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Harvesting Leaf Lettuce: How And When To Pick Leaf Lettuce

Many first time gardeners think that once the loose leaf lettuce is picked, that’s it. That’s because they tend to think that the entire head of lettuce should be dug out when harvesting leaf lettuce. Not so my friends. Picking loose leaf lettuce with the “cut and come again” method will extend the growing period and provide you with greens well into the summer months. Read on to find out how to harvest leaf lettuce using this method.

When to Pick Leaf Lettuce

Lettuce is a cool weather crop and, although it needs sun, is one of the few crops that will do well in partial shade. Unlike lettuces such as iceberg, loose leaf lettuce doesn’t form a head but, instead, loose leaves. This means that while the entire head of iceberg is harvested, picking loose leaf lettuce is just that – picking leaves.

So when to pick leaf lettuce? Loose leaf lettuce harvest can begin anytime the leaves have formed but prior to the formation of a seed stalk.

How to Harvest Leaf Lettuce

To grow lettuce with the “cut and come again method,” it is best to start with loose leaf varieties like mesclun in a variety of colors, flavors and textures. The beauty of planting loose leaf varieties is twofold. The plants can be spaced much closer together in the garden (4-6 inches) than head lettuce, meaning no thinning needed and garden space is maximized. Also, you can plant each week or every other week to get a continuous revolving leaf lettuce harvest.

Once leaves begin to appear and they are about 4 inches long, you can begin harvesting leaf lettuce. Simply snip either single outer leaves or grab a bunch of them and cut them with shears or scissors an inch above the crown of the plant. If you cut into or below the crown, the plant will probably die, so be careful.

Again, leaf lettuce may be picked any time after leaves form, but before the plant bolts (forms seed stalk). Older leaves are often stripped off the plants first, allowing the young leaves to continue to grow.

Ideally, for a “cut and come again” lettuce garden, you will have multiple rows of lettuce growing. Some at the same stage of maturity and some that is a week or two behind. This way you can have a revolving supply of greens. Harvest from different rows each time you pick lettuce to allow those that have been picked to regrow, about two weeks post-harvest for most varieties.

To protect the leaf lettuce, cover the rows with shade cloth or row covers to slow their bolting tendency in hot weather. If they do bolt, it’s likely too warm to grow leaf lettuce. Wait until fall and then plant another crop. This fall crop can be protected under row cover or low tunnels to extend the leaf lettuce harvest into the cooler weather. By using this method for harvesting lettuce and by planting successive crops, you can have fresh salad green for most of the year.

Lettuce can be stored for 1-2 weeks if refrigerated.

Don’t you just love lettuce? The crisp and the crunch of it while it is covered in your favorite dressing along with other good vegetables. It just makes you feel good, doesn’t it?

So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that many people like to grow it, especially in the fall when it is nice and cool.

See, lettuce loves cool temperatures. That is why it can be produced during winter in a greenhouse, in early spring when your body is craving something fresh, or in the fall as the weather starts to cool off after a long hot summer.

But if you are going to grow it, then you need to know how to harvest lettuce and also how to make it last as long as possible. Well, here is the information you are going to need:

Everything You Need to Know About Your Lettuce Harvest

Harvesting Lettuce

Harvesting lettuce will vary a little depending upon what kind of lettuce you have decided to grow. If you go with a leaf lettuce, then you’ll need to trim it off when it is about 4-8 inches tall. You can snap it off with your fingers, but I personally prefer to use scissors to cut it.

However, I would recommend only planting a small amount of leaf lettuce (unless you have a really large group of people to feed) because if you trim it back to the surface, the plants will produce new foliage in only a matter of weeks.

So you will constantly have fresh lettuce coming in.

But if you plant lettuce that forms heads like Romaine lettuce or Iceberg lettuce, then you’ll want to wait until the heads have reached the desired size.

Then you can use a sharp knife to cut the heads of lettuce off at the soil. When you have harvested your lettuce, you’ll want to put the heads in a larger basket so they don’t bruise in between the garden and getting them to your kitchen.

Also, be sure to cut the core and any dark or damaged spots out of the lettuce prior to bringing it in for storage.

