Butter lettuce is a variety of lettuce included in the category known as butterhead. Butterhead includes lettuces such as butter lettuce, Boston lettuce, and Bibb lettuce. This type of lettuce originates from the Mediterranean, though its two most popular varieties were cultivated in the United States. Butter lettuce originates from a very old variety of lettuce called Silesia, which dates back to 1744.
The heads of butter lettuce will usually be fairly large, be uniformly green, and have loose, thick leaves. Butter lettuce, along with its sister varieties, has tender leaves and a very mild, slightly sweet flavor. Due to its flavor profile, butter lettuce is an ideal ingredient in sandwiches, salads, and wraps.
And, unlike many other varieties of lettuce, butter lettuce is packed full of nutrients. Butter lettuce contains high concentrations of calcium, magnesium, potassium, and vitamins A, C, and K. Scratching the stalk and smelling it will reveal how the lettuce leaves will taste; a sweet scent means sweet lettuce, and a bitter aroma means bitter lettuce.
Growing Conditions for Butter / Bibb Lettuce
Lettuce prefers cool weather, so it grows best in the moderate temperatures of the spring and fall. In areas with mild summers, butter lettuce can be grown in the early or late summer. It grows the best in full sun, but if the temperatures are too hot, then the lettuce may wilt or bolt to seed. Butterhead lettuces grow best in soils that are well-drained, loose, and cool. The pH level should be somewhere between 6.2 and 6.8. To improve the flavor of the lettuce, make sure that there is a lot of organic matter in the soil.
How to Plant Butter Lettuce
You can start butter lettuce indoors or plant it directly into the soil outdoors. If you want to start your butter lettuce inside, sow the seeds into cells one inch deep approximately three to four weeks before you plan on transplanting the seedlings outdoors. When transplanting, make sure to space the plants six to 10 inches apart in rows 12 to 18 inches apart.
To plant the butter lettuce directly outdoors, begin when the soil is able to be worked in the early spring. Plant the seeds shallowly, about an eight of an inch deep. The seeds should be one inch apart in rows that are 12 to 18 inches apart.
Care of Butter Lettuce
Make sure to keep the soil moist before the seeds sprout. Water lightly every day to maintain moisture. To promote quick growth, water a little bit every day—or every other day after the seeds sprout. This will cause the lettuce to have a tastier, sweeter flavor.
Because butter lettuce has a very shallow root system, mulch around the lettuce heads to retain moisture and prevent weeds from growing. Be careful when weeding, as it’s easy to accidentally damage the butter lettuce’s root system as you remove weeds. Consider using row covers to protect the young plants from pests.
Garden Pests and Diseases of Butter Lettuce
Unfortunately, butter lettuce is prone to many different types of pests. These butter lettuce pests include aphids, armyworms, corn earworms, crickets, darkling beetle, flea beetles, garden symphylans, grasshoppers, leaf miners, nematodes, snails, slugs, thrips, vegetable weevils, and whiteflies. There are many methods you can use to prevent pests or or treat plants affected by pests, including physically removing the pests, introducing natural predators, or making homemade pesticides.
Lettuce is also susceptible to many diseases, such as black root rot, downy mildew, bacterial spot, soft rot, Anthracnose, Rhizoctonia, gray mold, sclerotinia rot, lettuce necrotic yellows virus, spotted wilt, and lettuce mosaic virus. In many cases, making sure the soil is well-drained will help prevent these diseases.
Harvesting Butter Lettuce
From the time of planting, butter lettuce takes approximately 60 to 70 days to mature. Harvest your lettuce immediately if it forms seed stalks. In order to harvest the whole head, cut about one inch from the ground. Try to harvest the plants in the cool morning hours to prevent wilting as much as possible.
You can choose to harvest microgreens, baby greens, or mature leaves from butter lettuce. To harvest microgreens, cut the entire plant approximately two weeks after it germinates; it should be about three or four inches tall. You can collect butter lettuce baby greens by hand between 28 and 35 days after germination. Any time after this point, you can collect mature leaves by hand from the butter lettuce until it forms a seed stalk.
Butter Lettuce Varieties to Grow in Your Home Garden
There are two main varieties of butter lettuce, both of which grow very well in a home garden.
- Bibb: This variety of lettuce is named after its original cultivator, John Bibb, who began cultivating this variety in the 1850s. Bibb lettuce has wider, lighter leaves than other varieties
- Boston: This variety is believed to have been cultivated in the 1920s. Newer varieties of butter lettuce, such as Boston lettuce, can have red leaves, ranging from reddish stripes to fully reddish leaves.
Want to Learn More about Growing Butter Lettuce?
If you want to learn more about growing butter lettuce, watch RedHat Cooperative’s video about the hydroponic method. This method of growing butter lettuce allows you to store the entire heads in your fridge for up to 3 weeks.
To learn how to grow butter lettuce in a container, check out this video by MI Gardener: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mZJD4lu9vOY.
Finally, if you want to learn how to grow lettuce indoors using a red solo cup, check out this video by Khang Starr. Using this method, you will be able to harvest your lettuce over and over again.
Saffyre Falkenberg began gardening with her grandmother as a child in Southern California. She continues to keep plants in her apartment in Texas and has a special love for succulents.
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Heirloom Organics writes about butter lettuce