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Gardening in the Rainy Zone.
How to Make a Moss Lettuce Basket
Not only is this lettuce and moss basket attractive covered in foliage, texture, and color, it looks good enough to eat. Moreover, it is! This edible container is so lovely it can hang in the front entryway; and, it's fantastic to eat and healthy for you. That's why I love to make these baskets. You can grow them anywhere outdoors as long as it gets full sun to partial shade. This is a great way to grow edibles, even if you live in an apartment or condominium with only a balcony space to grow your food.
One of the benefits of lettuce growing in a hanging basket is slugs can't get to them! When it's time for dinner, I step out on my deck, snip leaves here, and snip leaves there, always leaving enough of the center of each lettuce plant to keep growing. I don't harvest a whole head of lettuce; I just keep trimming away for healthy, fresh salad greens for dinner or lunch. This will last a month or two, until the heat hits and the leaves turn bitter as it prepares itself to flower. By then I have another basket planted for a late summer to fall harvest. I plan to try one for winter and see if the plants are hardy enough hanging outside in the cold. Lettuce growing in the ground will survive outdoors all winter if protected from rain in our maritime climate.
The down side to wire hanging baskets is they dry out easily. They need to be watered daily once the season warms up. Before then you want to check the containers often and water as needed. I don't recommend water crystals for keeping containers hydrated. Except for beautiful craft projects, they are a waste of money for the garden container and can actually steal moisture from the plants to keep themselves hydrated.
If you don't want to make this stunning basket of lettuce (see directions below), you can always plant your lettuce in beautiful hanging pots.
Most times, I start my own lettuce seedlings, but a good garden center will carry many good varieties in six-pack or four-pack containers. When I don't grow my own from seed, I buy organic grown seedlings. I sow or purchase a variety of red, speckled and green leaf lettuces. Staggering the colors and foliage types throughout the hanging basket, adds a pleasant balance of texture to the basket. Although I haven't tried this, a monochromatic basket with one lettuce variety would be stunning too.
Wire basket with hanger.
Whiskey barrel liner.
Moss soaking in water.
Starting from the bottom.
A row after it's planted.
I can't emphasize enough the importance of using a quality, organic potting soil and the use of organic fertilizers for your edible containers. I mix a complete organic fertilizer into the potting soil and add extra perlite to the potting soil; however, the extra perlite is not necessary if your soil isn't too heavy. I add approximately 1 part perlite to 5-6 parts potting soil. If you add it, be sure to wear a mask so as not to breathe in the fine, white, perlite dust.
After your plant settles in, use a high nitrogen organic fertilizer. Nitrogen works best for foliage growth. You don't want to use a fertilizer that encourages flowering as once the plants begin to elongate and get ready to flower the leaves turn bitter and are no longer palatable. Do everything you can to delay the blossoms and keep the plant in a rosette state.
Gather your materials
To make the basket you will need the following items:
- 30 to 40 lettuce seedlings
- 14 to 16-inch wire basket
- Hanger with 4 wires and sturdy hook
- Ceiling hook to hang basket from
- 1.5 cubic bag of organic potting soil (there will be leftover soil)
- optional - organic perlite
- 24 dry quarts of sphagnum moss (need about 1 1/2 - 12 quart bags)
- complete organic fertilizer
- organic nitrogen fertilizer such as blood meal, or fish emulsion
Tools you will need:
- optional - swivel hook (or Pot and Pail Hook with Swivel )
- s-hooks to extend the wire basket down from hook to comfortable planting height.
- watering can with rose or hose with gentle spray nozzle
- large bucket
- optional - whiskey barrel liners or large tub that holds water
The skeleton of this container is a large wire basket. You need at least a 14-inch basket as smaller ones dry out too quickly. My preference is the 16-inch size. Size does matter! Any larger and you may need a crane to lift and carry it. I prefer hangers with four wires not three, and pre-bent hooks for the basket end. These are the easiest to work with when balancing and leveling the basket.