Once you have harvested your lettuce, you’ll need to know how to clean and store it.

How to Clean Your Lettuce

Now that you have harvested your fresh, green, and crisp lettuce it is important to know how to clean it. The downside to growing your own lettuce is that if you don’t clean it thoroughly, you could end up ingesting dirt and bugs.

Though those things aren’t really bad for you, in our minds, they are rather gross so we try to avoid it.

So you’ll want to ask yourself a few questions before cleaning your freshly harvested lettuce:

  1. Am I going to consume the lettuce right away?
  2. What type of lettuce am I looking at?

If you are going to consume your lettuce right away, then you’ll definitely want to wash it. When washing it, you’ll want to place each head in lukewarm water for about 30 seconds. This helps to loosen any really tough, stuck on dirt and determined little bugs.

Then you’ll want to remove the lettuce and wash it under cold water for about 30 seconds. This round of washing will remove any loose dirt.

Finally, you’ll run the lettuce under the cold water as many times as you feel necessary for 30 seconds at a time until you feel comfortable that you have removed all dirt and bugs.

Then you’ll need to place the lettuce in a colander or lettuce spinner to dry. If you use a colander, you’ll want to allow it to drip dry for about 10 minutes. If you use a lettuce spinner follow the instructions. It usually only takes about 2 minutes for dry time.

Now, if you aren’t planning on using the lettuce right away (and you are washing head lettuce), then you’ll want to wait to wash it until you are going to use it. Just follow the same steps when this time comes. When using head lettuce, it actually lasts longer if it is not introduced to excess moisture.

However, we still must answer question number 2; what kind of lettuce am I looking at? If you have grown leaf lettuce, it is a great producer, but only lasts for about a week at a time.

So you’ll definitely want to wash and use as quickly as possible.

But if you grew head lettuce, like Romaine or Iceberg, then don’t wash it, and it should last for at least a couple of weeks.

How to Store Lettuce

How you store lettuce also determines how long the lettuce itself will last. Moisture is a huge enemy for lettuce so it is important to store it in a way that excess moisture can’t ruin it, and it is also important to keep your lettuce cool.

So let’s begin with leaf lettuce. If you have harvested leaf lettuce, you’ll want to follow the instructions above to clean it.

Then you will want to allow the leaf lettuce to dry.

Next, you’ll wrap the lettuce in a paper towel to absorb any excess moisture. You then place the leaf lettuce in a storage bag and place in your fridge. Keep an eye on the paper towel every day. If you begin to see that it is full of moisture, then it is time to unwrap the lettuce and wrap the leaves in a fresh paper towel which can better pull moisture.

Now, if you are trying to store head lettuce, you’ll want to delay washing until you plan on using it.

However, if you have a large head, then you’ll want to wash, dry, wrap in a paper towel, and store in a plastic bag in your fridge until you use it up.

Again, it is important to watch the paper towel to make sure that it doesn’t become too damp. If you see that it is becoming saturated with water, then you’ll need to pull that paper towel out and wrap the lettuce in a fresh paper towel. This is important because the more moisture you keep away from the lettuce, then the crisper it will remain.

Can You Preserve Lettuce?

Yes, you can actually preserve lettuce for long-term use. To the best of my knowledge, you can’t actually can it.

However, you can use other preservation methods. The first method you can use is freezing. Yes, you can actually freeze lettuce! How cool is that?

Now, I need to be upfront with you. You don’t want to freeze it thinking you’ll have fresh salads in the middle of winter. Instead, you’ll freeze it to use in a casserole, soup, or a stew even. You would definitely have to cook it for it to be desirable to your taste buds.

But you just clean the lettuce and pop it in a freezer bag until you are ready to cook with it. It is very simple and a great way to preserve your lettuce harvest if you have too much come in at once.

Also, I should mention, that thicker lettuce types (like Romaine) are best for this method. When you freeze lettuce, it will crystalize. If you freeze thin lettuce, then it turns into a goopy mess.

But if you freeze a thicker type of lettuce, then it can withstand the moisture from the crystallization process that takes place during freezing.

