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Gardening: When thoughts turn to fall planting, think lettuce

Nancy Szerlag
Special to The Detroit News

If you thought about trying your hand at growing some vegetables from seed this year, but the cold spring weather that quickly turned into a season long heat wave turned you off, consider doing a bit of fall planting. 

Lettuce can be started and grown this time of year.

Lettuce is a quick turn crop that thrives when the temperatures cool and the daylight lessens. Lettuce is a snap to grow and the good news is you can grow it in a pot, so there is no digging or weeding.  GoogIe how to grow a lettuce bowl and you’ll find oodles of how-to videos.  

I soak the seeds of lettuce and other greens overnight to hasten their germination. After soaking, I spread the seed out on a layer of paper towel to dry for bit. This makes them easier to handle when planting.

My other tip is to pre-moisten the potting soil before starting.  My tried and true method is to mix three parts potting soil to one part water. If you have a container that’s already full of soil simply water it the day before planting.

I like to re- energize “used” potting soil by adding a good quality compost to the mix before planting. If the container is large, I add the compost to just the top 4 to 6 inches. 

Spinach is a quick-turn crop that’s easy to grow and loaded with good stuff such as iron, vitamins A and C and fiber. Surprisingly, it also contains 3 grams of protein per serving. For a mild flavor, harvest it when young and add it to salads, soups and stir-fries. I pile the little leaves on my open face BLTs.

Kale, another quick grower and super food, is a fall season vegetable that becomes more flavorful when it has been kissed by frost, but it’s also great for use in salads, when harvested while young.

Another healthy green that’s often overlooked is Swiss chard, and it, too, is a snap to grow. It will withstand a light freeze so you can move it to a protected area when the cold weather arrives and continue the harvest. In England, where lettuce is an expensive commodity in winter, salads are often made with Swiss chard leaves sliced in fine ribbons, called a chiffonade.

To keep my greens growing at their nutritional best, I fertilize them every couple of weeks with Neptune’s Harvest Fish and Kelp Fertilizer according to the package directions.

You can find a good selection of greens seeds at all English Gardens or search for seed catalogs online for a list of sources.  

Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and a Metro Detroit freelance writer. Her column appears Fridays in Homestyle. To ask her a question go to and click on Ask Nancy. You can also read her previous columns at