Published Jun 8, 2011

Grow your lettuce like a master

By Sally Worley

Larry Cleverley is a lettuce growing master, and has supplied lettuce throughout the summer to many restaurants and farmer’s market goers over the years. How does he grow tender, sweet lettuce in the scorching summer?

Succession planting is a key to sweet summer lettuce. Larry recommends planting lettuce every week or every other week to maintain a fresh supply. “In the summer, the first cutting of lettuce is much more sweet and tender than consecutive cuttings,” said Larry. Summer humidity can also cause plants to stay wet and eventually rot, so succession planting will provide new healthy crops.

Larry's lettuce on display at Des Moines Downtown Farmer's Market

Larry likes the quality of lettuces offered by Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, and Seeds from Italy (all easily found online). Larry: “Avoid seed mixes that have lettuces mixed with greens like arugula and mizuna. The greens will germinate more quickly, and be ready to cut when the lettuce is still tiny.” Larry does, however, recommend mixes for summer lettuce. Allstar Gourmet Lettuce Mix from Johnny’s is his best-seller. He also recommends Wildfire and Encore from Johnny’s. Larry also recommends growing mixes of greens that are flavorful and hold up well in the summer heat. Larry is fond of Elegance and Ovation mixes from Johnny’s.

Cutting lettuce is easier to grow than head lettuce in the summer. “Getting lettuce to head up before it bolts can be difficult. It’s far easier to grow head lettuces in the cooler spring and fall,” said Larry. Larry does grow some baby butterhead lettuce in the summer. He uses pelleted seed for more accurate sowing and germination. If you aim to grow head lettuce in the summer, Larry recommends using your preferred varieties versus those crafted to survive the summer heat. “The summer lettuces aren’t always as tender and sweet.”

For cutting lettuce, sow seeds in a three-inch band, about 60 seeds per feet.  For head lettuce, space plants eight inches apart. Seed should be lightly covered with 1/8 inch of soil for even germination.

Farming Practically is a monthly column I write for Wheatsfield Cooperative’s “The Field Journal.” The newsletter can be viewed in its entirety at