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It’s the perfect time to begin growing lettuce in an easy way you can do all summer. Fiona Lawrenson shows how to get a full and fashionable salad bowl

Its that time again. Sun drenched days in which the long grass gently sways in the breeze. Swallows dip and dive through the blue sky. Bees with their contented hum sip nectar from an abundance of summer flowers and I lie back and think of ……lettuce!

Lettuce is no longer about sliced Icebergs or soggy Butterheads. Anyone who knows anything about gardening is growing interesting, colourful, peppery and flavoursome salad crops. They are in every supermarket, but the price for the slightly more unusual can be astronomical. But take heart, they aren't difficult to grow! Whether planted in a large potager or a balcony pot - these plants can be grown all through the summer. The ‘salad days’ are here.

My ideal salad bowl would have to include a loose-leaf lettuce such as Lollo Rossa, rocket (or is it roquette these days!), Lamb’s lettuce and New Zealand spinach.

To Grow
Your lettuce will grow best in full sun to light shade in a light and fertile soil that retains some moisture. Sow your seed little and often. The germination rate of lettuces can be a little ‘hit and miss’, depending on the weather. If the weather is too hot, germination is generally poor. I prefer to sow straight into the soil in late April/early May in the south; 2 – 3 weeks later in the north. Seeds should be sown in rows ˝” deep and 6” apart. Once they have germinated, thin out the seedlings to between 6” – 8” apart. This will take place approximately 4 weeks after sowing. To ensure growth, give the seedlings plenty of water. This is best done in the morning as it limits the chances of downy mildew.

To Harvest
To harvest your loose-leaf lettuce varieties either remove a few leaves at a time or cut the plant completely back to 4” high and wait for it to respond. Hence the term ‘cut-and-come-again’.

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