Celtuce, AKA stem lettuce, is grown for, you guessed it, its tender stem. Celtuce's scientific name is Lactuca sativa angustana. Some say this vegetable is native to southern China and came to the West in the late 19th century, while others believe it originates in the Mediterranean. Either way, it has its fans, such as the Chinese, who stir-fry the stems and make broth with the leaves.
The name hints at an aesthetic resemblance to both lettuce and celery. Why not try including this popular Asian vegetable in your organic home garden? It could become a new favorite.
You can start plants indoors and transplant them in spring. Celtuce seeds germinate within two to three weeks but struggle in high summer temperatures. Aim for a soil temperature of about 35° to 60°F, and don't let it exceed 75°F. If your region experiences harsh winters, you can sow seeds in early August for harvesting during winter.
Celtuce is keen on well-drained, loamy soil rich in organic matter. Till the soil, add compost or aged manure, and voila! You have a suitable growing medium. Place your plant babies at least four inches away from each other as they grow widthways.
If you're sowing seeds directly into the ground in mid-spring, place them one inch apart and half an inch deep.
Your celtuce will be happy in full sun or partial shade. Too much sun and the leaves will wilt. There are fussier plants out there—if the conditions are good enough to grow lettuce, chances are you should be able to grow celtuce with no trouble. The ideal growing temperature is 55°F to 70°F.
Overhead watering is a bad idea for celtuce. Instead, use drip irrigation or a manual watering method that keeps the foliage dry. Just like lettuce, celtuce is a thirsty plant and needs regular drinks. Water straight after transplanting to remove air pockets and help the seedling settle. After that, water the plant deeply every two to three days.
Your celtuce will benefit from a balanced fertilizer or nitrogen-rich manure at the time of planting. It shouldn't need too much assistance beyond that, but if you feel it could use a boost, then a liquid fertilizer should help speed up growth.
A soil test can help you make a well-informed decision about whether to add more nutrients.
USDA zones 4 to 9 bode well for celtuce, which means this annual vegetable can grow across most of the country. The plants are hardy and can tolerate light frost. Celtuce grows best where the winters are subtropical and the springs are mild, so if your region fits the bill, start prepping for the next growing season.
You can prune your celtuce to eliminate leaves that look like they're dying. This will direct resources optimally and keep the plant looking neat. Other than that, cutting away bits of the plant is reserved for harvest time, which we cover next.
Harvesting celtuce is easy. Wait until the stems are at least one inch in diameter and eight inches long before plucking them off at ground level. Leave the central growth bud alone. The stems can grow to 3 inches thick in cool weather, but you'll want to stick to carrot-width in warm weather.
Take off the leaves and roots and peel the stem for cooking. The flavor is nutty, mild, and almost like asparagus. You can generally harvest the whole plant when it reaches a height of 12 inches.
You can propagate celtuce by saving the easy-to-spot black seeds. There'll be an abundant supply after the plant flowers. Collect the seeds and store them correctly in a sealed envelope somewhere cool and dry, and don't forget to label them.
Adequate ventilation and appropriate watering can prevent mildew, tip burn, and root rot. Other diseases to be aware of include bacterial wilt, lettuce mosaic virus, dry leaf spot, and aster yellows. Consider using a fungicide before you plant. Sow the seeds sparingly to provide space and airflow.
Aphids play a huge role in lettuce mosaic virus, so controlling them is key to preventing the stunted growth associated with this disease. Spraying neem oil is a fantastic solution for an organic garden prone to these sap-sucking insects. Cabbage loopers can also pose a problem. Address the issue by scraping off eggs under leaves and using neem oil or a pesticide.
Celtuce isn't the prettiest vegetable in the veggie patch, but it can look beautiful collectively when grown across multiple rows. The foliage is a pleasant green color, and the broad leaves convey a sense of wellness. Be sure to leave enough space between each row for healthy growth and a better-tasting harvest.
We've already touched on celery, asparagus, and romaine lettuce. But another vegetable, the water chestnut, has a similar texture to celtuce. And, of course, leeks look a lot like celtuce but have a much more oniony taste and are arguably easier to grow, including in containers.
Other similar vegetables include artichokes and squash.
You can eat the leaves and stem raw or cooked. Mature celtuce plants are mildly toxic and bitter. Celtuce is not toxic to dogs or cats; these pets can eat it in moderation. In addition, celtuce is a good companion plant for strawberries, radishes, onions, and carrots.
There are celtuce varieties to suit every season. Try the Max Green variety if you're looking for a cold-tolerant type. Purple Sword also loves a cool climate. Balady Aswan is a popular variety of celtuce and takes up to 100 days to mature.
Summer 38 is heat-resistant and less likely to bolt during summer. The best news: they all taste pretty good.