If harvesting lettuce is in your near future — especially if you’re growing lettuce for the first time — it’s time for us to talk about how to harvest lettuce and when to harvest lettuce. You know how when you go to the store you can choose a head of romaine or butter lettuce? Put that notion right out of your head.
How to harvest lettuce — a better way
Now that you’re growing your own lettuce, you want that work to pay off. What happens when you pull a head of lettuce from the ground roots and all? You eat a salad, sure. But more importantly, that particular lettuce plant has come to the end of the road. It will no longer provide lovely greens for your family.
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When to harvest lettuce
It’s a good idea to make a note on your calendar when your lettuce is expected to mature. To do this, check the seed packet for ‘days to maturity’ and do some calculating. Lettuce can take 65-100 days or so to reach maturity, depending on the variety.
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When growing head lettuce — like the iceberg lettuce you see in the supermarket — you’ll know when to harvest lettuce based on the size and shape of the head. It should be firm, with a well-shaped head. It’s harvested by cutting the head off the stalk.
I prefer to grow leaf lettuce though, because that window of when to harvest lettuce is so much wider. And knowing how to harvest lettuce will help that crop produce for weeks.
Instead of cutting the head from the stalk when harvesting head lettuce (thus ending the fresh salads) you can harvest leaf lettuce a leaf at a time.
When to harvest lettuce this way? As soon as the lettuce leaves reach a couple of inches in length, you can begin harvesting “baby lettuce.”
To harvest individual leaves, use scissors to cut off the outer leaves near the base of the plant. Leave the inner leaves intact and the entire lettuce plant will continue to grow. Harvesting lettuce this way allows the plant to continue growing and producing leaves, providing you with fresh lettuce for months rather than for a single meal.
Leaf lettuce will continue to produce new leaves until the plant goes to seed. (When you see this happening — a sturdier stalk will emerge from the center of the plant — stop harvesting. Lettuce becomes bitter at this point.)
Unless you’re aiming for beautiful heads of lettuce, your lettuce can be a “cut and come again” crop.
The photo on the left (above) is what my lettuce looked like before a harvest. The photo on the right is after harvesting. Within a week, it will look like that first picture again. I snipped off those lovely outer leaves, made a beautiful salad, and those same plants will feed us again soon.
This is a great method for harvesting lettuce for anyone who puts work into a garden (might as well get the most bang for your buck, right?) but it’s an especially good tip for urban gardeners who don’t have a lot of space.
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