Homegrown lettuce – hold the E. coli
May 30th, 2011
02:00 PM ET
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Thinking of nixing lettuce from your diet after reading about the deadly E. coli outbreak in Germany and domestic lettuce recalls?

Not only can at-home growers skip this risk - you'll also save money, enjoy a nearly endless variety of organic and heirloom options and have fresh salads at their fingertips all year around - even without an outdoor garden.



Lettuce grows in several major formats: loose leaf (like Lolla Rossa and Black Seeded Simpson), crisphead (Iceberg and Great Lakes), butterhead (Bibb and Buttercrunch), Cos (also called Romaine) and stem (mostly used in Chinese cooking). For small container gardens and windowboxes, loose leaf is a solid bet, as it grows quickly and doesn't need to establish deep roots.

Most hardware, garden and variety stores carry a range of popular seed varieties - often for $1 or less - but adventurous gardeners may wish to explore colorful, flavor-packed heirloom and certified organic single-seed packets and blends from online retailers. The Seed Savers Exchange and D. Landreth stock dozens, from blazing Mascara to deep, dark Red Velvet.


Just about any will do, from store bought terracotta pots and plastic window boxes to take-out containers, foil pie pans, halved two-liter bottles and emptied-out plastic clamshells from the supermarket. The vessel just needs to be food-safe, several inches deep and perforated at the bottom to allow drainage. Starting head lettuce in peat pots inside containers allows the option for transplant into a larger garden space - or even sharing the bounty with friends.


If it's going into the food, it's going into you. If possible, opt for chemical-free or organic potting soil - increasingly available at major hardware stores and home centers.


Lightly shaded outdoor areas are ideal, as tender young leaves are susceptible to burning in bright sunlight, but windowboxes and kitchen counters can also produce surprisingly robust crops.

If natural light isn't available, cool white bulbs and fluorescent lights can successfully stimulate vegetative growth. The seedlings need about 12 hours of light a day, and gardeners may need to adjust the distance from bulb to soil to figure out what works best in their home.

You will also need a spray bottle and some plastic wrap.


Place at least 2 inches of moist, lightly-packed potting soil into a container with drainage holes. Sprinkle a sparse layer of seeds on top of the soil and follow that with a very light dusting of soil.

Mist the soil with a few pumps from a water bottle, lightly cover the container with plastic wrap and place in a warm, bright spot.

The seedlings should germinate in about five days. Once they have, remove the plastic wrap and keep the container in the light for around 12 hours a day.

Keep the soil moist with the spray bottle or gentle watering from a can or cup. Make sure the soil is draining and not pooling at the bottom of the container.

Most crops will be ready to harvest and enjoy within three to four weeks for leaf varieties, and longer for more robust heads. Just snip leaves directly into a colander, rinse and enjoy the fruits - and vegetables - of your labor.

Read - Gardening notes from Zone 6b and our top container gardening tips

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Filed under: Gardening • Greens • Health News • Heirloom • Make • Recalls • Tainted Food • Vegetables • Vegetables

soundoff (34 Responses)
  1. boomers1earth

    Growing our own produce is the only way to go these days. The EPA has stated that more than one billions pounds of pesticides are used annually on foods grown in the U.S. My latest blog posts on Grandparents Going Green will give you complete info and easy instructions on organic gardening – get started, and get your grandchildren involved!

    May 31, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
  2. Monger(as in fish)

    Don't use night soil for fertilizer.

    May 31, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
  3. LS

    Renee's Garden lettuce seeds are the best! I tried their "Garden Babies" variety and they are almost ready to harvest and they look way better and healthier compared to the lettuce seeds I grew from other Co's.

    May 31, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
  4. karen

    Put your lettuce in a covered plastic container with paper towel in the fridge.
    It will stay fresh for more than 4 weeks, easily. Mine has kept fresh for 8 weeks.

    May 31, 2011 at 11:30 am |
  5. CBDen

    We pull leaves constantly and new ones come in for harvest in a week or so, no need to reseed during the summer for us. Also, one good tip is you can harvest a bunch, wash and run through a salad spinner, place in a ziplock with paper towels and make sure to get as much air out as possible when you seal. We have had crisp lettuce for more than 4 weeks in the fridge with this method.

    May 31, 2011 at 11:17 am |
  6. sissy

    Sprouted seeds are easy to grow. Buy alphalfa, mung beans, radish or other untreated seeds at your health food store. Soak the seeds in water over night. Drain the water the next day. I like to use a quart jar with a piece of cloth held onto the opening with a large rubber band. Rinse the seeds in the morning and eve.ing. When the leaves appear, use the sprouts mixed the way you like with other foods. Be sure to refridgerate the leftover sprouts. I start a new batch every two days. Be excellent to each other, even the clueless.

    May 31, 2011 at 9:32 am |
  7. GreenShmeen

    Special thanks to cow farmers who overuse antibiotics to gives us these beautifully evolved resistent E coli mutants.
    Don't worry, It is all God's design, evolution is not real, and a farmer can use his God-given talents to do whatever he wants with nature. An additional thanks to the grocery industry, esp. the organic branch, for using the manure from those cows.

