder in flavor. Most varieties of this type have some heat and/or disease tolerance. Successive plantings every 2 weeks will give you plenty of salad greens throughout the season.
Red romaine is an easy-to-grow, beautiful, heirloom variety of lettuce that starts out green in color when young and changes to a purple-red hue once it’s reached maturity. Heads are naturally compact, and leaves are long and lighter in the center with darker edges. They’ve got a crisp texture and slightly bitter flavor. This plant’s quite popular among gardeners as it’s both cold and heat resistant and slower to bolt than most other varieties.
Seed Depth: 1/8–1/4″
Space Between Plants: 8–10″
Space Between Rows: 6–8″
Germination Soil Temperature: 50–70°F
Days for Germination: 7–14
Sow Indoors: 4–6 weeks before average last frost date.
Sow Outdoors: 2–4 weeks before average last frost date. Plant successively every 3 weeks until 6 weeks before average first frost date. For a winter crop in warm climates, plant 2–4 weeks before average first frost date.
Grows best in cool weather and will survive mild frosts. Romaine lettuce can be grown as a winter crop in USDA Zones 8 and above. Although slower to bolt than other varieties, Red romaine still prefers more moderate temperatures, and germination will be poor in temperatures above 80°F if you’re planting directly outdoors.
Natural: Full Sun. Prefers partial afternoon shade in warm weather.
Artificial: Grows well under fluorescent or LED lamps. Needs at least 12 hours of light daily; however, more is preferred. A 24-hour day cycle may result in highest yields.
Soil: Prefers loamy soils with a high amount of organic matter but are adaptable and will grow in most soil types. A pH between 6.0 and 6.8 will keep plants healthy and nourished.
Soilless: Seeds will germinate in soilless mixes, rockwool, and other soilless media.
Hydroponics: Will thrive in hydroponic systems including NFT, floating raft technique, or deep water culture systems.
Aeroponics: Will thrive in aeroponic systems.
Water: Requires moderate levels of water. Although lettuce does not require a large quantity of water, it does require consistent watering. Ensure that soil is moist but not muddy.
Nutrients: Requires moderate to high levels of nutrients. Nitrogen-rich fertilizers such as blood meal will help lettuce plants grow full and succulent leaves. Potassium and phosphorus levels need to be adequate for good growth, as well.
Foliar: Application of foliar sprays containing nitrogen will keep plants healthy and strong.
Mulching: Mulch may be used around the plant to keep weeds down and protect the plants’ shallow root system from damage or competition.
Deficiency(s): A lack of phosphorous, potassium, and, most commonly, nitrogen can cause plants to wilt or be stunted in growth.
Rotation: Follow with a legume crop, like peas or beans, to replenish soil nitrogen levels.
Companions: Grows well with carrots, collards, onions, strawberries, beets, cucumber, brassicas, radishes, marigold, borage, chervil, florence fennel, and leeks. Avoid parsley and celery.
Harvest: Harvest your lettuce when the head has grown 6–12″ tall, with tight leaves and a firm, but not too hard, texture. Cut just above soil line and leave the roots in place to allow your plant to grow more leaves, if desired. You can also pick individual leaves from the outer edges of the plant earlier, but don’t take more than 1/3 of the total plant. Try to harvest in the morning when leaves are moist and cool.
Storage: Store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. Avoid storing lettuce in the same area as fruits such as bananas or apples: they release a ripening agent that causes your lettuce to go bad more quickly.
Saving Seeds: If you want to try growing next year’s lettuce from seeds, wait until flower stalks have matured and totally dried. Remove seeds by shaking the flower stems into a bag. Put the seeds through a fine mesh to remove the chaff from the seed and store them in a cool, dry location.
Fun Fact: Ever noticed the white liquid that sometimes oozes from cuts on your lettuce plants? This sap is called lactucarium and is actually considered to be a mild opiate once used in the US in certain medications including throat lozenges and sedatives. It was also used by the Romans as a medicine and is the reason that the botanical name for lettuce contains the word lactuca, which translates roughly to “milk.”
Preserve: Due to its high water content, lettuce cannot be easily preserved and should be eaten fresh.
Prepare: Good for use in salads, sandwiches, smoothies, or even soups. Chop off the bottom of heads and separate individual leaves. Wash just before using for longest storage life.
Nutritional: A good source of vitamin(s) A, K, calcium, potassium, and manganese. Also contains good amounts of dietary fiber.
Medicinal: Historically, lettuce was cited as a veritable cure-all. Today, it has been shown to have high levels of beta-carotene. The antioxidant content of darker leaves may offer some protective benefits against disease.
This super simple Red Romaine Salad with Champagne Vinaigrette will satisfy the taste buds as well as the eye with its vibrant colors and rich flavors.
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