Sunday, June 6, 2010


I'm annoyed. I can’t be the only gardener who sucks at growing lettuce. I'd have been better off eating the nursery six-packs in a tiny celebratory salad of defeat. Instead I've tried my hand at lettuce five times now, but the crispy vibrant bunches I plant as toddlers all meet the same untimely end. What remains is only the little plastic (thankfully, the compostable kind) nursery gravestones marking the Mesclun and Buttercrunch, long ago departed.

I’m giving it one last go though. But one thing my failures have taught me is to be a bit more mature in my attitude toward container gardening. That means taming the excitement of what I could grow (lettuce), with what will make the most of every square inch of dirt (not lettuce!).

For what you get, lettuce is kind of a space hog. In a 24” container, I’ve got three lettuce heads. And I know I’m pushing the limits of what it will tolerate. I’m cheating, and actually angry at the lettuce because it’s using too much dirt. Whoever coined the term “dirt cheap” was wrong. Good dirt isn’t cheap, it takes time, energy or cash to get it.

With economy in mind, if I could only plant five plants for homegrown flavor and best use of space/highest yield, what would they be?

1.) Cucumbers. I can get two plants inside a 24” container, each one yielding over a dozen snacky cucumbers.
2.) Basil. I’ve jammed three plants into the 24” container. There’s nothing like having it at your fingertips all summer long. Plant basil 6” to 12” apart.
3.) Tomatoes, but not cherry. Just looking at yield, I’ve had more volume grow of the regular size tomato.
4.) Peas. So good and crispy when fresh off the vine. 2” apart! Row spacing, 18”
5.) Rosemary. Grows big in a small pot (and I can't seem to kill it!).

The wildcards: the columnar apple will fruit this year, and we’ll see what the beans I planted yield.


Becky said...

When I grow lettuce in containers, I just broadcast the seeds and then continually thin it as it grows. I don't have a lot of luck trying to plant lettuce plants.

Good luck!

Stephanie said...

Lettuce IS surprisingly difficult. Last year my first attempt was in containers and it just bolted right away. This year I plugged a six pack of lettuce starts into the ground and had a lot more success. You have to keep an eye on it because when it's ready, it's ready. If you wait too long, it's too late. Better to cut it too early. I'm trying to do more in ground gardening with my veggies this year and am already noticing improvements.

Anonymous said...

I plant cutting lettuce mix from seed-just hack it off when it is 6" high and it grows back! Super easy. I plant a row, drizzling the seed along the row-not spacing it out at all. it comes in quite thick-eat the thinnings or don't thin at all until you cut it with scissors about 1" off the ground.

other advice: are you sure you don't possibly have slugs? could be they are sneaking in and destroying your starts.