NFT is ideal for hydroponic lettuce production
Lettuce was cultivated in 4500 B.C. in the Mediterranean basin. Only in 1543 was the first know head lettuce produced in Europe. Lettuce was first cultivated for the edible oils that the leaves produce. Only later, in Egypt, was lettuce leaves eaten raw. There are four lettuce types cultivated for the fresh market, these are: Crisp head (iceberg types), butter lettuce, leaf leafy lettuce, cos or romaine type and stem lettuce.
Lettuce is planted in either NFT (Nutrient Film Technique) or GFT (Gravel Flow Systems) systems and not in bags. The high planting density is needed to produce the crop economically. However, it does not mean that lettuce cannot be grown in bags, many farmers that have bag culture systems plant lettuce (especially the iceberg types) in the bags during the winter months when tomatoes, peppers and brinjals cannot be grown.
Many growers start of with either tomatoes or lettuce as their first crop. The reason for starting with lettuce is that it is one of the easiest crops to produce. It has an extremely short growth cycle. One of the most satisfying aspects of lettuce is that once the crop has grown for a while, the inside of the growing area looks incredible beautiful, especially if various types are planted, which can range from a dark green to lime green to various hues of purple. Lettuce is also a relatively cheap crop to produce since the spraying costs are low. However the nutrient requirements per plant may be low but since so many plants are planted per square meter, it does add up. What makes lettuce easy is there is no need for trellising or pruning. The labour saved on these activities is spent on harvesting. Since lettuce has such a short growth cycle, plants are planted in schedules so that one can harvest at least every second day. The harvesting and packing of several thousand lettuce heads does require the same amount of labour than trellising and pruning tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers. Harvesting the crop is also very easy but this is where the pleasure stops. Growing is easy but selling can be a problem. Since it is an easy crop to grow, everybody is growing it, making the market at certain times of the year saturated with lettuce of various types. From harvesting to selling, the crop must be transported and packed. This is also another problem. Fresh lettuce does not have a long shelf life, especially in summer. If the crop needs to be transported over long distances, some loss may be incurred. One way to overcome the saturated market is to add value to the product. Some growers use pillow packs and add various colours and other types of lettuce in one pillow pack. However many growers have cached on with this idea and the market is slowly becoming saturated again.
Before starting with a lettuce crop try and establish a close market which you can deliver every day. This will ensure a good turnover and ensure that the product sold in the shop is always fresh. As soon as this routine is established a brand name for your product can be applied which will ensure further sales and even better prices.