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Growing Lettuce in The Northern Territory

Introducing Lettuce

Lettuce is versatile and incredibly easy to grow. It’s a great first vegetable for kids because it grows quickly, especially if you pick a few leaves every day rather than waiting for a full head. There are so many varieties out there, as well as varieties specific to just about any climate, meaning that lettuce can basically be grown anywhere, anytime, even in the tropical climate of Northern Territory’s Top End. Varieties which will do well in Top End are non-hearting lettuce varieties such as Cos, and other fancy varieties.

Classic Mistakes

Not giving your lettuce enough water can result in bitter tasting leaves and early flowering.

Sunlight

Grow in: Partial Shade - Partial Sun

Lettuce needs some shade in warm areas like Northern Territory. A spot that gets sun in the morning, but is protected from the worst of the afternoon sun, is ideal. Consider planting your lettuces at the base of some peas or corn for dappled shade

Soil Preparation

Good drainage is essential. Two weeks before planting, add lots of compost and some poultry manure, and water with a seaweed feed. Lettuce thrives at a soil pH of around 6, so add lime if necessary.

Sowing Seed

Sow seed: April-July
Sowing depth: 2 mm

Lettuce does better in the cooler months of Top End's dry season, so be sure to sow your seeds early on in the season.

Sprinkle the seed, then cover lightly with potting mix. Sow every 3 weeks and you should be able to harvest almost constantly through the short growing season.

Planting

Plant seedlings: April-July

Lettuce will do better in the cooler months of Top Ends dry season, so be sure to plant seedlings early on in the season.

Top End has a very short growing season for lettuce, so it’s best to sow lettuce seeds directly as the process of transplanting seedlings can delay maturing up to 3 weeks.

Care

Remove damaged leaves from the plants regularly. Plants use a lot of energy and resources to keep those damaged leaves growing. Rather remove them quickly so that your plants can put all their energy into healthy leaves.

Watering

Water frequently and keep the soil moist, especially during the hot, dry summer months. Remember that plants in pots will need to be watered more often. Keeping the moisture level even will avoid tip burn, which is when the tips of the leaves go brown and die. Water at night to minimise the loss of minerals, especially calcium. Trickle or drip irrigation are great, but make sure you water your seedlings enough while they are settling in.

Feeding

Over-fertilising contributes to snail infestations, so stay away from commercial preparations and feed no more than fortnightly with manure or worm castings.

Mulching

Mulch with dried grass clippings or lucerne straw, or try some rough compost around the plants, which will also deter slugs. Make sure that the mulch and the lettuce do not make contact.

Harvesting

Harvest: 9 to 12 Weeks After Planting

Time to harvest will depend on the variety, so check your seed packet, but you should have full heads between nine and twelve weeks. Harvest in the morning, especially on hot summer days. Most lettuces can be “cut and come again”, so pick a few leaves as needed rather than taking the whole head. This will really extend your harvest.

What to do about Snails and slugs?

These guys love lettuce. Lay down grit, like eggshells or silica sand or create barriers around your plants. Remove any slugs or snails that you see.

What to do about Downy mildew?

Use a copper spray every 7-10 days until the mildew has disappeared.

What to do about Caterpillars?

Being leafy, lettuces are vulnerable to these hungry critters. If you see the eggs or caterpillars appear on the plants, remove them by hand. Spraying with soap spray will also be helpful.
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