When to Harvest Lettuce
Harvesting lettuce depends on the type of lettuce you are growing and what you would like to do with it. While cut and come again greens may be ready weeks after planting, a firm heading variety like a Romaine will take up to 75 days to mature. Space requirements, patience, and season often dictate which varieties to plant.
Cut and Come Again
Cut and come again greens include:
- Leaf lettuces
- Chinese Cabbage
These resilient plants can be cut to the ground and they will spring back up within weeks. They are great options for raised beds and small spaces because they grow well tightly packed together.
Three to four weeks after planting, your seedlings will be about 3 inches tall. Feel free to cut them at this stage and use them as microgreens, or wait until they are a little larger and store as leaf lettuce. Avoid pulling them from the ground or damaging the roots, and you’ll have fresh lettuce throughout the season.
Loose leaf varieties of lettuce like Bibb, Boston, or Butterhead can be harvest two ways. Between 40-55 days from planting these lettuces will begin to form loose heads. At this point, you can remove the lower leaves of the plant while allowing the middle of the head to produce more leaves. The plant will continue to grow and you can continue to harvest until it flowers.
65-75 days after planting, depending on your exact variety, the heads will be mature. Harvest them prior to any sign of flowering or toughening of leaves. Cut the entire head off at the soil surface. The plant may send tiny shoots out but will not produce a significant amount of greens once cut.
Harvesting firm heads of lettuce is satisfying and often worth the long wait. Read the seed packet for specific days to harvest, but most heading varieties mature between 65-75 days after planting. You’ll know that a head is ready by feeling it for firmness. it should be full and firm against a light squeeze.
Time of Day
Time of day is very important when harvesting all types of lettuce. Farmers typically harvest lettuce in the early morning hours just before or at sunrise. At this time the plant is plump and full of moisture. Lettuces harvested during the day are often less hydrated and tend to wilt shortly after cutting.
Upon harvesting lettuce, immediately immerse it in cool water for at least 20 minutes to an hour. Allow the water to fill the plant capillaries giving it long lasting crispiness. After soaking, dry off the heads or leaves and store in a plastic bag with a dry paper towel to soak up additional moisture. Put in the fridge and it should be good for up to three weeks.