Lettuce is one of the most popular leafy greens in the world, grown both on large farms and in smaller at-home gardens. But even so, many people often still have questions when it comes to growing lettuce, such as when to pick lettuce from the garden.
The answer to this question isn’t as simple as you might think, however, so in order to better help understand what is involved with harvesting lettuce we will discuss not only how to know when different varieties of lettuce are ready to be picked but also how to pick lettuce from the garden, as well as how many times lettuce can be harvested.
How To Know When Lettuce Is Ready To Be Picked
Lettuce in general is a crop that does best during the cooler months, with most people choosing to grow it during the fall and winter so as to avoid potential damage from the hotter weather that occurs during the spring and summer seasons.
That being said, there are multiple varieties of lettuce and each variety is unique in its needs, care requirements, and growth process; this means that there is also some variation when it comes to when a given type of lettuce is ready to be picked.
Therefore, we’ve listed here some information and advice for how to know when lettuce is ready to be picked according to the type of lettuce in question.
Leaf lettuce is a popular choice for many at-home gardeners because of how easy it is to both grow and harvest. Not only is it slightly more forgiving when it comes to variable weather conditions compared to crisphead varieties of lettuce (although as a winter crop, too much heat will still cause serious problems), loose leaf lettuce can be harvested whenever it is large enough to use.
It’s also important to be aware of the fact that the loose leaf lettuces reach their maximum size after approximately two months (sixty days) of growth; while you can harvest it before this point depending on personal preference, if you’ve been holding off on picking it in order to obtain the entire head of lettuce rather than single leaves then you should harvest it once it reaches this maximum size.
Romaine lettuce (sometimes also called Cos lettuce) features long upright leaves and can take up to eighty days to fully reach maturity. You’ll be able to tell when it has reached maturity and is ready to harvest because the lettuce head will be about four inches wide at the base and anywhere from six to eight inches tall, and feature long overlapped leaves.
Buttercrisp lettuce (also known as buttercrunch lettuce) is a variety of lettuce that can be grouped into the larger category of butterhead lettuces. Butterhead varieties of lettuce are generally smaller with leaves that are tender and sweet, and you can tell they’re ready for harvesting when the leaves begin to curl inward
Known more commonly as iceberg lettuces, this variety of leafy green is one that is commonly sold at grocery stores. Despite its prevalence in supermarkets, however, this type of lettuce is not as popular with at-home gardeners due to its somewhat finicky growing requirements; as an extremely heat-sensitive crop, crisphead lettuces are adapted to grow in colder regions and as such often fail when either planted during the wrong time of year or in the wrong climate.
In any case, crisphead lettuces take longer to mature than other varieties, so the general rule of thumb is to harvest as soon as a proper head develops (with the additional tip of making sure to harvest your crop right away if you notice seed stalks beginning to form).
Stem (asparagus lettuce)
Stem lettuce (also known as asparagus lettuce) is a cool-season crop like all varieties of lettuce, but unlike other faster-growing varieties of lettuce this unique and lesser known variety can take up to three months to fully mature.
Sometimes also called celtuce (a portmanteau of the words “celery” and “lettuce”) on account of its unique appearance and the fact many people grow it for the plant’s central stalk rather than its leaves, the leaves of this lettuce plant are still edible at any stage of the plant’s growth (although it’s generally recommended to pick and eat them when they are young and tender because they tend to become biter as they mature).
Additionally, when it comes to harvesting the stem it’s recommended to harvest it once it reaches an overall length somewhere between twelve to eighteen inches.
How To Pick Lettuce From the Garden
There are a few different ways to pick lettuce from the garden, and similar to knowing when to pick lettuce knowing how to pick lettuce depends on both the type of lettuce in question as well as your own personal preference.
Ultimately, however, there are two main ways to pick lettuce: depending on the type you either harvest the entire head, or you harvest just the leaves you need at the time.
When it comes to iceberg lettuce and other crisphead varieties, since taking just single leaves is not an option )due to the way the leaves grow in a compact head) you will have no choice but to pick the entire head of lettuce when it comes time to harvest. To accomplish this, all you need to do is cut the head off from the stem.
Additionally, once you’ve picked the head of lettuce, it is very important to eat it as soon as possible; while storing fresh lettuce is possible for a few days as long as it is kept refrigerated, long-term storage is difficult because there is currently no good way of preserving lettuce.
