Growing lettuce is a great way to have fresh access to salad greens over a long period if you know how to harvest lettuce properly. When you harvest an entire head of any kind of lettuce, the plant will not grow back. However, you can take a 'cut and come again' approach with most types of lettuce. This involves snipping leaves but leaving the plant rooted in place, a technique that allows the plant to keep on growing. Lettuce won't grow indefinitely, but you'll be able to get several harvests from your plants by harvesting this way. This approach doesn't work with iceberg lettuce, but it is a good option for other kinds.
How to Harvest Looseleaf Lettuce
Looseleaf lettuce is characterized, not surprisingly, by loose leaves. It does not form a head at all, but does have a crown in the center. With this type of lettuce, you can simply snip or gently tear off the number of leaves that you need at any given time, leaving the crown and roots intact. When you do this, the lettuce plant will continue to grow. You don't have to let looseleaf lettuce reach a mature size before you start harvesting individual leaves. You can harvest baby leaves after the plant has been in the ground for three to four weeks, then remove larger leaves as the plant keeps growing. Merlot and salad bowl are examples of popular looseleaf lettuce varieties.
How to Harvest Butterhead Lettuce
Butterhead lettuce forms a very loose head, but its leaves don't pull in close together to form a tight or compact head with a crown in the center. This type of lettuce is commonly referred to as bibb lettuce or Boston lettuce. You can harvest the entire plant as a head, but that is not the only option. You can simply snip or gently tear away leaves as you need them, just like you would do with looseleaf lettuce. If you harvest this way, the plant will keep growing. When harvesting individual butterhead lettuce leaves, it's best to remove the oldest leaves first, which are the ones on the outside of the plant. You can keep cutting leaves as you need them or eventually harvest the entire plant by snipping it at (or just above) ground level.
How to Harvest Romaine Lettuce
Romaine lettuce is a type of head lettuce that grows in an elongated, loaf-like shape and has upright leaves. The leaves nestle inside each other around a center, which is referred to as a romaine heart. You can harvest an entire head of romaine lettuce by pulling it up by the root or cutting the plant at the base of the soil using pruners or a sharp knife. However, if you don't need the entire plant all at once and you'd like for it to keep growing, then you can simply remove leaves from the outside of the plant as you need them. Just use scissors or your fingers to glean a few outer leaves from each plant until you have enough. With this option, the plant will stay in the ground and keep growing while you enjoy tasty salads over and over.
How to Harvest Iceberg Lettuce
Iceberg lettuce is sometimes referred to as crisphead lettuce. It grows to form a compact, tightly wrapped sphere. Its leaves cling tightly together around the center, also known as the heart, throughout the entire time it is growing. It is more similar in appearance to a head of cabbage than to other types of lettuce. Due to its shape and snug leaves wrapped into a ball shape, this type of lettuce isn't well-suited for cut and come again harvesting. Instead, the whole head should be harvested at one time. The best way to do this is generally to pull the lettuce head lightly to one side, then slide a sharp knife below the bottom of it (above ground level) and cut across the stem.
Grow Your Own Backyard Salad Bar
When you grow lettuce in your garden and harvest it using a cut and come again approach, your backyard becomes a bit like a bottomless salad bar. You can go out to the garden every night before dinner and snip exactly the right amount you need to prepare side or main dish salads for everyone who's joining you for dinner. Top it off with other veggies from your garden, such as cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, and more. Plant several types of lettuce so you can mix together several different varieties for a truly unique homegrown salad.