In the Field: How to harvest lettuce
Farmer D gives a number of tips for harvesting lettuce, including leaf picking and base-cutting. He offers both pre- and post-harvest tips to keep your vegetables as fresh as possible. (Meredith Darlington/MNN and Nick Scott/MNN)
Farmer D: This is a 3 X 8 bed that we put out here right on the road. Kind of fun planting veggies right on Briarcliff Road. Just showing people what can be done. And we just, we really -- when I planted this bed we amended the soil, we put in a raised bed, organic soil mix, we put in some organic fertilizer and we put in our lettuce transplants. And these are 4-5 of the variety of lettuces that we have this spring.
Basically there’s two ways you can really go about harvesting your lettuce. One is if you want to just leaf pick where you come around the outer leaves and you just kind of push them down and puff them out and that way the new, young growth will keep growing. And a lot of times what happens is when lettuce grows together, when you have two heads that are a little too close together, what you might want to do is just pick some of the outer leaves from these two to give them a little more space to grow, a little bit more airflow. And one of the key things in growing vegetables is having good air around the plant. Too much compaction together creates disease.
Another way, when these lettuces are pretty much ready to go is just to go down to the base of the plant -- everybody kind of see that? And what you do is you just cut it right at the base and then your bottom leaves down here that are not really that useable, you can pick off, you can leave in the garden, you can add them to your compost and there’s your head of lettuce. The best thing to do when you harvest these lettuces is go ahead and dump the head of lettuce in a cold icy water. And that will keep it fresh longer, crispier. You want to minimize the amount of damage you do to the leaves. So I will hold them by the stem, I’m not really touching the leaves at all and when you harvest salad, make sure lettuce, when you put it in the water, it’s real gentle. Because every time you hear that little crinkle, crackle sound, you are damaging the leaves and they are going to - they just aren’t going to last as long.
So post-harvest is as important as -- you have worked so hard to get to this point, you want to take as good a care of the vegetable that you’re harvesting as possible.
MNN homepage photo: Lagui/iStockphoto