This type of lettuce is so sweet and tender it practically melts in your mouth, just like, well… butter! Like other lettuce types, this annual variety prefers cooler climates; however, it’s more tolerant of warm weather and is slower to bolt than its relatives, making it a great plant for beginner gardeners. Each plant produces a small, compact head of green leaves, becoming lighter and more yellowish towards the center. Successive plantings every 2 weeks will allow a continuous harvest of this healthy and tasty butterball.
A miniature butterhead lettuce! The Tom Thumb variety produces 3–5″ heads, great for making a single serving salad. A good choice for later planting, it’ll tolerate more heat than its bigger relatives without bolting. Also, pick this type if you’ve only got a small garden area or want to grow in a container. Leaves are sweet and soft. Yum!
Seed Depth: 1/4–1/2″
Space Between Plants: 5–6″
Space Between Rows: 8″
Germination Soil Temperature: 55–60°F
Days for Germination: 7–14
Sow Indoors: 6 weeks before average last frost date. Also in the summer, when it’s too hot for lettuce seeds to germinate outside.
Sow Outdoors: 2 weeks before or just after average last frost date. Plant successively every 3 weeks until 2 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. Can be grown as a winter crop in USDA Zones 8 and above. High temperatures will cause plants to bolt, and germination will be poor in temperatures above 80°F.
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 of 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.
Aeroponics: Will thrive in aeroponic systems.
Water: Requires moderate levels of water. Although this 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.
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. Take care when weeding as a shallow root system makes plants susceptible to root damage.
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: Cut lettuce about 2″ from soil as soon as the head forms. You can also pick individual leaves earlier, but don’t take too many, i.e., no 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 quicker.
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 and dry location.
Fun Fact: This heirloom variety dates back to 1850! Grow some to eat the same lettuce your great-great-great-grandparents did!
Preserve: Due to its high water content, lettuce cannot be preserved and should be eaten fresh.
Prepare: Good for use in salads, sandwiches, smoothies, or even soups. Rinse leaves well just before use as they tend to catch small amounts of dirt in their ribs.
Nutritional: A good source of vitamin(s) A, K, potassium, and small amounts of protein and carbohydrates.
Medicinal: Historically, lettuce was cited as a veritable cure-all. Today, it has been shown to have high levels of beta-carotene. The antioxidants found in lettuce may also help to prevent certain diseases, including cancer.
Make the cutest salad ever by simply rinsing your Tom Thumb lettuce head very well and then removing the core from the bottom. Carefully place leaves in their original arrangement on your plate and top with your favorite fruits, veggies, nuts, and/or salad dressing.