“It needs a chill to germinate
And more, for sweet greens on your plate”
Lettuce is a leafing veggie. There are two types of lettuce – leaf and head – of which there are several sub-types each, and in various colors. Leaf lettuce can grow in Mumbai with some effort.
SEASONS: Lettuce is a seasonal plant. It is best suited to temperate, cooler climates as its seed germinates at temperatures below 18 degrees Celsius and its leaves turn bitter under hot suns. It is therefore tricky to grow it in Mumbai during our summers and monsoons, but could be sown and grown more easily during our winters.
PROPAGATING: This plant is easily propagated from seed (in low temperatures only).
GERMINATING: Temperatures below 18 degrees Celsius are required for germination. Thus you could try to germinate lettuce directly in the ground from November to January, and cross your fingers that temperatures drop, or you could be smart and give Nature a helping hand by germinating lettuce seeds in the fridge! For that, you would need to place lettuce seeds in a damp (not soaking) tissue inside a closed container so that humidity levels are maintained. Set aside in the refrigerator (not freezer) for 7-10 days. When tiny sprouts emerge, and are a few centimeters long, plant carefully into shallow holes about 1/4 inch deep and 6 inches apart, in soft, porous soil under shade. Use a gentle water spray daily, and protect your saplings from insect/rodent/bird damage with a wire mesh. Delicate saplings will emerge in 7-14 days.
PLANTING OUT: If optimal times for lettuce are chosen then you would be germinating lettuce seeds in mid October for planting out in early November. Lettuce saplings are very delicate and need to be handled with utmost care. Transplant your saplings when they become slightly sturdier, ensuring that you scoop out accompanying soil while transplanting, to ease the transition. Choose soft, alkaline or neutral, well-drained, loose or sandy soil that is porous and light enough to allow the fragile roots of lettuce some space to grow. Always place your lettuce saplings in semi-shade, except if you are planting out in the coolest months of Mumbai’s winter. While lettuce loves the sun, the heat of Mumbai’s sun is probably more than it asks for or can handle. Lettuce grows well in open plots and in small to medium containers.
NURTURING: Water deeply each day, twice a day in summer. Protect your lettuce plants from higher temperatures with a shade-net. Sudden, intense heat will turn its leaves bitter and lead to bolting (early flowering). If grown too closely, lettuce could attract leaf eating insects and worms. So grow marigold, basil and garlic between your lettuce plants to deter these pests. If a plant gets infected, uproot and destroy it immediately as the disease/leaf-eaters will spread quickly.
HARVESTING: Your plants will produce plentifully for the entire winter season. Even a few lettuce plants will give you a regular supply of salad greens. Always harvest leaves from the outer ring, so new growth emanating from the inner ring is not affected. Harvest regularly to prevent bunching, water humidity in foliage, and consequent proneness to mildew and fungus. You can also harvest lettuce for its seeds by collecting flower heads of mature lettuce plants, threshing for seeds, drying thoroughly and storing in a cool, dark place. When leaf productivity declines as the weather gets warmer, uproot, compost, replenish your soil and use that space to grow fruiting or rooting veggies next.
Red and green lettuce leaf are a variety that I have tested for Mumbai weather
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