The journey continues, I am discussing the important things one ought to know regarding strategic export crops. Like I said before, these crops can also just be grown for the local market. In this article, I shall be looking for lettuce farming. By the end of the article, you should be equipped with appreciable knowledge to get you started.

Brief Overview

The scientific or botanical name for lettuce is Lactuca sativa. It is a very nutritious green leaf vegetable. Some of the key nutrients that it has are Vitamin C and K. It also has trace elements such as zinc and magnesium – it also has roughage. Lettuce is said to boost people’s immune systems against many deficiencies and diseases.  It is mostly used in salads, burgers, sandwiches, and the like. Once again, the global titan of lettuce production is China followed by the US and India respectively.

Importance Of Lettuce

Lettuce takes anything from one and half months to almost 3 months to mature i.e. from sowing. Thus it is a strategic crop to grow because you have multiple batches in one year. Even with small portions of land, you can realize great returns. For instance, I know of someone who managed to attain a US$1500 profit monthly from growing lettuce on just 400 square metres. With returns like this, there is no telling how much can be made from exporting.

Production Considerations

The beds in which the lettuce is transplanted must be at most 30 centimetres in height. When it comes to spacing, inter-row and in-row spacing of 30 centimetres and 25 centimetres must be adhered to. In-row spacing can be adjusted depending on the variety of the lettuce being grown. These spacing variations mean that number of lettuce plants per hectare can typically be between sixty and a hundred thousand.

Land Preparation

Lettuce seeds are small and as such soil must be well prepared beforehand. The soil must be ploughed several times over till it is fine and loose. If the soil is not worked till it is like that it can end up clogging the delicate small seeds. The beds must be evenly levelled to ensure germination and ultimate growth both occur uniformly.

Favourable Climate

Lettuce generally requires cool weather to thrive well. The optimum temperature can be anything between 10 degrees Celsius and 17 degrees Celsius – even 20 degrees Celsius in some cases. Temperatures beyond that are detrimental to germination and growth. Given lettuce’s high affinity for cool weather, it would be prudent to grow it in winter. Notwithstanding of course that lettuce can be grown in virtually any climate.

Soil Requirements

The best soil for lettuce is sandy loam soil. The soil must have good water retention. No wonder why sandy loam soils are a good fit – appreciable organic matter content is most welcome. Optimum soil pH lies between 5 and 6. The soil ought to have good drainage also.

Sowing And Transplanting

It is best to start with seeds, sow them in nursery beds and transplant later. (Alternatively, you can just sow in situ and thin later till you achieve the space you need). The seeds should be sown at a depth of 1 to 2 centimetres. Lettuce seeds will germinate from as early as 2 days to about a week so. Lettuce can be left to develop for about a month in the nursery bed. Before transplanting, you must allow for hardening off – at most 3 days would be ideal. After that, you transplant the seedlings into the respective beds. As soon as you transplant you must apply mulch for keeping the soil moist. The grass is the most easily accessible and best mulch to use.

Water Requirements

Lettuce has a very shallow root system so watering can be done lightly (but regularly). If you overdo it, that can result in waterlogging which will affect the growth of the lettuce. To maintain the quality of the lettuce you must water smartly. Caution must be exercised to ensure water does not displace soil particles that will end up drying on the leaves. Washing them off later can seriously compromise the ultimate quality of the lettuce. Thus if you are doing irrigation it would be best to use drip irrigation.

Pest And Disease Control

Just like many vegetables, aphids are a common pest that threatens the existence of lettuce. Cutworms are also another menacing pest, especially during the early stages. Bollworms and diamondback moths are also pests to look out for. Downey and powdery mildew are some of the common diseases that attack lettuce. Other diseases to be wary of are leaf spot and bacterial rot.

Weed Control

Weeding should be extensively dealt with before planting or transplanting. Weeding once the plants are growing can be difficult due to how tender lettuce plants are. All the same, weeding can be plucked out by hand or using hand-held implements. The other alternative is to use chemicals to control weeds.

Harvesting And Storage

It is recommended that you harvest in the morning. When harvesting the lettuce heads have to be manually cut just above the soil. As many leaves as possible should be left attached to the plant when harvesting to protect the head. After harvesting you must wash the lettuce before storing it. Packaging it in plastic bags will preserve freshness. Refrigeration is non-negotiable if you want the lettuce to last longer.

Important Factors To Consider

Choice of lettuce variety depends on whether you want it to mature faster or otherwise. Some varieties develop much bigger heads than other varieties. These are some of the factors to consider in choosing a variety. Like harvesting, transplanting is best done during early morning hours. Application of fertilizers is central to maximizing yield levels. There are four common types of lettuce grown namely, Crisp Head, Butter Head, Loose Leaf and Romaine.

You should expect to realize as many as 40 tonnes of lettuce per hectare. On one hectare you can expect to get at least US$1500 profit.