One of the greatest thrills of gardening is harvesting. After laboring for weeks and weeks tending your garden, the time has come to start harvesting lettuce and any other vegetables you might have planted. Getting baskets full of fresh lettuce, tomatoes, peas, or any other vegetables from your garden is an amazing feeling. Almost as good as when you are eating the freshly harvested vegetables!
Depending on the type of lettuce you've planted, you can either continue to harvest for several weeks or harvest just once. Head lettuce, such as iceberg lettuce can only be harvested once. Leaf lettuce such as Romaine lettuce can be harvested many times over several weeks. For head lettuce, you want to harvest when the lettuce heads are big and tightly packed. You want to harvest before the lettuce bolts (goes to seed).
My over-crowded, still young romaine lettuce that I grew in a large pot. As I harvested the outer leaves, I also thinned it out somewhat and the plants continued to produce large tasty leaves!
For leaf lettuce, you can harvest an entire plant at once, but you will get more production out of each lettuce plant if you simply harvest the outer leaves. When to start harvesting is really up to you. When you feel the lettuce leaf is big enough for picking, then you can harvest it. The lettuce will continue to grow after you've cut off the outer leaves.
The best time to harvest is early in the morning, but this is not practical for most people. So it's best to just harvest the lettuce fresh, right before you're about to eat them. You can continue harvesting until the leaves starts to taste a little bitter, at that time, the lettuce plant is ready for the compost pile.
To have a constant supply of fresh, young lettuce, try starting a batch of new lettuce every three weeks or so. This way, once your current lettuce starts to get bitter tasting, you'll have new plants to replace the old ones and continue harvesting.
I have to admit, I went totally gung-ho when seeding the 2 pots of lettuce in the above photo. =) But I did not plan on having them grow very large to being with. I like the taste and texture of small leaves and when these get to about 6 to 8 inches tall, I get a pair of scissors and cut of plates full of leaves for salads. I cut everything off at about an inch above the lowest leaves, so that I don't cut into the growing point of the lettuce plants. The lettuce grows back very quickly for another harvesting. The plant in the background is a pot of green pea shoots.
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