Our second method is fermenting lettuce. I know, you may be thinking I’ve lost my mind, but I really haven’t.

Now, I’m still having to jump on board with all of the fermented foods crazes. I know they are good for gut bacteria which is great for our health, but I’m still new to this.

However, this seems like a great way to preserve lettuce and enjoy it in a unique and healthy manner. Not to mention, it doesn’t take many ingredients to actually ferment lettuce, which is always a good thing.

Finally, you can dehydrate lettuce. This seems like a really great option in my personal opinion because it is easy, quick, and you can use it for lots of different things.

For instance, if you are really big into healthy green smoothies, then you might like dehydrating lettuce for that burst of green in your smoothie. You just dehydrate and then turn your lettuce into a fine powder that will easily add a health boost to your favorite smoothie.

Or you could use dehydrated lettuce leaves for making delicious chips. This could be a healthy snack that you might really enjoy.

Recipes to Utilize Your Lettuce Harvest

When you grow lettuce, let’s be honest, you can only eat so many salads before you are just burned out. That is why I wanted to bring you a couple of recipes from around the web that will show you that lettuce can be used for much more than a basic salad.

Here is what I came up with:

1. Stir-Fried Lettuce

This lettuce looks like a delicious side to add to any healthy dinner. It includes many of the traditional flavorings of other stir-fries you might have had.

But this one is all based around Romaine lettuce, and it only takes about 5 minutes to make too!

Try this lettuce recipe

2. Lettuce Soup

This might blow your mind that on a cold winter day, lettuce might be what you use to warm up.

But with this recipe, that could definitely be the case. You’ll want to check it out!

Try this lettuce recipe

3. Grilled Romaine Lettuce

This is another hearty dish that is based around lettuce. You take a whole head of Romaine lettuce and grill it with other delicious vegetables and flavors.

Then you have quite a healthy, delicious, and easy meal in no time flat.

Try this lettuce recipe

4. Lettuce Wraps

The first time I ever heard about a lettuce wrap was from my sister about 10 years ago. PF Changs had just moved into our area, and she was hooked.

Now, fast forward a decade later and lettuce wraps are very common, but I still think most would agree that PF Changs’ wraps are still amazing. Which is why I thought many people would appreciate this recipe.

Try this lettuce recipe

Well, you now know how to harvest, clean, store, and preserve your lettuce harvest. You even have a few recipes to utilize your harvest that is a bit outside of the norm.

But I’d love to hear from you. What is your favorite lettuce to grow? Why? What do you normally do with your lettuce harvest?

We’d love to hear from you so please share your thoughts with us!

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If harvesting lettuce is in your near future — especially if you’re growing lettuce for the first time — it’s time for us to talk about how to harvest lettuce and when to harvest lettuce. You know how when you go to the store you can choose a head of romaine or butter lettuce? Put that notion right out of your head.

Now that you’re growing your own lettuce, you want that work to pay off. What happens when you pull a head of lettuce from the ground roots and all? You eat a salad, sure. But more importantly, that particular lettuce plant has come to the end of the road. It will no longer provide lovely greens for your family.

When to harvest lettuce

It’s a good idea to make a note on your calendar when your lettuce is expected to mature. To do this, check the seed packet for ‘days to maturity’ and do some calculating. Lettuce can take 65-100 days or so to reach maturity, depending on the variety that you tuck into your garden bed.

Head lettuce grows like the iceberg lettuce you see in the supermarket — you’ll know when to harvest it based on the size and shape of the head. It should be firm, with a well-shaped head. It’s harvested by cutting the head off the stalk.

I prefer to grow leaf lettuce though, because that window of when to harvest lettuce is so much wider. And knowing how to harvest lettuce will help that crop produce for weeks.

Related: Growing Lettuce in Containers to Eliminate Pests

Instead of cutting the head from the stalk as you do when harvesting head lettuce (thus ending the fresh salads), you can harvest leaf lettuce varieties a leaf at a time.

When to harvest lettuce this way? As soon as the lettuce leaves reach a couple of inches in length, you can begin harvesting “baby lettuce.”

