Tips for Commercial Farming Practices from Lettuce Seedlings
Although lettuce is grown as a vegetable crop in South Africa, it has been developed from a plant considered a weed in the USA and Europe. Today, the three main cultivars are that of iceberg, curly, and butter lettuce, although many other types are also grown. Commercial farming is done mostly from seedlings as available from nurseries that supply in bulk to farmers across the country.
Not Exceptionally Drought Resistant
One of the challenges of propagating lettuce from plugs is to ensure the plants receive enough water throughout the growth period. The vegetable is not particularly drought resistant. The soil moisture level must constantly be monitored, and care should be taken to avoid overwatering. The plant should never be exposed to water or drought stress.
Soil NeedsLettuce seedlings can be transplanted to a wide range of soils, although the plants do the best in organic nutrient-rich loam soil with good drainage properties. With the plant’s poorly developed root system, it is imperative to keep the upper layers of the soil moist and nutrient rich. Regular irrigation as opposed to deep watering every few days has been reported to be effective. The necessary fertilisation must be done before the plugs are transplanted to the growth area. That said, care should be taken not to over fertilise the soil, as this can cause the leaves to taste bitter, reducing the market value of the crop.
As a cool vegetable crop, it is best grown during the summer months in areas not experiencing high temperatures. Many farmers now commercially farm the crop from seedlings in greenhouse facilities. This enables them to control the temperature and humidity levels better. It also means they can grow throughout the year. If grown in the open field, the plant is best propagated in areas where the midday temperature is moderate. It can be grown in the autumn or late winter after the frost period and before the hot summer days set in.
Day Length Requirements
Farmers should not ignore the role of day length in successful farming with the crop. It is a short-day vegetable, and it is therefore essential to choose the right variety for the particular area in which grown. If the day length is too long, the plant tends to seed early on. With greenhouse facilities, farmers have some control over day length from day one of propagating lettuce from seedlings. However, seedlings can also be bought for areas where the day lengths are longer and where midday temperatures are higher.
Lettuce seedlings should not be exposed to frost conditions. Although the plant has better tolerance to frost than many other types of vegetables, should the mature plants be exposed to such conditions, it is essential to harvest them as soon as possible and get them to the market immediately.
The plant is best rotated with vegetable crops with the likes of spinach, tomatoes, and green peas whereas crop rotation with endive and plants of the same family should be avoided, as this can lead to an increase of diseases that attack plants from the same family.
The vegetable is harvested as soon as the leaves turn lighter. Both mechanical- and hand-harvesting practices have been reported. In most instances, the outer leaves are removed to give a fresher appearance, as the outer leaves tend to wilt quickly. The harvested plants must be stored in cool conditions and the lettuce heads should be taken to the relevant markets as soon as possible.
Where to Buy Quality Lettuce Seedlings
Starting with high-quality seedlings that are pest and disease free helps to increase the potential of high yields and healthy crops. To this end, farmers across South Africa benefit from the expertise of Hishtil SA in cultivating superior-quality seedlings in special greenhouse facilities. The plugs are protected against pests and diseases, receive correct nutrition, and are closely monitored.
The plants are also chemically treated before delivery to farmers across South Africa. This ensures disease-free stock for optimal crop propagation. Various cultivars are available, and farmers benefit from the competitive prices asked for the lettuce seedlings. Guidelines are provided for transplantation.
Whether for small- or large-scale commercial farming with lettuce in South Africa, get in touch with Hishtil SA to order premium quality seedlings suitable for the particular growth area where transplanting is intended.