All types of lettuce have two things in common–their leaves are edible and they’re part of the daisy family. If you’re cultivating a self-sustaining lifestyle, you may want lettuce in your garden. The romaine variety is an excellent choice, thanks to its high nutrient value, short growth cycle, and hardiness in all kinds of weather.
After planting and nurturing it, the next step is to know how to harvest romaine lettuce. Whether you’re a veteran gardener or just getting started, the process may not seem straightforward, so let us give you some advice!
Consider the Timing
Romaine lettuce only takes about three months to mature after planting. Since the best time to plant is six to eight weeks before the first frost of the year, fall and winter are often the best time for harvesting romaine lettuce.
However, it can thrive all year long as long as you keep replanting, or if you know how to harvest romaine lettuce in such a way that encourages quick regrowth. You simply have to wait three months for each growing cycle, you can harvest it.
Take a Look at Appearance and Consistency
If you’re unsure whether it’s the right time for harvesting romaine lettuce, observation alone could give you all the clues you need. You just have to know what mature romaine lettuce looks and feels like.
By the time romaine lettuce is ready to be picked, the leaves usually stretch four to eight inches above the ground. Some heads may reach an entire foot in height. Their width may measure anywhere from two inches to a foot as well, though the base would reach roughly three inches in diameter.
Mature romaine lettuce has rich, dark green leaves, especially around the tips and across the middle ridges. The closer you get to the center of the head, the lighter the green will look.
Brown or black spots or milky-white ridges may indicate that the leaves have become bitter because you waited too long. That’s all the more reason to learn how to harvest romaine lettuce in a timely manner.
If you touch the ridges on the leaves, they should feel firm but thin. The leaves themselves will have a crisp texture, guaranteeing a satisfying crunch when you bite. Rot will cause the leaves to feel moist or sticky instead.
The leaves will overlap each other tightly and spread out in an open circular shape. In fact, the lettuce may look similar to a rose in bloom.
Try gently squeezing the head as well. When ripe, the head will be hard enough to maintain its round shape. If you can squish or compress the head, it’s not ready to harvest.
How to Harvest Romaine Lettuce
Once you feel comfortable determining the right time, your next step is figuring out how to harvest romaine lettuce, especially if you want to remain self-sufficient. Pulling up the entire head with its roots will prevent you from using the same plant to grow more lettuce, so you’ll have to get new seeds from elsewhere. We’ll explain the art of preparing for multiple harvests.
1. Wait Until Morning
In the afternoon and evening, the lettuce leaves will wilt and dry out in the warmer temperatures, making them less pleasant to eat. The cool air of the morning ensures they’re fresher and crisper, and they’re more likely to remain that way even after harvesting and storing.
2. Pick Certain Leaves
You can prolong a single harvest by picking only six to eight of the outermost leaves; new leaves will grow in their place after about a week. Let the innermost leaves remain on the head until they’ve grown at least four inches long, indicating greater maturity. To avoid uprooting the whole head, grab each leave at its stem, then twist and yank it downward.
3. Cut Above the Base
Using gardening shears or scissors, which you can find with retailers like Amazon, snip the head about an inch above the soil. Leaving the roots will not only keep the soil healthy, but a new head and leaves will gradually grow over the next two or three months. If you know how to harvest romaine lettuce repeatedly, imagine how delicious and healthy your meals can be year round!
4. Carry Them Home
When harvesting romaine lettuce, you need a place to put the heads. A wheelbarrow is fine, and we’ve got plenty of advice for how to choose the best one. However, consider using something smaller and easier to carry–such as a basket or bucket–if you only plan to pick one or two heads or a few leaves.
How to Make Romaine Lettuce Last
Your job isn’t done now that you know how to harvest romaine lettuce! Once you’ve brought your spoils home, you must prepare to store them for future meals. We’ll let you know how to do it.
Wash the Leaves
It may seem obvious to wash your lettuce leaves if they’re going straight from the garden to the dinner table, but you should wash them before storage as well. Otherwise, the dirt may cause the lettuce to rot faster. Of course, the dirt could also make the leaves taste awful and/or make you sick once you eat them.
Rinsing the head with cold water should be sufficient. Consider picking the leaves off the head first and then washing them one by one to be as thorough as possible.
Even if you know how to harvest romaine lettuce multiple times in one year, you still want each one to last as long as possible! To delay the rotting process and prevent harmful germs from colonizing on the lettuce, place your lettuce inside an airtight container or plastic bag. Place them somewhere in your fridge, preferably in a produce drawer for extra protection. The lettuce can stay there for 10 to 14 days before going bad.
If you notice your romaine lettuce wilting before two weeks have passed, pour some ice water into a bowl and submerge the leaves beneath the surface. After five minutes, take them out and pat them dry with a clean towel. The moisture and cold temperature should revive the leaves and make them crispy again.
What to Do After Harvesting Romaine Lettuce
Now that you’re done harvesting romaine lettuce and storing it in your home, what can you do with it? Making salad is an obvious and trusty choice, but romaine lettuce is an excellent ingredient in other dishes, too. Let us inspire you with a few!
As one of the simplest and tastiest ways to combine a variety of ingredients, stir fry is delicious with romaine lettuce. Just cut or tear the leaves into small pieces and cook them in a skillet alongside bok choy, crushed garlic cloves, jalapeño chiles, chicken broth, soy sauce, rice wine, and either vegetable or peanut oil. Add a meat of your choice for extra flavor!
If you love your food to have a little kick, Thai wraps would be up your alley. They’re amazing when you know how to harvest romaine lettuce and can use it whenever you’d like.
Chop some chicken, onions, garlic, and shredded carrots, then cook them together with the lettuce in a skillet. Add salt, pepper, and ginger sauce. After that, scoop them onto a large romaine lettuce leaf, roll it up tightly, and enjoy!
Love tacos but want to eat healthier? The easiest way to do that is to just replace the tortilla or shell with a leaf of romaine lettuce, which adds nutrients while reducing calories and gives the taco a delightful, refreshing crunch.
Gather all the usual ingredients–ground beef, diced tomatoes, green onions, shredded cheese, bell peppers, and whatever else you like on your Mexican food–and put them on a leaf of romaine lettuce. Hold the leaf like a taco and take a bite.
Any soup tastes richer after harvesting romaine lettuce and adding the leaves. However, did you know you can make soup with romaine lettuce as the primary ingredient? It has a thick, creamy consistency and a refreshing yet savory flavor, especially when combined with chicken or vegetable stock, onions, garlic, and lemon juice.
When you know how to harvest romaine lettuce, you can make smoothies as a healthy breakfast or snack food. This recipe blends the lettuce together with apples, bananas, spinach, and chia seeds to get all their nutrients in one easy step.
Add lemon juice for a bit of spark or some protein powder to help with muscle recovery after exercise. You can also sprinkle granola, seeds, nuts, honey, and/or fresh fruit to complement the flavor or texture.
Wrapping Up How to Harvest Romaine Lettuce
Considering its benefits and versatility, knowing how to harvest romaine lettuce is an important skill to master so that you can enjoy an richly independent lifestyle. Still, it’s not the only food you’ll want to grow in your garden. Once you’ve found and planted your romaine lettuce seeds, check out our section on other plants that are perfect for the self-sustaining gardener!