Lactuca sativa, commonly known as lettuce, is a member of the Asterateae family, grown as a leaf vegetable. The origins of lettuce can be traced to the Mediterranean basin from where it spread to the rest of the world. It has been cultivated as a food source for thousands of years and is popular as a salad ingredient all over the world.
Lettuce is grouped into four classes namely:
1. Crisphead or Iceberg Lettuce
This type is widely grown in the country and it is characterized by firm heads and crisp, curly leaves. The outer leaves are dark green, while the inner ones are pale and lack chlorophyll.
2. Butterhead Lettuce
The butterhead lettuce forms a head that is somehow similar to that of cabbage in shape and has soft, waxy, flexible leaves. It is sensitive to hot weather.
3. Loose – leaf Lettuce
This group does not form heads and is characterized by soft leaves. It grows well both in the open field and under protection and can be shipped over long distances.The cos lettuce has a loose head with narrow soft leaves. The outer leaves are dark green, coarse and have heavy ribs while the inner is lighter.
The plant grows well on a wide variety of soils ranging from light sand to heavy clay, whoever, best results are obtained on fertile loam’s that are rich in organic matter. A pH between 5.5 and 7 is optimum. Lettuce should be grown on soils with a high water – holding capacity and proper drainage for good root growth and plant performance.
Lettuce is regularly sown directly in the field to a depth of 10 – 15mm. The seedlings are later thinned out to the desired spacing and they are sometimes used for transplanting. Seedlings for transplanting may also be raised in seed – trays or seedbeds and transplanted about five weeks after sowing.
Lettuce has a shallow root system and as such requires frequent but lighter irrigation’s. The roots penetrate the soil to a depth of only 300mm. Water should be applied throughout the growing period and reduced when the heads become full. A water shortage tends to promote bolting.
Lettuce is harvested by hand by cutting off the plant just above the soil surface to keep most of the outer leaves around the head. Harvesting should be done very early in the morning because lettuce wilts rapidly.
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