Lot of folks have lots of different ideas about harvesting lettuce. What type of lettuce you grow depends on how you can and should harvest it. If lettuce is left in the ground too long, it will begin to form a seed stalk. This process is called bolting. If you wait until this point to pick them, the lettuce leaves will have turned bitter. When harvesting lettuce, it's always better to harvest a little too early rather than waiting too long. It's also best to pick lettuce early in the morning when it is at its peak flavor and texture. If you wait until the afternoon to pick it, lettuce tends to be limp and slightly dried out.
Leaf lettuce can be harvested anytime the leaves are large enough for your preference. Some people harvest leaf lettuce when it is only a few inches tall because the leaves are very tender. However, you can also wait a few days to give the leaves a chance to get larger, depending on how you want to use them. Try to harvest the leaves on the outside of the plant. This allows the central bud to produce more leaves, giving you lots more lettuce over a longer period of time. Just use
your fingers and pluck off the outer leaves as needed.
For Bibb lettuce varieties, you can harvest them anytime. If you want small, tender leaves, harvest when the plant is several inches tall. Again, use your fingers to pluck the outer leaves from the plant. You can also wait until the center of the Bibb lettuce resembles a rosette. As soon as the leaves begin to tighten together, go ahead and use a knife to cut the whole plant off at the surface of the soil.
To harvest Romaine lettuce, wait until the leaves form their typical white rib down the center. When full size, Romaine lettuce is an upright, tight cluster of leaves. To harvest Romaine lettuce, again use a knife and cut the entire plant off at the soil line.
Crisphead lettuce will form a very tight head in normal to cooler climates. When the lettuce reaches this point, the head will be about 8 inches across. Use a knife and cut the entire plant off at soil level. In warmer climates, the head will never become tight and firm. In this situation, go ahead and harvest the loosely bunched leaves like you would leaf lettuce, plucking the outermost leaves as needed.
In general, harvesting lettuce in cooler weather makes for much sweeter tasting, crisper leaves. This is why lettuce is most commonly grown in the spring and fall.
After harvesting lettuce, rinse off the leaves or head and store it in an airtight bag in the refrigerator. Although it will last for up to 1 week in the fridge, it's best to eat lettuce as soon as possible after you pick it.
Now that you know how to harvest lettuce, it's time for a few of our favorite recipes that feature lettuce.