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HOME GROWN: Keeping a fresh supply of lettuce

rhondathompson, [email protected]

HOME GROWN: Keeping a fresh supply of lettuce

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I’m a lettuce fanatic. Recently I received an email regarding extending one’s harvest; this week I would like to discuss doing just that as it relates to leafy greens.
The various locally available and heat-tolerant loose-leaf greens, including local lettuce, red salad bowl lettuce, romaine and others, can all be harvested via a method called, “Cut And Come Again”.
Simply put, this method provides the gardener with a continual supply of leafy greens over the lifespan of each plant, or leafy head, as it matures. As the term implies you cut or harvest what you need, the plants continue to grow, and you are then able to harvest again.
Until I discovered this method, my family was on a lettuce roller coaster: night after night of lettuce followed by waiting, waiting, and more waiting for the next crop to come in.
I would start out by sowing as many loose-leaf heads of lettuce as the allotted space in my garden would allow.
As soon as the heads reached maturity I would pick them all at once, sometimes as many as 20 or 30, carefully bag them and attempt to store them in our refrigerator.
When it comes to leafy greens, the beauty of the “Cut And Come Again” method is that it allows you to start and then continue to harvest the sweetest, most tender, and delicate leaves right away.
Older, more mature, leafy greens tend to be tougher and chewier, and almost always have a telltale bitterness that we would all like to avoid.
Whether you choose to sow from seed or plant seedlings directly, make certain that you plant densely. I typically plant four seedlings per square foot or 12 inch by 12 inch area. I have noted that lettuce seedlings planted at two to three inches in height can be producing salad greens in just a few short weeks.
Loose-leaf lettuces grow in a concentric fashion, with the older, more mature leaves on the outside and the younger leaves emerging from the centre. As the outer leaves reach the size of your palm or slightly bigger, carefully cut them from the stem.
At each harvest remove the oldest leaves from each plant in equal quantities across your entire crop, cutting three or four leaves from each plant at a time.
As you notice that your plants have begun to “bolt” or flower it’s time to replace them with a fresh crop, but by then utilizing this method you will have certainly had a far greater yield than a traditional harvest.
I’ve taken to storing the harvested “leaves” in an small airtight bucket with a lid in my fridge. The key to maintaining crisp, fresh greens is to refrigerate them immediately and to wash the leaves only as you need them.