When you want a delicious Caesar salad, it won’t be complete until you have fresh, crisp romaine lettuce. While it may not be the first type of lettuce in our backyard, it can certainly be grown with a lot of success. Find out when to harvest romaine lettuce and how to best prepare it.
When to harvest romaine lettuce? Romaine lettuce is a cool-weather crop. It is planted in early spring, as soon as the threat of frost is over. Depending on your climate, this could be from February to April.
Romaine can also be planted in the fall before the first frost occurs. Then, 65 to 70 days later, your romaine lettuce will be ready to harvest. Look for dark green leaves that are 6 to 8 inches tall. While outer leaves can be a bit bitter, the inner, hearts of romaine will be more tender and a bit sweeter.
When harvesting romaine lettuce, you can either cut the entire head off the ground or pick a few leaves at a time. To harvest the entire head, gently cut a straight line about 1 inch from the ground.
Unless you don’t want any more lettuce to grow, don’t pull the roots out of the ground. If the roots are left, more romaine lettuce will later grow. An alternative is to simply harvest a few leaves at a time.
Start with the outer leaves so that the inner leaves will continue to grow. You can actually pick romaine leaves once a week for up to a month with this method. Always try to pick romaine lettuce in the early morning hours.
It will have the most moisture content and will be a lot crisper. You can eat romaine lettuce right away, or after washing and drying it, you can store it in the fridge for up to 10 days.
How do you know when your romaine lettuce is ready to harvest?
Romaine lettuce, like most types of lettuce, likes cool weather. Therefore, you should plant the seeds immediately after the last frost. Furthermore, a slightly shady area in your garden will be best.
Then, about 65 to 70 days after planting your seeds, your romaine lettuce will be ready. This is usually in May or June, depending on the climate you live in.
If you live in a temperate area, you can plant your lettuce seeds a lot easier and have a romaine crop in April or May. However, if your winter seasons are long and cold, you will definitely have to wait to plant until April, thus delaying the harvest until June.
One nice feature of romaine lettuce is that you can usually get two crops out of it. So, in addition to a spring harvest, you can also get a fall harvest. When planted in September, it will be ready in October. Just watch out for early frosts as this can ruin your lettuce.
Appearance is key to knowing when romaine lettuce is ready to harvest. Height-wise, it should be 6 to 8 inches tall. Furthermore, it should be a very deep green color.
Unlike other heads of lettuce that are tightly packed, romaine lettuce will actually spread out a bit as it grows. Therefore, expect a wider head of romaine lettuce the more it grows.
What happens if you don’t harvest romaine lettuce?
Romaine lettuce, when left long enough, will bolt. This means a flower will grow from the inside of the plant and will eventually produce seeds.
You can try to harvest these seeds for next year. However, they will be quite tiny so be careful when storing them.
If you don’t harvest your romaine or don’t want the seeds, the leaves will turn mushy in the warm summer months. Bugs will have a feast and the plants might get a bit stinky.
It’s better to uproot your plants when you’re done and place them in the compost to avoid a bunch of pests in your garden.
How to harvest romaine lettuce?
There are two ways to harvest romaine lettuce and which method you choose will depend on how much lettuce you want. You can either harvest the entire head, or you can take just a few pieces.
This may come as a surprise to most people as we’re used to seeing whole heads in the grocery store. However, like other varieties of lettuce, you can also harvest a few leaves at a time.
How to harvest the whole head
If you are entertaining a lot of people or just really love romaine lettuce, the best way to harvest it is to cut off the entire head.
Take a pair of sharp scissors and find the base of the head, about 1 inch up from the soil. This is where you should cut, being careful to leave a nice, straight line.
It might be a bit hard to reach the base of your romaine, so you may have to get down low and move the lettuce around a bit for a clearer angle.
Leaving that 1-inch clearance is key with romaine lettuce. Whatever you do, don’t simply uproot the entire head.
This is because a lot of romaine will actually sprout an additional harvest. The only difference is that instead of a solid head like the first time, it will be more in the form of loose leaves.
There may be times, however, that you simply want one harvest of romaine. This could be because you know your climate will quickly become too hot or if you want to use the gardening space for a new crop.
In this case, take the base of the romaine head, turn it slightly, and give it a good pull. The roots should come right out, freeing up much-needed gardening space.
How to harvest individual leaves
Even though romaine comes in a handy head shape, if you only need a few leaves, you can harvest it this way.
Always start by picking the outer leaves. These leaves are the most mature and will allow the smaller, inner leaves to grow and replace them.
While you can pick just one or two leaves, try to go for six to eight pieces instead. The amount will signal the plant to keep growing whereas it might not notice if a single leaf is gone.
In about a week the inner leaves will have replaced the outer leaves, allowing you to harvest them again.
Again, depending on your climate, you could have up to a month-long harvest season if you continue to pick a steady amount of romaine leaves.
If you plan on harvesting individual leaves, you want to ensure you do just get the leaves and not inadvertently pick the whole head.
Get low to see where the individual leaf meets the base. With your hand, gently hold onto the leaf and snap it off in a downward direction.
Pulling up on the leaves could lead you to accidentally uprooting the entire head, which you want to avoid.
While romaine is ready to harvest when it is about 6 to 8 inches tall, the inner leaves are ready when they are about 4 inches tall.
Just remember that outer leaves can become quite bitter if left too long. If you find this is the case, pick more leaves to get to the more tender heart of the romaine plant.
Just be careful because if you pick too far inward, you won’t be able to harvest more leaves later in the season.
Should you wash romaine lettuce after harvesting?
Romaine is one of the few vegetables that you can wash right away after harvesting, even if you don’t plan on eating it right away.
While you may be tempted to simply take off the outer, dirty leaves, there can be a lot of dirt and even bugs hiding inside. To ensure everything is clean, take apart the leaves so each individual one can be washed.
Use a strainer to really rinse the leaves. Then, place them on a paper towel so they can properly dry. Use right away or place the unused leaves in a plastic, airtight bag. Store in your fridge for up to 10 days.
Can you eat romaine lettuce immediately after harvesting?
Yes, romaine is delicious fresh out of the garden. For best results, try to pick your romaine in the early morning hours. This is especially important if you live in a climate where the late spring weather really warms up later in the day.
In the morning, your romaine will have a higher moisture content. Not only will this result in crisper leaves, but your romaine will have higher water content and thus will last longer.
If you forget and still want to have romaine for your dinner, you can still pick leaves in the afternoon. To re-hydrate your romaine lettuce, place the leaves in a bowl of ice water. Leave them be for about 15 to 20 minutes.
You should notice that the lettuce is no longer wilting and it should have a crisp texture to it.
You can harvest romaine lettuce whole or with individual leaves. Try to pick it in the early morning for nice, crisp results.