    May 31, 2011 at 4:36 am |
  8. GreenShmeen

    Dangerous article. It forgets to mention that people should suppress their all-too crazy green thinking and avoid all use of manure, human excrement and keep animals out of that lettuce garden, otherwise you still can be infected. Alas, this also exactly means NOT to use the uncontrolled 'organic' soil from your plant shop. By the way E-coli is also extremely 'organic', just as botulin or curare.

    May 31, 2011 at 4:30 am |
    • Evil Grin

      Wow. Way to make a mountain out of nothing at all. All they said is since you are growing the food yourself, you have more control. Why are you lambasting the article?

      May 31, 2011 at 9:18 am |
    • Green Shamachine

      Vegans are inorganic.

      May 31, 2011 at 9:28 am |
    • Ozarkhomesteader

      Composted manure is a safe way to fertilize your crops. You need to let it heat (as any pile of manure will naturally) to kill the pathogens, however.

      May 31, 2011 at 10:26 am |
  9. HollyAnnG

    Last year, at the end of summer, I let my organic lettuce go to seed - and it sprouted this spring. I have plenty of it without a single trip to buy seeds.

    May 31, 2011 at 1:30 am |
  10. TheGame8890

    Great article, everyone would try to buy organic, local and/or grow it yourself. It's too bad though that the Food Safety Act (written by Big Agra of course) will make it illegal for anyone to grow their own food (much less sell it to their neighbours or on the road side) due to food safety concerns when it is always Big Agra that causes all of the food safety issues with their disgusting standards of handling food.

    May 31, 2011 at 1:01 am |
  11. Stacie

    This article should mention that you need to keep starting new seeds every few weeks in order to have a constant supply – especially in summer when lettuce will bolt and turn bitter.

    May 31, 2011 at 12:58 am |
    • The Witty One@Stacie

      I always put my lettuce on a leash to prevent bolting....

      May 31, 2011 at 9:49 am |
      • Jerv@2

        I tell my lettuce happy vegan stories to keep it from turning bitter....

        May 31, 2011 at 9:52 am |
      • The Witty One@Jerv

        There are "Happy vegan" stories?

        May 31, 2011 at 10:15 am |
      • Jerv@2

        Yeah, you know the one where the litte nasty vegan goes to his ratty little garden to harvest his lettuce for a dry azz salad and a mac truck plows him over leaving the lettuce for little bunnys to eat. You know, that kind of happy vegan stories.

        May 31, 2011 at 10:22 am |
      • AleeD@TWO & Jerv

        Yes there are happy vegan stories. They start with "Once upon a time," end with "happily ever after" and they're told with heads in the sand.

        When telling fairy tales like that, militant vegans make great bike racks.

        May 31, 2011 at 10:23 am |
  12. Roger

    weed should be legal to grow for the same reason.. you can do it yourself, properly. Saving any harshness.. or chemicals...

    May 31, 2011 at 12:32 am |
    • Ruderalis

      Yes it's much safer if your farmer knows what their doing.

      May 31, 2011 at 1:05 am |
  13. Ozarkhomesteader

    For some pics of different varieties of lettuce, look here:
    Scroll down to see the lettuce and related salad greens. :-)

    May 31, 2011 at 12:07 am |
  14. grofys

    i plant lots of romaine every year. i just make sure to buy a heat resistant, heirloom variety. i have to fence them from the rabbits, of course and i live in the city.

    May 30, 2011 at 10:38 pm |
  15. Annexian

    Well, perhaps the illegal hired for housework will sh-t in them to give them e-coli and then the bed bugs hiding in their bags will jump off and nest in your house...

    May 30, 2011 at 10:29 pm |
  16. Ralph

    I love my mixed greens window planter. I left for the weekend and they were out in too much sun so they wilted but when I watered them they sprang right back. Yummy!

    May 30, 2011 at 8:48 pm |
  17. Panama Red

    My plants are now 5 feet tall with lots of "Buds". Should I repot them now?

    May 30, 2011 at 2:29 pm |
    • Ralph

      Lettuce is an annual plant so if they are budding already, it's time to harvest what you can and plant some more seeds. Depending on your area, you can probably plant several times over.

      May 30, 2011 at 8:49 pm |
      • Uhhh...

        I think you missed a joke there.

        Also, what lettuce gets 5 feet tall, like, ever?

        May 31, 2011 at 9:19 am |
    • TaxesAreStealing

      haha...if they have lots of buds, then transplanting will only do you harm! dontcha know that yer supposed to transplant b4 you get the the flowering cycle?!? heh

      May 30, 2011 at 10:17 pm |
    • Displeased

      From what it sounds, you should dry them and smoke them...

      May 30, 2011 at 11:06 pm |
    • Ozarkhomesteader

      Your lettuce has bolted, most likely due to heat. Rip it up and replant next fall, depending on where you live, Next time, don't let it start to get leggy. :-) An alternative to lettuce in the heat is chard: http://ozarkhomesteader.wordpress.com/2009/06/25/swiss-chard-your-go-to-heat-wave-summer-green/

      May 31, 2011 at 12:06 am |
    • MagicMushroom

      Haha, yeah, I want some of your "lettuce"!

      May 31, 2011 at 1:23 am |
    • Chopswell

      LOL! Mine are only 3'....Started in Feb and put out 2 weeks ago and wow!!! This is gonna be some AWESOME 'salad!!!'

      May 31, 2011 at 2:28 pm |
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