To harvest individual leaves, use scissors to cut off the outer leaves near the base of the plant. Leave the inner leaves intact and the entire lettuce plant will continue to grow. Harvesting loose leaf lettuces this way allows the plant to continue growing and producing leaves, providing you with fresh lettuce for months rather than for a single meal.

Leaf lettuce will continue to produce new leaves until the plant begins to flower and produce lettuce seeds. (When you see this happening — a sturdier stalk will emerge from the center of the plant — stop harvesting. Lettuce becomes bitter at the end of its growing season.) Unless you’re aiming for beautiful heads, use the cut and come again method to harvest your crop.

Related: Partial Shade Vegetables for a Successful Harvest

Related: Growing lettuce in an indoor winter garden

The photo on the left (above) is what my lettuce looked like before a harvest. The photo on the right is after harvesting. Within a week, it will look like that first picture again. I snipped off those lovely outer leaves, made a beautiful salad from that loose leaf lettuce, and those same plants will feed us again soon.

This is a great method for harvesting lettuce for anyone who puts work into a garden (might as well get the most bang for your buck, right?) but it’s an especially good tip for urban gardeners who don’t have a lot of space. Make those container gardens work for you!

Embrace succession planting

While you can extend the life of each lettuce plant by harvesting in this manner, another way to be sure to have lettuce as long as possible is to embrace succession planting. Instead of planting just once, stagger plantings so that you’ll have crops maturing every two to three weeks across the growing season. That way, as one batch of plants comes to the end of their lives, new heads will be ready to harvest. I suggest setting a reminder to plant more lettuce — if you’re like me, you’ll forget! You can read more about the concept of succession planting here.

Keep in mind that lettuce grows best in cool weather. Plan to grow salad greens during the spring and again in the fall if you live in a region with hot summers.

This post was originally published in April 2012; it has been updated.

Hungry? Check out this list of the best leafy greens and salad vegetables. These are edible plants in which the leaves, stems, flowers, or roots can be made into delicious snacks. This list does not include edible plants that are fungi, seeds, or treated as fruits. Something to consider: the word vegetable is based on culinary tradition. It is not scientific. Edible plants traditionally used to make savory dishes are typically considered vegetables. That said, some vegetables are occasionally used to also make sweet dishes, such as carrots, rhubarb, and even avocados.

What are the best vegetables for salad? While some of the edible greens on this list may be eaten raw, more often than not, vegetables are cooked. So whether you’re a vegetarian, vegan, or just a well rounded carnivore, enjoy this list of leafy greens and salad vegetables. Maybe you’ll be inspired to go outside and hunt for your own leafy greens. Or maybe you’ll just learn a few new things about the different types of salad greens before you eat that burger you really wanted anyway. Whatever the case, learning about these salad veggies may help you make healthy decision in the future. Eat up!

Salad Greens From A to Z

It’s easy to get in a salad rut, turning to the same kind of lettuce every time. Why not go beyond iceberg, romaine, or leaf lettuce and try some more interesting options? Spring is the perfect time to experiment with salad greens, and this post will help you get acquainted with all that leafy stuff at the grocery store.

When you purchase or harvest lettuce, you should wash or rinse it, then store it wrapped in a cloth or paper towel, then in a plastic bag, in the crisper drawer. Store lettuce away from apples, pears and bananas. These fruits release ethylene, a ripening agent which will speed the decay of the lettuce. Because of its high water content, lettuce cannot be frozen or canned for long-term storage. It should always be eaten fresh, within about 10 days of purchase or harvest.

Nutritional content varies among lettuces and greens, though most are filled with Vitamin A and potassium. With the exception of iceberg, most varieties are also a good source of Vitamin C, iron and calcium. Lettuce is also a good source of dietary fiber.

When it comes to making a salad, try creating your own mix by tossing together at least three varieties. Here’s a basic formula:

  • Use a mild lettuce or green, like Boston, bibb or endive
  • Another should be a crisp lettuce or green, like romaine or cabbage
  • The third kind should be tart, peppery, or bitter greens, like arugula or radicchio

After your foundation of greens is mixed, you can add other goodies like carrots, cucumbers, and tomatoes. Or you can venture into the more exciting world of salad-toppers, including edamame, beets, hearts of palm, sunflower seeds, toasted pine nuts, artichoke hearts, and more.

