Salad on Demand

Advice from a local gardener: Grow your own lettuce

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Week 1
Sow “Loose-leaf lettuce can be planted densely, repeatedly harvested, and enjoyed at every stage of growth,” says Grace Wicks, owner of Center City’s Graceful Gardens (215-913-7156, Plant seeds in a shallow container with plenty of drainage and “only a few inches of rich compost,” says Wicks. Place the growing greens in a sunny window.

Weeks 2 to 3
Harvest “The first thing you’ll see are microgreens, little white stalks with two little leaves,” says Wicks. “Microgreens have superior nutrition and concentrated flavor. Use them as a garnish, or toss with salads.” Using small scissors, snip the stalk above soil level. “Harvesting about 75 percent of your crop at this stage will give the rest of the plants room to mature.”

Weeks 5 to 6
Harvest more “If you let lettuce grow beyond the microgreen stage, a cluster of baby leaves perfect for salads will develop,” says Wicks. When the leaves are about three inches long, snip them off just above the stem, to allow for new growth.

Weeks 9 to 12
And more “If allowed to grow past baby leaves, the lettuce will develop into full heads,” says Wicks. Cut them right below the heart, harvesting the entire head at once; this plant will no longer generate new leaves.

Originally published in the March 2011 issue of Philadelphia magazine.