Extending the lettuce harvest means growing more lettuce for longer periods of time. When you extend the harvest, you can keep growing lettuce well into the summer.
This is the time of year when I wish the lettuce harvest would go on forever. Every day, I step outside my patio doors, walk a short distance to the garden, and pick a variety of colorful leaves. The picture above shows my lettuce garden. It consists of just two rows of lettuce. I bought a packet of 20 cent – yes 20 cent! – seeds at Wal-Mart in the spring and sowed just HALF the package. For a 20 cent investment and about five minutes a day watering my lettuce patch, I enjoy a huge fresh lunch each day. This is why I absolutely love gardening.
Chives, radishes and pretty lettuce waiting for a salad.
Lettuce, however, is a cool-season crop. Here in south central Virginia, that means I can grow lettuce April through June, but in a week or two when the hot weather returns, the lettuce will bolt. Bolting lettuce means it goes to seed. When lettuce goes to seed, it sends up a tall, thick central stalk with flowers on it. The lettuce plant’s shape changes from a loose, round form to a tall, conical form. When that happens, the lettuce begins to turn bitter and tough. You’ll quickly discover that it’s nearly impossible to eat once it gets to that stage. Time to pull it out and compost it.
Lettuce and spinach growing in a raised bed garden.
Before that happens, however, you’ve got several weeks of blissful lettuce-picking days ahead of you. If you’re a fan of a good salad like me, then here are some suggestions for extending the lettuce harvest no matter where you live.
Pretty lettuce mix growing in my garden.
Extending the Lettuce Harvest
As soon as the soil can be worked in the spring, plant one row of seeds. Water and wait two weeks.
Every two weeks after your first planting, plant another row of lettuce, until you have three or four rows.
Once your first row is mature enough to pick, pick only the large outer leaves. Don’t pick it all at once and don’t pull up the plants. I use either my kitchen scissors to snip off leaves or I just pinch them off with my finger tips.
Once you see the lettuce bolting, pull up the whole plant. Remove as many leaves as you can and compost the rest of the plant.
Try some of the so-called hot-weather varieties of lettuce for summer salads. “Red Sails” is a red-leaf or bronze leaf variety (the red one in the photo above) that tastes great, adds a pop of color to your salads, and is fairly heat-tolerant. Any loose-leaf varieties do a little better in the heat than Romaine or Buttercrunch, which really don’t like heat at all. “Ithaca” is a green-leaf variety that is also slow to bolt.
Another salad green tip: grow spinach just for salads. I find that you need a lot of room to grow enough spinach for a meal when you like cooked spinach. I added a few rows of spinach to my garden just for the greens. They also make tasty salads, especially when you pick the tender baby spinach leaves.
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Jeanne Grunert is an award-winning writer and content marketing expert. She lives and works at Seven Oaks Farm, her small hobby farm in Virginia, alongside her husband, John, German shepherd dog Zeke, and seven cats.