But wait a second. How do you tell arugula from endive? Mizuna from mesclun? Here’s a guide to recognizing and using the various greens in the produce section.

Arugula (pictured above)

Also known as: Rocket
Leaves are: Dark green and tender
Taste is: Bitter and peppery, with a slight mustard taste
Try this arugula salad with tomatoes and avocado.

Butterhead (pictured above)

Includes: Bibb and Boston Lettuce
Leaves are: Loosely formed heads of pale “wrinkled” leaves, smooth buttery texture
Taste is: Sweet and mild
Great on summer sandwiches!

Cabbage (pictured above)

Can be: green or red. Red is sometimes known as “purple cabbage”
Leaves are: crisp and crunchy
Taste is: bitter and sharp

Chard (pictured above)

Also known as: Swiss Chard
Leaves are: large, deep green, “wrinkled” leaves are always eaten cooked
Taste is: similar to beets, while the stalks are somewhat like celery
Try it in this Bean and Swiss Chard soup recipe

Dandelion Greens (pictured above)

Leaves are: tender, flat, with jagged edges
Taste is: bitter
Young dandelion leaves may be used in salads, but the larger ones taste best when they’re cooked

Endive (pictured above)

Leaves are: tender and smooth
Taste is: mild and bitter. The lighter the endive, the milder the flavor is.
Their spoon-like shape makes them perfect for dips or try filling them with crab or chicken salad.

Escarole

Leaves are: wide and frilly
Taste is: mild. This is a good one to add for “fluff” and texture

Frisée (pictured above)

Leaves are: long, wide, and curly. Usually green, but sometimes edged in red
Taste is: slightly peppery or nutty
Try it with blue cheese, walnut, and cranberry on a crostini.

Kale (pictured above)

Leaves are: broad and ruffled, ranging from deep green to a bluish purple
Taste is: very mild, with cabbage undertones
The site Veganyumyum has a delicious-sounding recipe for kale salad with orange-blackberry vinaigrette. Kale is also often served cooked, as in this recipe with cranberries and pine nuts.

Iceberg (pictured above)

Leaves are: tender, crisp, and pale-green
Taste is: mild and crunchy
Perfect for a make-ahead salad with peas

Leaf Lettuce (pictured above)

Leaves are: either red-tipped or dark green, ruffled and tender
Taste is: mild but interesting
Enjoy this lettuce on sandwiches or hamburgers

Mesclun (pictured above)

The term mesclun comes from the French word for a mix of tender young salad greens. You can buy this pre-mixed in bags, or make your own blend.
Leaves are: Varied, as a mesclun could include arugula, frisée, radicchio, dandelion greens, fresh herbs, and other salad greens
Taste is: Depends on the greens included, but is usually “bitter” or peppery
This is good to mix with a milder lettuce or spinach for a great tossed salad!
Try poached eggs with pancetta and tossed mesclun

Radicchio (pictured above)

Leaves are: crisp, deep red and white
Taste is: bitter and peppery
A honey-citrus dressing is the perfect foil for radicchio’s peppery bite

Romaine (pictured above)

Also known as: cos
Leaves are: long green leaves, with a crunchy center vein
Taste is: bitter and succulent
This lettuce is used in a Caesar salad or great for a taco salad

Spinach (pictured above)

Leaves are: tender, dark green, and sometimes wrinkled, sometimes smooth
Taste is: slightly bitter and somewhat hearty

Tat Soi (pictured above)

Also known as: spoon cabbage or baby bok choy
Leaves are: spoon shaped
Taste is: peppery

Watercress (pictured above)

Leaves are: small and dark-green on long stems
Taste is: strong and peppery
This sounds amazing: avocado and watercress salad with a soy-apple dressing

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Crunchy, Crisp, Spicy and Spiky: Our 9 Go-To Salad Greens

We’re never far from a salad craving here at Blue Apron. Whether we’re aiming to highlight seasonal ingredients or balance out a rich meal, a bowl of crisp greens beckons us.

