How to grow lettuce: sow, plant, protect plus the Charles Dowding picking method

Lettuce plants can produce for months when harvested by hand (no knife!) and kept tidy (fewer slugs!), I show you the method here. You also see the results of an experiment with different composts for sowing, how to plant and the use of covers to protect from weather and pests. Plus the beds are no dig for few weeds and high quality growth. Varieties at the end are Saragossa and Bijou.

13 thoughts on “How to grow lettuce: sow, plant, protect plus the Charles Dowding picking method

  1. Hi Charles, just tried my second round of pricking out flashy butter gem after 5 days into a mix of two composts, one slightly woody and the other consisting of marine scraps. They are on a heating mat in a south facing window, zone 5a in the US. My first round did not do well and did not take to the module. Any suggestions? I water lightly when they seem to be getting dry. Need more light? I have an LED blue light above them as well. Thank you for any and all help!

    1. Hi Meredith
      I wish I could help but without seeing exactly what’s going on there and even feeling that compost, it’s hard to diagnose.
      One thing I do is always fully moisten compost in the module cells, before pricking out, then you know where you are moisture-wise and you can maintain it without overwatering.
      Fingers crossed

  2. Hi Charles,
    I’m wondering, do you multi sow lettuces for smaller salad mixes like you would with rocket and mizuna? Or only use singles to pick outer leaves? Also do you wash your salad mixes before bagging for sale? How do you get them dry enough without wilting?
    Many thanks

    1. I grow many salad plants as singles, for ease of picking, such as lettuce, endive and also chicory to make hearts or heads.

      Yes we watch the mix, then it’s put in a crate with some slats, and we spin them by hand. I want moisture on leaves when we put them in bags for sale. It keeps them alive! See my video on YouTube called Summer Harvest

  3. Hello Charles, I’ll be following the steps you detail here when sowing my little gem and other small, hearting varieties. Really helpful video, thank you. First sowings will be in late February/early March. Would you recommend using this same method for the leafy, cut and come again lettuce mixes? The seed packets suggest direct sowing, but to get ahead and beat the slugs, could these be started in trays indoors? Thank you

    1. Thanks Jessa and use this method for sure. Seed packets ready carry original information I’m afraid, they repeat the same old! Plus they want you to use more seed.

  4. Pricking out! OMG! Where have I been? Years and years of gardens and thinning lettuce. Ugh. So very logical before the little plantling can have enough root to stress about the move. Here in the US most of the plug trays are larger and quite deep. It looks like yours are smaller and a bit more shallow, less weight for roots to handle going from plug to garden. Can you recommend the plug trays you are using? I looked around the site but didn’t turn up anything. Also the watering cans you use both in seeding to plug modules and in planting in the garden have such a saturating yet gentle flow of water. Could you also offer a link or manufacturer? Buying online can be a challenge as you can’t get a good look at the can head to determine that, and the nurseries around me have nothing like what you are using. Thank you for your brilliant approach to gardening and your very helpful and inspiring instructional videos. A master teacher you are! All blessings and be well 🙂

    1. Many thanks Cheryl.
      Gardman make the cans and roses I like but yes not easy to find.
      I am investing in production of a module tray which will sell through, not sure if they ship to the US! There is a dearth of good module trays and small is better for sure, and sturdy.

  5. Hi Charles, most of my salad seedlings have bolted or are leggy. Yours all look great. Using good seedling compost from Dale foot. Started germinating mid April, pricked out end April, were doing nicely in greenhouse then dried a bit in hot weather recently and bolted. Do you think that heat is the only thing that tipped them over the edge? I was watering daily but just left them too long one day in a hot greenhouse.

    1. Ah I wonder, what you mean by salad? I suspect it’s brassicas from a salad mix seed packet.
      On my sowing timeline I recommend not to sow them from March to July, for the reason you describe.
      My salads now are lettuce, peas for shoots, wild rocket from autumn sowing, sorrel and basil/dill.

  6. Hello Charles,

    I have one very quick question. I have your book ‘Organic Gardening’ and noted down the different varieties of lettuce you suggest. Armed with this information I purchased some Webbs Wonderful seeds and these have grown well.

    I have then re-read the section in the book and realise that you state that Webbs Wonderful cannot be treated as a leaf lettuce. Is this strictly the case or could I have some success with your picking method?

    Thanks again so much for your time and inspiration.

    1. Hi Charlie
      Thanks for pointing this out, I need to rephrase it! It can be picked of outer leaves, just it’s lee easy than some others, so do give it a go!
      Any cos lettuce are the easiest for picking.

      1. Thank you so much Charles,

        I’ll give it a go….

        You’re up very early, on such a horrible day.

        Take care!


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