The cultivation of lettuce dates back more than 2,500 years. From early Rome, where many varieties were developed, its popularity spread throughout Europe and Asia. In 1885, an American agricultural report listed 87 varieties, considerably more than the 4 commonly available in today's markets. In the United States, lettuce ranks a close second to potatoes as the most popular fresh vegetable. The four leading American producers are California, Arizona, Florida, and Colorado.
Lettuce is cultivated by direct seeding into fields or by seedling transplantation into raised beds. Loose leaf lettuce matures about 6 weeks after seeds are sown; other types take longer to mature. Romaine takes the longest (up to 12 weeks). Head lettuce is harvested when the heads reach about 2 pounds. Because lettuce is very perishable, harvesting is done by hand, and the crop is packed directly into boxes in the field. Head lettuce, which is the hardiest, can be shipped long distances without damage, but leaf lettuce is more fragile and usually is grown for local and regional markets.
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