If you’re a salad fiend (or you want to be one), this is your moment to discover our favorite greens, what we love about them, and the salads we adore throwing together. Plus, how to make any salad dressing from scratch.

**9 Common Types of Salad Greens**

Green Leaf or Red Leaf Lettuce
These two lettuces are packed with bright leafy flavor. They arrive in robust heads, and the leaves are never papery. We especially love how all the nooks and crannies of the ruffled leaves hold onto whatever delicious dressing we’ve whipped up. We love tossing green leaf lettuce with seasonal ingredients, as in this Chopped Salad with Sweet Potato, Apple, and Blue Cheese, or using them in place of bread in our Korean Chicken Lettuce Wraps.

Arugula
Arugula has a peppery bite to its lacy and delicate leaves. That edge makes it a great candidate for the simplest-ever salads–just greens and vinaigrette–and, apparently, irresistible to yuppies in the 1990s. That history aside, we love to pile the greens atop fresh pizza, just as they do in Italy.

Napa Cabbage
Napa cabbage, with its crinkly leaves and elongated shape, has a milder and somewhat sweeter flavor than regular green cabbage and is a nice crunchy change of pace from your regular leafy green. It’s the main event in many Asian salads, a move we borrow in our Chopped Napa Cabbage Salad with Creamy Ginger Lime Dressing.

Bibb, Butter, or Boston Lettuce
This lettuce, which goes by any of the above B-prefaced names, has a buttery yet crisp texture. There’s a nice crunch when you bite in, followed by near melt-in-your-mouth deliciousness. We love to pair Bibb/Butter/Boston with more delicate mains, like Shakshouka or Mushroom-Lettuce-Tomato Sandwiches.

Frisee & Chicory
Frisee and chicory are similar greens, both spiky and a little bitter, and, as a result, ultra nutritious. As with escarole, we like to pair these two greens with stronger, heartier ingredients. They may look delicate, but they can stand up to beef, warm goat cheese, and purple potatoes.

Escarole
Escarole is a hearty green with a bitter flavor whose strong leaves stand up to any number of full-bodied ingredients, like bacon or strong cheeses. We especially adore it combined with warm ingredients, as in this Cannellini Bean & Escarole Salad with Crispy Potatoes; the crispy potatoes wilt the greens, making them even more enjoyable to eat.

Romaine
The cool crunch of Romaine makes it a favorite for light, summery salads. It’s also the go-to for the traditional Caesar, since it’s a perfect contrast to the creamy, cheesy dressing. We also use the likable lettuce as the base for our Baby Vegetable Nicoise.

Iceberg
No lettuce list would be complete without cool, crunchy iceberg lettuce. Though it lacks the nutritional value of a red leaf or an arugula, we’d argue there’s no better vessel for bacon, chicken, apple, and chives–better known as the Chicken Wedge Salad. Plus, it keeps for a while in the fridge, meaning you’ll always have a vegetable on hand.

Spinach
Wholesome baby spinach salads were all the rage in the first decade of the 2000s, often topped with everything from sweet fruit to crunchy nuts. Spinach has an earthy attitude and, like escarole, is particularly awesome beneath warm toppings (it almost melts beneath a steak). Anyway, there’s a reason that food trends happen, and this is one we’d like to continue, especially when we pair the green with strawberries, almonds, and a balsamic vinaigrette as in our Flank Steak with Strawberry-Spinach Salad

People who reside in places with a shorter growing season have come up with many clever ways to extend the harvest –from row covers to cold frames to greenhouses.

Succession planting is another way to maximize your vegetable garden’s productivity. Varying by approach, succession planting involves careful consideration of crop type, maturity dates, space, and timing.

Cut and come again gardening offers a similar boost to yields as succession planting, but without any extra planning. It’s definitely the easiest way to get a succession of harvests throughout the season, and all from a single plant.

Any plant that grows in a rosette is a good candidate for cut and come again. For example, leafy greens are terrific cut and come again plants. Snip the outer leaves while leaving the younger inner leaves intact for fresh salads throughout the summer. Many herbs can handle repeated harvests too.

Best of all, many cut and come again plants are super nutrient dense, providing you with plenty of vitamin and mineral rich foods throughout the summer.

