Idiot question: How BIG is (leaf) lettuce when ready?

mmqchdygg(Z5NH)May 19, 2009

I'm googling, and it says: "Harvest in 55-60 days" or "when leaves are young and tender" or "cut when they are big enough to use."

Call me a moron, but I need a SIZE here.

We're not big salad eaters, and when we do eat it, it's iceberg...big, flat leaves wrapped tightly in a ball. We rarely buy a fancy mix, but even then, I don't pay attention to the size of the leaflets.

How BIG is it supposed to be when it's ready to clip? If someone were to ask me, I'd be telling them to wait til it's about 8" high and looked "big enough." (This from a gal who sees nothing wrong with a cucumber that is 3 or 4" in diameter and 12" long, or a summer squash that's 5 inches thick at its thickest point and weighs about 2 pounds. You slice it up, cook it, and eat it. What's the problem??!!!)

Help. Thanks. I'm not used to growing 'store-sized' veggies...everything in my garden always looks like it's the product of a mutant gene pool, and to me, that's "normal."

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anney(Georgia 8)

I don't know that it's possible to declare a "ready" lettuce size! It depends on the variety, the weather, etc.

I pay attention to leaf-size -- when leaf-lettuce has enough good-sized leaves to pick from the outside, that's when I harvest those. Some people harvest lettuce when it's small, some when it's large (no real information there, I know!) Romaine lettuce is taller and the leaves are usually wider, though they do fine if you harvest the outside leaves first, too. Come again another day to harvest the next batch.

Another good clue is pretty simple. Just look at the seed package or vendor sites that have pictures of the variety, and see what they look like! Then look for the lettuce-height, which is usually given. That's as close as you'll get!

    Bookmark   May 19, 2009 at 3:13PM
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farmersteve(N. AL Zone 7)

The leaf lettuce that I had this year was a red leaf variety and the leaves, at maturity, were a good 12 inches across. Of course, I think lettuce is always ready. I pick 'um young. I pick 'um big. I pick 'um all. But when I pick them, I always leave a few leaves (or several if they are still small) and the plant will give more.


    Bookmark   May 19, 2009 at 3:20PM
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Karen Pease

IMHO, the smaller the leaves, the tastier they are. So pick whenever youwant. :)

    Bookmark   May 19, 2009 at 3:59PM
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Since with leaf lettuce I only pick the outside leaves, my rule of thumb is if I can get a salad out of my lettuce without picking so many leaves off the plants that they're going to go into shock, it's ready. Early in the season I might get one salad a week, by the end I'm getting a great salad every day. That's with 6 plants.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2009 at 12:31AM
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Depends on variety and how good the conditions are. My rule is that I should pick them before the plant bolts. Of course, by the time the plant bolts it's too late (or rather, it is merely "late", because I pick them and eat them anyway, but no one else in the house will because by then they're bitter - the lettuce, not the family members). For black seeded simpson, one of the most common leaf lettuces, I like them about 3-5" long. Any longer and I have to tear them into a lot of pieces and any shorter they're hard to handle while I wash them. It's really a matter of preference.

I've never cared if I killed the plants either. Lettuce season is always so short anyway that by the time the plants are big enough to eat, I only have a week or two to eat them before they bolt. Maybe other folks are using other varieties or shade cloths or something like that.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2009 at 12:44AM
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when the outside leaves get to 4 inches or so go for it. if you cut them and leave the rest of the plant they will produce lettuce for a long time. if you are pulling up the whole plant then it may take longer. me, as soon as i can cut off enough greens for a salad i am going to! smaller leaves are very tender and so delicious!!! hope you have a great dressing for them.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2009 at 12:44AM
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It is actually a good question.
I do not cut off the whole head, even for Romaine, as some people do.
Here is my calculation: I can start taking leaves from the time that the plant can be viable without them.

That means that until they "get going", say, with 4 leaves spread out and photosynthesizing, I leave them alone entirely. If they are going strong, I take more leaves. If I want bigger leaves, I let them go a few days. If I have too many plants, I particularly abuse them. The weak ones will die.. so what. Eventually, they get so strong that you can take all but two or three leaves, and they will keep going based on what their roots are doing.

Size depends on the variety, so that advice would not do you much good. Just take as much as you want without killing the plant, and don't be too shy. Lettuce is actually pretty tough. I have it growing out of cracks in the sidewalk.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2009 at 1:48AM
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tedln(7 Texas)

The way I plant lends it self to the way I pick lettuce. I use about a two gallons of compost. I then add a packet of seed into the compost in a five gallon bucket and thoroughly shake the compost and seed for even distribution. I then distribute the compost/seed mixture evenly over the about a six square foot area. When the seed starts germinating, some seeds seem stronger than others. They grow at a faster rate. The compost/seed blanket eventually looks like a blanket of small lettuce plants. I start harvesting the entire plants when it appears two or three plants will make a salad for two people when you throw enough other stuff into it from the garden. By harvesting this way, it makes room for the still small plants to grow and I have a continuous supply of lettuce. I also grow my lettuce and carrots underneath my tent shaped cucumber/squash trellis. With lettuce shaded by the cucumber vines and sqush plants, it delays bolting giving me more time to consume the lettuce.

Just my way of doing things.


    Bookmark   May 20, 2009 at 3:10AM
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Thank you, everyone; I realize it was one of those "are you KIDDING me?!" type of questions, but I seriously didn't know when to pick it.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2009 at 10:44AM
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albert_135(Sunset 2 or 3)

Subsistence farmers where I grew up started picking it quite small like the "baby greens" salads in bags at the supermarket. They would sometimes broadcast surplus old seed, often mixed lettuce, spinach, beets, turnips, collards etc. The lettuce would germinate and grow fast and be harvested first, quite tiny.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2009 at 11:20AM
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imstillatwork(8-9 Oregon Coast / Ca Border)

I pick mine at about 6 inches long for romaine and loose leaf. I only pick the outside. I have picked my lettuce about 8 times on the same plant and they are still good. Even picked bare, they will continue to leaf if you leave the stalk unharmed. Just keep picking the biggest outside leaves until it starts to get bitter from heat.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2009 at 3:13PM
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Thanks for your "idiot question" i was wondering the same thing

    Bookmark   April 30, 2011 at 7:33PM
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