We have recently been receiving occasional emails asking how to harvest leaf lettuce so it keeps growing.
Well, here is my story:
As a first timer, I thought that once you pick your loose leaf lettuce, that’s it. That was because I used to think that you should dig out the entire head when harvesting lettuce.
Imagine I actually did it once with my first batch? (I can see you laughing…)
Well, friends there is another method.
Aptly named “cut and come again”, this method will extend your plant’s growing period and supply you with greens throughout the summer months. You literally cut, leave it and return for more healthy greens. For this reason, lettuce is among the popular cut and come again vegetables
In this article, I will lay out in the open all facts about this convenient lettuce harvesting method.
I will also show you exactly how it’s done.
Shall I show this method?
Lettuce grows well in cool weather and will even excel in partial shade. Now, unlike other lettuces like iceberg, loose leaf lettuce will never form a head. Instead, it grows loose leaves.
So, what does this mean?
It means that harvesting this lettuce simply involves picking the leaves.
Now, when should you start harvesting?
Well, you can start as soon as the leaves form- but ensure it’s before the formation of its seed stalk.
Although it may vary from one variety to the next, generally look for leaves that are starting to get crisp and those beginning to look fully grown.
These are the ones ready for cutting.
Remember that older leaves will have a poor or bitter flavor, regardless of how well they are harvested.
But, your timing can have an impact on the quality you get
It’s like this:
Leaves harvested earlier in the morning, like around 7 a.m., have approximately double the plant sugars available in the leaves harvested at around 2 p.m.
Also, early morning wounds start to heal well before they are exposed to hot sun- which is known to scorch tissues
In short, Cut it early –it sweeter and convenient!
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Another question is that of yield.
Now, cutting down the entire plant down to approximately 1 inch normally yields a larger harvest of loose-head greens.
You can repeat harvest 2-3 times. After this, expect the quality of your leaves to decline.
Even the romaine and butter head lettuce varieties can still be cut to 1 inch though for them, the remaining stubs will often generate a weaker but still edible second growth.
with the basics tackled, let’s see now the “cut and come again” method step-by-step
Get and wipe clean a pair of scissors (sharp).
This ensures you do not contaminate the lettuce leaves when harvesting. And it’s important since a contaminated plant cannot continue growing.
Cut your outer lettuce leaves approximately 1-inch above the crown. This will protect the crown for continued growth.
Then, cut off the required amount of lettuce leaves. Cut leaves at between 3 & 6 inches.
To encourage further growth, Water your lettuce regularly- even after the first harvesting. Stop when the soil is moist and avoid standing water (or soaking the soil).
The water also discourages bolting- that is the plant starting to seed, which means your plant will have more time to yield additional lettuce leaves.
If you have a lettuce plant that starts to grow tall, remove its center before just before it begins bolting.
You’ll slow down bolting and in turn harvest, more greens before your lettuce plants eventually go to seed.
Now we are looking at the specific varieties:
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Finally, let’s talk about how to harvest romaine lettuce. Here are some special tips for this variety;
So, that is how to harvest leaf lettuce so it keeps growing. I hope you won’t make the same mistake like I did those early days.
Otherwise, Let us know how your lettuce planting is taking you from the comments section.