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Home-grown lettuce for the holidays

Set it and forget it…until the holidays. UF/IFAS Extension will teach you how to grow greens just in time to serve at your holiday meal. The course will teach participants how to grow hydroponic butter bibb lettuce and includes all the supplies needed to grow enough lettuce for a home-grown side salad at your holiday gathering.

Register for the course here before Nov. 29. Hydroponic kit pick-up times begin Dec. 2 at UF/IFAS Extension Orange County in advance of the live, virtual course on Dec. 5.

“The cool season in Florida is an ideal time to grow a garden full of cool-season vegetables like lettuce and leafy greens,” said Hannah Wooten, UF/IFAS Extension Orange County horticulture agent. “A lot of people found renewed interest in growing their own food when the COVID-19 pandemic began this spring. The interest in gardening was great, but timing is everything and at that time of year things are heating up which makes it difficult to grow many garden favorites.”

The “set it and forget it” hydroponic method was demonstrated by research from Bernard Kratky at the University of Hawaii, also a land-grant university. This simple method employs basic growing strategies and represents hydroponics in its simplest and most elegant form, Wooten said.

“If you follow the recommendations, you should yield three heads of butter bibb lettuce by the holiday,” she said. “The size of the lettuce and how quickly the plant grows will depend on other growing factors like placing your lettuce in a sunny location that maximizes the plants’ ability to photosynthesize and grow. Sometimes, growing your own comes with other important lessons about pests – including the local deer population’s preference for butter bibb lettuce.”

Depending on how the lettuce is harvested, the system can provide several small harvests, according to Wooten.

“If you are excited to harvest a big beautiful head of lettuce, you will have about four to six weeks of growing time until harvesting the entire head,” she said. “Some folks prefer to take extra time to carefully remove the lower lettuce leaves only, which forces the plant to continue to grow taller for a longer period of time.”

“One of the fun things about this workshop is that the participant can determine what type of grower they are and if they even like to grow their own food,” she said. “Some people want to follow the directions step-by-step, while others seek general guidelines and otherwise make their own rules and learn from experimenting. I encourage people to learn by doing and to eat their mistakes. This is an affordable way to experiment and to learn what plants needs to grow.”

Hydroponics in large scale agricultural production is high tech, high skill, high investment horticulture, and UF/IFAS has excellent training programs for all levels. Discover the UF/IFAS Greenhouse Trainings Online and the UF/IFAS Small Farms Academy for more advanced hydroponic trainings. 

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