Growing Your Lettuce
The most important factor in succeeding with lettuce is meeting its moisture requirements. Because lettuce is shallow rooted and comprised mainly of water (nearly 95% water, actually) it simply will not grow if you let the soil dry out. The roots of lettuce reside in the top three to four inches of soil. If you stick your finger into the soil and the top inch is dry, you need to water. This may require watering several times per week in hot, dry weather.
Fertilization is also important. If you are growing in soil that is full of organic matter, you may not need to fertilize. However, providing your lettuce with nitrogen-rich fertilizer will keep your plant growing well and producing regularly. Fish emulsion is an ideal organic fertilizer for lettuces. Apply the fish emulsion at half of the recommended dosage every two weeks. It is best to apply the diluted fish emulsion directly to the soil. You can use it as a foliar feed as well, but be sure to wash your lettuce really, really well before eating it.
As with anything in the garden, lettuces benefit from a good layer of mulch. Install a two to three inch layer of organic mulch, such as wood chips, straw, leaves, or grass clippings around the lettuce, being sure to leave a little space around the plant to prevent rot. This layer of mulch will help retain moisture, keep the soil cool, reduce the amount of weeding you have to do, and keep the lettuce clean by preventing soil from splashing up on the leaves when you water.
Lettuce is bothered by very few pests and diseases. Slugs are its biggest enemy, and they can be thwarted by setting out a saucer of beer to trap them in, or by sprinkling diatomaceous earth or crushed eggshells around your plants. These sharp substances cut the slugs' underbellies when they slide across it, and kills them.
Aphids can also be a problem. If they are, try knocking them off with a blast of water from the hose or try a homemade spray to get rid of them. Cutworms can also be a problem, and the best way to protect against them is to install a collar made of thick paper or cardboard around the base of any newly-planted lettuce seedlings.
If your pests are of the long-eared, four-footed variety, the best defense is to install a metal fence around the garden, or around the bed in which you are growing your lettuce. You can also try sprinkling cayenne pepper on the plants to deter the rabbits.
Lettuce is easy to grow, as long as you meet its basic requirements. And the benefits of doing so are well worth it: being able to harvest salads full of homegrown, tasty, organic lettuce mere minutes before mealtime is a luxury that you'll appreciate throughout the growing season.