Known for its nutritional value and versatility, lettuce is a key ingredient in sandwiches and salads as well as a staple used for garnishes and wraps.
Harvested on more than 342,000 acres across the nation, lettuce
represents a $2 billion industry mostly situated in California, Arizona, and Florida, according to the U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)
In Florida, more than 10,000 acres of lettuce are harvested during cool and short days of late fall to early spring.
Most production occurs in the Everglades Agricultural Area located just below Lake Okeechobee in Palm Beach County.
With consumers seeking to grow more produce at home year-round, fall is primetime for tossing lettuce into the mix of vegetables to grow in your garden no matter how small or large your space.
Germán Sandoya-Miranda, assistant professor of lettuce breeding and genetics at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/FAS), has coauthored “Growing Lettuce in Small Hydroponic Systems” offering insights, resources and best practice tips for the home grower.
“Lettuce is planted in Florida fields from October to March and consumers start enjoying lettuce produced in the state from the beginning of December to end of April,” said Sandoya, whose work on lettuce breeding and disease
research is based in Belle Glade at UF/IFAS Everglades Research and Education Center.
Producing lettuce in small hydroponic systems can provide citizens an
additional gardening leisure and the opportunity to consume their own fresh product, from “farm to table.’”
The article, released on Askifas, the peer reviewed Electronic Database Information System (EDIS) platform from UF/IFAS, goes into detail on the benefits of growing lettuce in controlled environments, what to consider to make it work for small settings like patios and home gardens, tips on media and irrigation options, as well as resources to get you started on growing your own tasty bed of greens.
“Hopefully our publication can give Floridians a starting point in producing their lettuce at home,” said Jonael Bosques, a co-author of the publication and director of UF/IFAS Extension Hardee County.
Using controlled environments like growing lettuce on hydroponic systems
indoors lets you produce lettuce year-round, he explains.
“With hydroponic systems you can grow them in your kitchen or garage and bypass the hot and long days with the help of artificial lighting and your home’s air conditioning unit,” Bosques said.
In homes or condos, where there is limited space or sunshine, lettuce can be grown and supplemented with the day’s light hours to create ideal growing conditions, he adds.
“One takeaway to keep in mind is that growing indoors doesn’t mean our plants will be perfect all the time,” said Vanessa Campoverde, an agent specializing ornamental plant nurseries at UF/IFAS Extension Miami Dade County who contributed to the article. “That is why we need to monitor their growth and especially their health. Make it part of your routine while checking on your indoor or outdoor hydroponic systems,” Campoverde recommends checking for plant insects or diseases in the gathered water or leaves, and to act rapidly to prevent a total loss.
Additional recommendations from UF/IFAS experts:
• Determine which is the appropriate hydroponic system for your setting.
• Plant a lettuce cultivar adapted to shorter day length and warmer conditions.
• Keep a detailed record of any procedures and changes made during each season to prevent future issues from repeating.
• Reach out to your UF/IFAS Extension agent in your county for guidelines. They are available in all 67 counties.
Lettuce is a short-term crop that is appropriate to work with when learning about hydroponic production, the authors explain.
“Some issues associated with lighting, nutritional deficiencies and temperature make this crop an ideal one for beginners. There are a lot of varieties to choose from, and there are some marked differences in the way they respond to different environments and growing conditions,” said Sandoya.