Lettuce is crisp, refreshing, delicious, has great texture, and is rewarding to grow all year long. The most wonderful time of the year is undoubtedly harvest-time if you are an avid gardener. This is where all of the fruits of your labor come full circle and rewards come through in a beautiful bounty of fresh-picked delights.
How to harvest lettuce will depend on what type of lettuce you are harvesting. There are four distinct types of lettuce, and they each have some variation in how to harvest its leaves. We will take you on a journey through the kinds of lettuce, our recommended varieties, and guide you on the best way to harvest lettuce and bring these delectable crunchy greens from farm to table.
Harvesting Crisphead Lettuce
Harvesting crisphead lettuce relies heavily on planting lettuce seeds at the ideal time for your grow zone. Lettuce thrives in cool weather and will bolt during high temperatures, so harvesting lettuce before the heat of summer is crucial to success. You can expect to pick your lettuce heads about 65-70 days after sowing when planted in the fall, and almost 100 days when picking from a winter crop.
Harvest heads of lettuce in the coolness of the morning. When the number of growing days has passed, and before the outer leaves turn brown, simply cut away the stalk from the head of lettuce. The head of lettuce should be firm to the touch and tightly packed with leaves. Use a sharp knife to separate the ball of lettuce from the stem and then remove any unsightly or loose outer leaves. Wash the head of lettuce off in cool water and pat dry. Then store in the refrigerator.
‘Crispino’ is a great variety that adapts to less than ideal growing environments and can even tolerate climates that are warmer and have more humidity. They produce firm, round heads and have a sweet, mild flavor.
‘Great Lakes’ is a high performing variety that is fantastic in salads and on sandwiches because it has nice crisp leaves.
‘Ithaca’ lettuce produces a crispy round head and is great for salads and sandwiches. Our favorite part of this variety is that it is slower than other types when it comes to forming seed stalks and bolting. This can extend its growing season significantly.
Harvesting Romaine Lettuce
There are two distinct ways of harvesting romaine lettuce. When romaine lettuce is mature, you can harvest the whole head at once by cutting the leafy head off from the stem at its base, or you can harvest individual leaves from the outer layer of the head as you need them, leaving the inner leaves to grow and mature. Either way, rinse your lettuce in cool water and pat dry and store in the refrigerator until ready to use.
‘Little Caesar’ is the perfect variety of lettuce for Caesar salads! Their tall and trim heads are great additions to small garden beds. This variety produces compact heads that are very crisp, sweet leaves.
‘Little Gem’ produces compact, yet robust bright green heads and is a go-to for gardeners who are looking for a firm, crisp romaine variety. It is a hardy lettuce with a sweet center.
‘Vivian’ lettuce grows larger than the other varieties we have listed. It produces large, broad bunches of dark green leaves that have a texture that borders on a butterhead variety.
Harvesting Loose-leaf Lettuce
Loose-leaf lettuce varieties are free-standing and do not produce a head like romaine and crisphead varieties. When it comes time to harvest loose-leaf lettuce, it couldn’t be easier because you are actually collecting individual loose leaves. Pinch off loose leaves at the base of each leaf when they are about four inches tall and before any stalks form and bolt. Gather leaves and toss in a colander with some cool water to rinse.
‘Black Seeded Simpson’ can be grown in a wide array of climates and growing zones. It produces early leaves in flavorful light green rippling bouquets.
‘Deer Tongue’ has a uniquely shaped triangular leaf which can make for great variety, texture, and visual interest. This variety is slow to bolt and produces a rosette of leaves, which resembles deer tongues by their shape. It is highly productive and heat-tolerant.
‘Ruby Red’ will add some color, visual interest, and terrific flavor to your lettuce blends. It produces curly leaves that are sweet to the taste.
Lettuce Companion Plants
Two plants that are great to plant alongside your lettuce are, mint and chives. Mint repels slugs while chives deters aphids. Both of which are pests that love to eat your lettuce. Not only this but mint and chives require similar things to grow as your lettuce does.
Harvesting Butterhead Lettuce
Harvest Butterhead lettuce just like you would harvest romaine. When the plant reaches maturity about 50-60 days after planting, you can harvest the whole head at once by cutting the leafy head off from the stem at its base.
This is recommended, as you may be lucky enough to reap a second harvest from the stem. So, keep an eye out for a second wave of leaves sprouting up. You can also harvest individual leaves from the head’s outer layer as you need them, leaving the inner leaves to grow and mature. Then, rinse your lettuce in cool water pat dry and store in the refrigerator until ready to use.
‘Bibb’ produces a nice small head of rosette leaves that is often used as a salad green or as a sandwich wrap.
‘Boston’ is larger than its sister, ‘Bibb,’ but it has similar qualities and uses. Leaves are tender and can bruise easily, but they harbor a lovely sweet taste.
‘Yugoslavian Red’ has stunning variegated red and green leaves and loosely formed leaf heads. They grow well in containers and has a mild, buttery taste, that will tantalize any palate.