Loose leaf lettuce, meanwhile, is notable for the fact that “the leaves may be picked without cutting the whole plant, allowing for new growth.”
This makes loose leaf varieties of lettuce very popular with at-home gardeners, particularly since harvesting only as many leaves as you need allows you to keep the lettuce plant itself intact, which in turn allows the plant to keep growing and provide you with additional lettuce leaves (something we will discuss again later on).
That being said, it is also possible to harvest the entire head of loose leaf lettuce at one time if you want to; if you are growing multiple heads of lettuce in a single garden bed it is recommended to harvest every other one in order to give the remaining plants room for additional growth, but otherwise picking the lettuce is the same as with crisphead lettuce: simply cut the head off and store it properly.
Stem lettuce is, as mentioned earlier, a variety of lettuce where the lettuce leaves themselves can be harvested and eaten at any time during the plant’s growth (allowing the plant to continue to grow unhindered, similar to loose leaf lettuce) whereas if you want the central stalk of the celtuce (as most people do, since the edible core of the stalk is a good addition to a wide variety of recipes) you need to harvest pretty much the entire plant.
How this is accomplished is by cutting or snapping the stem of the celtuce at ground level; most people will then strip off the lower leaves from the stem (since by this stage of the plant’s growth they are usually too bitter to be useful in cooking).
When it comes to romaine lettuce, harvesting is very straightforward. While the outer leaves of romaine lettuce heads can be harvested whenever you desire, most people choose instead to simply harvest the entire head of lettuce once it is sufficiently mature. Harvesting the entire head of lettuce can be done in two ways: you can either pull the entire plant out of the ground roots and all (and trim away the roots and excess bits later) or cut the entire head off from the main stalk slightly above ground level.
Buttercrunch lettuce is similar in this regard, allowing you to trim off single leaves as needed or harvest the entire head of lettuce if that’s what you prefer.
How Many Times Can You Harvest Lettuce?
As mentioned earlier on in the article, harvesting your lettuce more than once depends on the type of lettuce you are growing. For example, if you are growing loose leaf lettuce and choose to harvest only single leaves from the plant as needed, you can theoretically continue harvesting from that lettuce plant indefinitely (at least until the weather warms and the plant bolts).
Most varieties of lettuce that this holds true for are counted among a group of crops known as “cut and come again vegetables”, and typically feature leaves that grow in a rosette shape, which allows you to harvest the older and more mature leaves that grow on the outer edges of the rosette while allowing the inner leaves to continue to grow.
Buttercrunch likewise differs slightly from other lettuces in that while you can choose between harvesting single leaves as needed or harvesting the entire head all at once. If you cut off the head of lettuce at least an inch above the ground and leave the remaining stem and root cluster undisturbed it has a fairly good chance of sprouting again and providing you with another harvest again in a few weeks’ time (separating it from head varieties such as iceberg, which generally die back after harvesting).
The opposite of this is also true for the varieties of lettuce where you must harvest the entire head; once you take the whole head of lettuce, you will almost always be unable to harvest from that plant any further.
For example, if you harvest an entire head of romaine lettuce or iceberg lettuce by cutting it off from the stem at ground level, the plant will not grow any further after that and will eventually die off.
To put it simply, harvesting a head of lettuce for certain varieties ultimately heralds the end of that plant’s life; however, since the entire purpose of the crop in the first place was to produce lettuce, this is entirely normal and nothing to be overly upset about.
To summarize, knowing when to harvest lettuce is predicated upon which variety of lettuce you’re growing. As discussed earlier: loose leaf lettuce, romaine lettuce, crisphead lettuce, asparagus lettuce, and buttercrisp lettuce all mature at different rates (and therefore are ready to harvest at different times).
Additionally, it’s important to understand that how you harvest lettuce also depends upon the variety in question; some types of lettuce (such as loose leaf) can have single leaves harvested as needed while leaving the remainder of the plant intact, while for other varieties it’s better to harvest the entire head of lettuce at once.
Furthermore, don’t forget that while any kind of lettuce that you only harvest leaves from can continue to grow and therefore provide you with additional harvests in the future, any lettuce that you harvest the entire head from will be unable to continue to grow (meaning you can only harvest it that one time before needing to plant a new crop).
We hope that you have found this article helpful and informative for better understanding not only when to pick lettuce from the garden but also how to harvest the different varieties of this delicious leafy green.
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