Want to cut food costs but still serve those pricey lettuce mixes? You can grow your own salad if you have somewhere to put a pot and at least six hours of sun a day. Here's how:
Pick a pot
Use a good-sized plastic or terra cotta pot. (Metal can heat up and damage the roots.) Lettuce has shallow roots, so a pot 8 to 10 inches deep should do fine. Fill the pot with a lightweight potting mix. Don't use garden soil, which can compact.
Go for leaf
Buy seeds for a leaf lettuce, mix seeds from several kinds of leaf lettuces or buy one of the mesclun seed mixes. Moisten the soil, then sprinkle seeds on top of the potting mix. Try to get the seeds about a half-inch apart. Cover seeds with about ¼ inch potting soil, then mist lightly. Keep the soil evenly moist during the week or two it takes the seeds to germinate.
"The trick with lettuce in our climate is to plant early," said Deb Brown, former extension horticulturist with the University of Minnesota. "They really flourish in cool weather." Brown recommends planting in mid- to late April. Another plus for planting in a pot? If the temperatures dive below freezing, you can move your pot to the garage or porch for the night.
It should take a month or so for your lettuce to grow 4 to 6 inches tall. Use the "cut and come again" method to harvest: Cut a salad bowl-full of leaves 1 to 2 inches above the soil. In a few weeks, the lettuce should grow back for a couple more cuttings. You also can harvest only the outer leaves from each plant. (The inner leaves will continue to grow.) Or you can eat your thinnings. (To thin, pull out any plants that are growing too closely together. Even if they're not full-size plants, you can eat them. Baby lettuce tastes great.)
Repeat in fall
If you keep the soil moist, your salad greens should do well until the weather gets hot, usually in late June. (The lettuce may continue to grow, but may bolt or taste bitter.) Put your pot away until early to mid-August. Then, seed again for a fall crop of tasty greens.