Picking lettuce at the right time is almost an art. Of course you can enjoy the baby greens of leaf lettuce before the leaves have matured, but how do you know just when to pick mature lettuce before it becomes bitter or the flavor quality decreases?
You could calculate the proper harvest date by keeping track of when you planted the lettuce and harvesting after the proper amount of “days to maturity” have passed. But not everyone will know exactly what day seeds were planted, and sometimes weather conditions can alter how long it will take lettuce to mature.
Generally, if your leaf lettuce has several large leaves (about 4 inches high) it is mature. You can start cutting off some of the outer leaves and leave the inner ones to keep growing. When the weather in your area begins to warm up in late spring or early summer, this is a good time to be sure you harvest because most lettuce will not tolerate the heat and may wilt or lose flavor if you don’t harvest it soon enough.
For head lettuce, you should harvest the heads when they are firm and fully formed. You want to harvest before the plant bolts and goes to seed—this is when the flavor will deteriorate and the lettuce will become bitter, so don’t wait for temperatures to rise too much.
Of course, a great way to know if your lettuce is just right is to pick off a leaf and taste it for yourself before harvesting more.
When harvesting lettuce, try to harvest in the morning if possible. This is when it will be the most fresh-tasting and delicious.
Enjoy your yummy home-grown salad!