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How to Harvest and Store Lettuce

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I love the feeling of knowing that a main staple of our diet is just steps away in the garden waiting to be harvested. Not to mention that home grown lettuce is much fresher, and lasts longer in the fridge. Let’s look at how to harvest and store lettuce so that you can enjoy lots of tasty salads fresh from the garden.

Row of lettuce with basket of harvested leaves

As we make frequent trips by the lettuce patch on the way to the woods for walks, the kids and I have been keeping an eye out for when those little plants my husband started from seeds would be big enough to start harvesting. This week those outside leaves were finally big enough, and we’re harvesting lettuce here on the farm!

Children Love Harvesting, Too!

Harvesting lettuce is a great way to get your children involved in the rythmn of harvesting, storing and eating fresh produce from the garden. My children are always so proud when a meal includes a dish they helped prepare, and they are always much more excited about eating salad, when they’ve helped with all the steps of getting it from the garden to the table. I think it’s important for them to experience growing, harvesting, storing, and preparing the food they eat. Lettuce is an easy crop to jump into including kids in the gardening process. Teach them how to harvest and store lettuce, too!

Child Harvesting Lettuce

When is the Lettuce Ready To Harvest?

You want to make sure you let new plants get well established before you start picking off leaves to eat. There are lots of varieties of lettuces, and some never have very long leaves, while others like our romaine pictured here can grow quite large. Look for fullness of the head. You want several leaves in the cluster. Ususally by the time the leaves are 3-6 inches tall you can start harvesting. Look at the pictures above to see what ours looked like when we started picking. If you wait too long, then the outside leaves can yellow and die, or get tough.

How to Harvest Lettuce

To get the most out of your lettuce patch, you’ll want to let the plants grow all season. This means you harvest just the largest outside leaves of each plant.

Hand Harvesting lettuce leaf

Remove the largest outside leaves from your lettuce head. You can use scissors, or just pinch them off with your fingers. Make sure to take along a basket, or large bowl to put the leaves in. Try to keep all the leaves laying the same direction if you can to make the next step of storing the lettuce easier. Leave a cluster of small leaves in the center, about 4-6. These will keep the plant growing and produce more leaves for you to harvest!

Head of lettuce with just a few leaves

As the plant grows, the small inside leaves that you left will grow larger and new small leaves will form in the middle. Check back every few days to repeat the harvesting process.

If the leaves are left unpicked the plant will decide to start growing seeds instead of leaves, and it will “bolt”. This means it shoots up a central flowering stalk. The leaves of the plant usually turn bitter when this happens. At some point your plant will do this, but to encourage a long growing season keep picking those outside leaves.

How to Properly Store Lettuce

After you bring in your basket of fresh lettuce, you’ll want store it properly to keep it fresh and make it last a long time.

Step 1. Wash the lettuce. Put the leaves in a colander and rinse thoroughly.

Hands holding colander and washing lettuce to store

No matter how careful of a gardener you are you might find the occasional bug, and there is always some dirt hanging on. I like to wash my leaves right away. This saves time when I go to make a salad, because the lettuce is already washed and ready to eat.

Step 2. Remove excess water from the leaves.

Hands pressing lid on salad spinner preparing to store lettuce

I highly reccomend a salad spinner for this step, but if you don’t have one then you can pat the leaves dry between paper towels or a clean kitchen towel.

lettuce leaves in salad spinner with colander in background

Step 3. Place a few sheets of dry paper towel in the bottom of a gallon size zip-loc bag. Add the lettuce leaves to the bag and seal.

Girl standing in kitchen holding bag of lettuce ready to store

Having the paper towels to absorb extra moisture is key to keeping your lettuce fresh.

Step 4. Refrigerate. Your freshly harvested lettuce leaves should last a few weeks in the fridge!

Kitchen Reccomendation

I use an OXO Salad Spinner that I was given as a wedding present. That was nearly 10 years ago, and it is still going strong! If you are in the market for a salad spinner, I highly reccomend this one. It does a great job and is very sturdy. If you grow your own greens, this is a super helpful tool in your kitchen.

Bonus Recipe!

Now that you are done harvesting and storing your lettuce, you need an easy dressing to have on hand. Whip up some of this easy vinaigrette dressing to make salads a quick and easy addition to meal time!

Simple and Healthy Vinaigrette Dressing

Pin it for later!

child harvesting lettuce and hand washing lettuce in colander

I Hope You’ll Try

Do you have lettuce in the garden? Now it’s your turn to harvest and store that lettuce!

Have you learned any tips for harvesting or storing lettuce? Did your children join in? Let me know in the comments below!

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which means I make a small commision at no extra cost to you. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

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  1. This is a lovely and quite helpful article about harvesting lettuce. Thank you for the tutorial with pictures so we can see what the leaf sizes are.

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