It’s easier at this time of year to buy imported lettuce than grow it in your greenhouse or to grow rocket, endives and oriental greens instead, but lettuce is preferred in many households and home-grown is much fresher. Choose varieties that are tolerant of short days and low temperatures, and resistant to mildew. ‘Little Gem’ and ‘Winter Gem’ are cos-type varieties, ‘May Queen’ and ‘All the Year Round’ are butterhead types, and ‘Salad Bowl’ is a looseleaf type for cut-and-come-again harvesting. If in doubt check the information on the back of the seed packet.
You can sow the seeds thinly and 1cm deep in the greenhouse soil. Keep the drills about 30cm apart and thin the plants to the same spacing when they are big enough. This wide spacing leaves plenty of air between plants to discourage mould and slugs. Sow a little every two to three weeks for a succession of crops.
It’s easier to sow the earliest batches in cell trays with small cells. Sow just a few seeds in each. Keep them indoors to avoid slugs and mould, and don’t let them get warmer than 25°C (77°F) or they won’t germinate. Thin the plants to one per cell with a fine-pointed scissors as soon as they are big enough to work with, and plant them out as soon as their roots have bound the compost in each cell together. Keep the plants well watered, and ventilate the greenhouse whenever the weather allows. Water in the morning to allow the plants and soil surface dry out before night. Protect the plants from slugs and remove all weeds, dead leaves and rubbish. Harvest hearted lettuce by pulling whole plants, and looseleaf types with a scissors, leaving the plants to grow more leaves.