Don’t throw in the trowel if your summer planting hasn’t gone according to plan.
It's still not too late to grow your own summer salads. Plant some lettuce seeds now and you'll be tossing a variety of leaves at the dinner table in as little as six weeks' time.
You don't need green fingers either - or a big garden. If you have a window-box or space for a container, you can look forward to eating your own lettuce leaves.
"Having your own lettuce on the balcony, or on the window-sill, is a pure joy," says Micheál O Cadhla, operations manager at GIY (Grow It Yourself), the movement that encourages people to grow their own food.
"Sometimes we are guilty of saying something is easier than it is, but growing lettuce really is easy," he says.
At this year's Bloom, GIY gave thousands of visitors advice on growing lettuce. Mr O Cadhla estimates that several hundred of those will put that advice into practice this summer.
"Hopefully, the pleasure you get from growing your own lettuce will lead you on to growing other things," he said.
All you have to do is follow these simple guidelines:
SOWING A SEED: Buy a packet of mixed lettuce seeds. That way you’ll have a constant supply of varied leaves: green, red and crinkly. Plant the seeds in a module tray - a seed tray that is divided into individual cells - or small pots to get them started. (If you plant directly into the ground outside, a passing slug might make short work of your seed.) The pots are available from garden centres, and many DIY outlets. Fill the module or tray with a few inches of potting or multi-purpose compost and press it down a little.
Then place the lettuce seeds on top, spacing them about a finger width apart. Do not cover with soil; unlike other seeds, lettuce seeds need a little light to germinate.
BROADCASTING: Some people like to scatter the seeds loosely in the tray but if you do this, you will have to untangle them at a later date which may damage the seedlings.
PLANTING OUT: Within a few weeks, the seedlings will be ready to plant out. Lift them out of their container with care and plant to the same level of soil as in the pot. Although the seedlings are sturdy, try to handle them as little as possible.
SLUG IT OUT: At this point, slugs will be your greatest worry. One of the most effective ways of keeping the slugs off your lettuces is with a “beer trap” - a jar with beer in it to attract the slugs. Sink a jam jar into the soil with about a half inch still showing. Put a little beer in the bottom of it - slugs are attracted to the yeast and fall in and drown.
If you don’t like that idea you can surround the lettuce plants with a line of crushed eggshells, coarse sand or coffee grinds - slugs don't like the coarse texture and won't venture across your barricade (but you'll need a strong barricade; make sure there are no gaps).
If you are growing your lettuce in a pot or container, put some Vaseline along the rim. That keeps slugs at bay too.
WATERING: Lettuces will 'tell' you when they need water as they will droop a little. When watering, make sure to check that the soil underneath the plant is wet. Push your finger into the soil to make sure that the moisture has gone through.
HARVEST: In six to eight weeks, it's time to start picking your leaves. Pick from the outside. The heart of the lettuce will grow again at surprising speed. You can replant every two to three weeks to replenish your supply. The best thing about having your own lettuce - apart from the immense pleasure of watching it grow from seed - is knowing that it is completely organic. You can be sure that it has not been washed in chlorine or sprayed with pesticides. When you grow your own, you'll also have the freshest possible produce at your table, meaning your tasty salads are also packed with nutrients.
Simply pick, wash and serve.
For more tips on growing, see giyireland.com
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