How to grow lettuce hydroponically in your own home – Press Enterprise

Just in time to screw up these New Year’s diet intentions, several salad recalls were announced. Most of these are due to contamination, either with salmonella or listeria, and can be due to either the way lettuce is grown or how it is processed. Disease-causing bacteria can easily spread during washing / processing of large batches, leading to outbreaks and recalls. That ultimately means shortages and higher prices for everyone. (Well, at least those of us who eat salad.)

Anyone who has participated in my gardening has heard of my love of hydroponic supply stores. They have a good selection of higher quality growing materials and the atmosphere is a little different from the usual garden center.

Now that the cultivation of marijuana has become (relatively) legal, hydroponics has also become mainstream. Even Costco offers a tabletop hydroponic setup to grow your own lettuce and herbs.

If you have been trying to grow lettuce just to get it eaten by the local rabbit population or ruined by snails and slugs, consider trying one of these little hydroponic devices. If you want to grow more than just a few herbs and lettuce plants, you can set up a larger unit in your garage. However, setting up your entire house with hydroponics can attract unwanted attention from local authorities.

So what makes hydroponics so unique? It is a soil-free system where plants are grown in either a liquid nutrient solution or an aggregate substrate immersed in a nutrient solution. This means that you can control the nutrient content precisely, which hopefully results in healthier plants. Marijuana growers prefer this method because they can control and maximize flower buds and THC production. We are just interested in salad that has no snails and will not give us food poisoning.

Romaine, butterhead, bib and other loose leaves are suitable for hydroponics. They will grow quickly and you can remove the larger, outer leaves while letting the rest of the plant grow. This is referred to as the “cut-and-come-again” harvest method. When I try to do this with garden-grown lettuce, I always end up with pieces of weed leaves and snails that need to be removed. This is time consuming and gross.

Hydroponically grown lettuce (and other crops) grow quickly if they have enough light and the right nutrients. There are special nitrogen-rich growth formulas made only for lettuce and green leaves. You do not want to use “Super Bud Juice” for your salad.

Once your seeds have germinated and produced their first set of true leaves, they can get 12 hours of light a day. This can of course be adjusted according to the response of the plants. If they look stressed and develop brown leaf tips, shorten the light exposure. If they look skinny and long-legged, increase the light.

Hydroponics requires a little more attention as you monitor irrigation, feeding and light exposure. Some of the newer tabletop units are partially automated with light timers and low-level alarms, but in the end you have to play the role of Mother Nature.

Do you have questions? Email gardening@scng.com.


Are you looking for more garden tips? How to contact the Master Gardener program in your area.

Los Angeles County

mglosangeleshelpline@ucdavis.edu; 626-586-1988; http://celosangeles.ucanr.edu/UC_Master_Gardener_Program/

Orange County

ucceocmghotline@ucanr.edu; 949-809-9760; http://mgorange.ucanr.edu/

Riverside County

anrmgriverside@ucanr.edu; 951-683-6491 locally. 231; https://ucanr.edu/sites/RiversideMG/

San Bernardino County

mgsanbern@ucanr.edu; 909-387-2182; http://mgsb.ucanr.edu/

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