Although not necessary, a swivel hook to hang the basket on makes it easier to plant it. Instead of having to lift and turn it for each side as you work your way up, you just rotate the basket. As you fill it up, it becomes heavy. When hung in its permanent location, the swivel hook makes turning the wire container easy. Later when harvesting the leaves, you can easily access all sides of the basket just by turning it.
Whiskey Barrel Liner
It's a dirty process, so an optional piece of equipment to use during the planting stage is a whiskey barrel liner or other large tub to catch the water, dirt, and moss that falls from the basket. In my greenhouse, I have a wood floor, so the liner catches everything making clean up a breeze. Even if you plant this outside on your deck, this will keep your deck clean too.
Soaking the Moss
Fill your bucket with moss and warm water and let it to soak for 20 minutes. Although I hear some container gardeners say it's not necessary to presoak the moss, I find it's easier to work with when moist and I don't have to contend with moss dust. When building your moss walls, you will take a handful of moss at a time and wring out the excess moisture.
Planting Your Basket
On the bottom of your container, place your moss thickly enough to hold the soil in place. Keep in mind as you build your basket that the moss is what contains the soil. You can plant a few plants at the bottom; however, I like to keep the bottom clear of plants; it makes hanging the basket easier if you can steady the bottom with your hand as you hang it up. Sometimes I place a shallow terra cotta saucer on top of the moss before I add the first round of soil, but this not necessary.
Once you have the bottom covered in moss you will take a handful of moss, squeeze out the excess water, and place it inside of the container. Push the moss halfway between the horizontal wires to the outside. Then roll it back over the top of the wire above it and meet up with the other half on the inside. You want your moss to overlap the moss below it so the soil is held in place. Gently slide the moss over to the vertical wire. Continue this all the way around the first row of wire. When you reach around to the point where you began you will notice you have a depression where you fill with potting soil. Don't press the soil down, sprinkle it gently and thoroughly, letting the water and gravity settle the soil in.
Plant First Row
For your first row, you will plant one lettuce seedling in the middle of each section (the space between the two vertical wires). Lay the root-ball down inside the basket and close to the horizontal wires. Gently tease the leaves between the wires to the outside of the container. Pull a handful of moss from your soaking bucket, squeeze out excess moisture, roll it over the wire as before, and gently slide it over to the plant until it conceals one side of the root ball. On the other side of the plant do the same with the moss and slide it over until it conceals the other half of the root-ball. Finish off the rest of the section with moss. Continue around the pot until the wire above the first lettuce row is covered in moss.
Fill in the area with more potting soil and gently water until the soil is saturated.
Plant Second Row
The second row you will plant your lettuce starts close to the vertical wires. First pull out another handful of moss from your soaking bucket squeeze out excess moisture, roll it over the next row of wire as before, and slide it over to the vertical wire. Lay your lettuce down close to the vertical wire. Gently tease the leaves between the wires. Carefully slide the root ball behind the moss you placed next to the vertical wire. Add another handful of moss near the other side of the plant, pulling the moss under the wire, and rolling it over the top as before. Then slide this over to the root ball and gently into the stem of the plant, carefully concealing the roots behind the moss. Keep adding moss to the wire until you reach the next section; add another plant close to the vertical wire as before. Work your way around the pot until the row is finished, and there is a lettuce planted at every vertical wire. Fill with more soil, water and then begin the next row.
Repeat Process to the Top
The third row will be like the first row and so on up the container. Keep staggering the lettuce plants in each row. As the pot gets wider adjust your plantings so they have the same spacing. This means the third row of lettuce lines up in a straight line with the first row and the fourth row each lettuce is lined up vertically above each lettuce for the second row.
After planting the top row of lettuce between the wires, you will plant five lettuce seedlings on the top part of the basket. Fill in with soil; topping it with moss is optional. I usually pull the topping away once the plants fill in.
by Debbie Teashon
Photographed in author's garden.