Preparing and Planting a Spring Lettuce Bed

Lovely weather–finally!–on Friday and Saturday here, and so I got outside and got busy by preparing and planting a lettuce bed.  I had lettuce starts as well as a few baby Walla Walla Sweet onion starts that I had grown indoors under lights from seed, and I had been hardening them off for about three weeks (didn’t need to do it for that long, but it was so cold and rainy I never could get them planted until now.)  Anyway, here is the process I use, which originates with Steve Solomon’s method in his book, Gardening When It Counts.

The first step is weed removal.  Last year in this spot I had tomatoes planted, so the dirt was pretty friable from the tomato’s extensive roots loosening it up for me, so it didn’t take too long to weed it.

These are the tools I used for this project:  shovel, metal rake, and a two-in-one tool that is great for breaking up the soil, hoeing in between rows of plants, and weeding.  Plus I used a measuring tape and a small hand shovel.

Next I applied fertilizer.  This is complete organic fertilizer that I mix myself–Solomon’s recipe is 4 parts seed meal, 1 part dolomite lime, 1 part bone meal, and 1/2 part kelp meal.  This bed is about four feet wide by six feet long, and because lettuce needs highly fertile soil to grow well, I put 1 and 3/4 quarts of fertilizer on the bed.

Next I placed a 1/4 inch-thick layer of homemade compost on top of the fertilizer.  This compost is wonderful–full of worms to take all this wonderful stuff down into the soil.  I wish I had five-times the amount of this stuff, but can only produce so much with my available resources.

I use the shovel to dig the fertilizer and compost in.  (That’s a parsley that wants to grow there in the front, so okay with me.)

After digging, the bed is lumpy and not level, so I use the metal rake to break up large clumps and get the bed level and as smooth as I can.

Now it’s smooth and ready for planting lettuce and onion starts.  It’s still a little too lumpy if I was wanting to plant seeds, however, so a little trick I like to use is to put seed-starting mix just in the rows where you’ll plant the seed, and that way they have no trouble germinating and coming up through that light and airy mix, and by the time they get big enough they can reach down into the regular soil to expand their roots.

The lettuce and onion starts.  I am planting ‘Two Star’ looseleaf lettuce, ‘Bullet’ green romaine, ‘Red Iceburg’ crisphead, and ‘New Red Fire’ looseleaf lettuces, plus a few ‘Walla Walla Sweet’ onions and a very few ‘Pacific Pearl’ scallion/bunching onions to finish up a little bit of seed I had leftover from last year.  The lettuce starts are in a 6-pack, and the onion starts in a 4-inch container.  I started the seeds indoors back at the end of February.

Since I put two seeds into each 6-pack cell, and the seed is new and fresh, I had good germination and got two plants per cell, mostly.  So I carefully separate the baby plants, making sure both lettuce starts have their root systems intact as much as I can.  This is ‘Two Star’ looseleaf.

I use the rake handle to press into the soil to make straight lines indicating the rows where I will plant the lettuce and onion starts.  These rows are about 12 inches apart.

Then I plant the starts using a small hand shovel.  I planted them about 9-10 inches apart on the row, so I got four plants on a four-foot long row.  The onions I planted 2 inches apart, because I can thin them at the green onion stage to use for cooking, so it’s okay to plant them closer.

The finished lettuce and onion bed.  After this, I carefully watered them in, and sprinkled Sluggo around the plants, because these babies are like ambrosia to slugs.

Because our weather patterns are imitating Siberia for as long as possible this cold and rainy spring, and it may go down below 40 degrees at night–the lowest night temperature at which lettuce will grow–I went ahead and covered the whole bed with pvc plastic hoops and clear plastic held down with rocks at the edges. 

That’s it.  Did you have fun in the sun in your garden this past weekend?  Do tell in the comments.  And visit the Garden Party.



  1. allysgrandma said,

    April 25, 2011 at 4:42 pm

    I noticed the same with our “compost” which is actually our yard clippings in a huge pile that breaks down over the years…lots of worms in the compost I added to my tomato pots yesterday. Rainy again here in Humboldt County today.

    • minervasgardenwriter said,

      April 25, 2011 at 5:16 pm

      The worms are great garden helpers, aren’t they? And that is basically what is in my compost pile too, pruned/deadheaded plants, weeds that don’t have flowerheads, and my kitchen scraps.

      And it’s cold and pouring rain here today as well–on Saturday it was 70 degrees, and after working in the garden all day we sat under the pergola with a glass of wine and soaked up the sunshine. I want that weather back, please!

  2. Beth said,

    April 27, 2011 at 4:15 pm

    My sister started her cold weather garden too – radishes, onions, and lettuce – it’s supposed to be nice this weekend – hope to get outside and enjoy!

    • minervasgardenwriter said,

      April 27, 2011 at 4:29 pm

      Yes, me too!

  3. April 29, 2011 at 5:53 am

    Congrats on getting your babies in the ground. Hopefully it’ll be a good May. I’m tired of being so cold!! =0)

    • minervasgardenwriter said,

      April 29, 2011 at 4:44 pm

      I agree–I am plenty ready for some warmer weather. The weekend is supposed to cooperate in this regard, so hope to get some projects done out in the garden!

  4. Kathy Ransom said,

    April 30, 2011 at 9:38 pm

    Fantastic enhancements to the soil – should be wonderful for your salad garden. Well done,

    • minervasgardenwriter said,

      May 2, 2011 at 10:50 pm


  5. May 3, 2011 at 5:20 am

    Lovely tutorial! Ack, I’m ready for this cold weather to be done:-)

    • minervasgardenwriter said,

      May 3, 2011 at 6:18 am

      Me too! I hope you had a good weekend and enjoyed the sunshine.

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