20 Cut & Come Again Veggies For Endless Harvests

Amaranth (Amaranthus spp.)

Grown for its edible leaves and seeds, amaranth also features a gorgeous display of tightly packed purplish flowers that grow in spikes.

Amaranth greens can be plucked as they grow. Smaller leaves will be tender and mild in taste while more mature greens have a deeper, nuttier flavor.

Arugula (Eruca sativa)

Arugula is a tangy leafy green vegetable, excellent in homemade mesclun mixes. It is a fast growing, cool season crop that can be harvested just four weeks after sowing.

Arugula leaves taste best when still young, so pick greens when they are 2 to 3 inches long, working from the outside of the plant in.

Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis)

A perennial vegetable that returns year after year, asparagus takes two to three growing seasons to become established enough for its first harvest.

Once matured, check up on your asparagus plants every other day. When shoots are at least six inches tall, snip off at the soil line. Cutting asparagus will encourage more growth for new shoots.

Basil (Ocimum basilicum)

Basil is a fast growing, heat loving herb that yields plenty of leaves for making pesto, soups, flavored oils, and more. It is also a fantastic companion plant for tomatoes and peppers, all while naturally repelling many garden pests.

To keep basil plants compact and productive, snip tops off ¼ inch above the node – like so.

Beet Greens (Beta vulgaris)

Beets are fantastic producers in the garden. Not only will beet plants provide you with healthful root vegetables at the end of the season, they also produce an abundance of nutrient rich leafy greens as the beetroots grow.

For the tastiest beet greens, continually harvest throughout the season. Snip outer leaves when they are no more than 6 inches tall – the smaller the leaf, the more tender. Take a cutting or two from each plant, leaving an inch of stem still attached to the beetroot.

Bok Choy (Brassica rapa var. chinensis)

A shade loving Chinese cabbage, bok choy grows in a celery like habit with a bulbous base and broad green leaves.

Remove outer leaves for on the go harvesting. Or cut the entire plant back, leaving a couple of inches of growth – bok choy will resprout a new plant.

Celery (Apium graveolens)

Celery requires a longer growing period (130 to 140 days) in cooler summer temperatures. If you reside in a good climate for growing celery, you will be rewarded with a bountiful harvest.

Snip outer celery stalks and work your way inwards when the plant is 8 inches tall. Store stalks in the fridge and they will keep for several weeks.

Chicory (Cichorium intybus)

Great sautéed or eaten fresh in salads, leaf chicory very much resembles a dandelion in its growth habit. Since it forms rosettes as it grows, pluck a few outer leaves from each plant for a bountiful harvest.

Chives (Allium schoenoprasum)

Chives are an easy to grow perennial herb with a spiky grass like appearance. You can receive a multitude of harvests throughout the summer months by pruning the entire plant back, leaving an inch or two of growth at the soil line. Be sure to cut often and regularly to keep chives productive and prevent them from going to seed.

Collard Greens (Brassica oleracea)

Closely related to kale and broccoli, collard greens are a loose leaf cabbage with broad green leaves that grow in a rosette.

Like other cruciferous vegetables, collards are a cool season crop that can take more than 60 days to mature. In the meantime, take leaf cuttings by snipping them off at the base of the thick stalk.

Corn Salad (Valerianella locusta)

A pint sized leafy green, corn salad (also called mâche, lamb’s lettuce, nut lettuce, and rapunzel) is a tiny annual with deep green leaves and a distinctive nutty flavor.

Harvest outer leaves when they are 3 inches in length, working from the outside in.

Cress (Lepidium sativum)

Garden cress is one of the fastest growing foods, ready to be harvested in just two weeks. It is a spicy herb that adds a delectable zing to salads and soups.

Once cress is about 4 inches tall, you can take your first cutting. Leave a ½ inch stem behind and garden cress will quickly regrow.

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

A wildflower with many uses, dandelions have long been considered a weed due to its amazing ability to persist. Thanks to its deep taproot, it can be cut all the way down to the ground and will happily regrow.

Harvest dandelions flowers to make tea and botanical oils, and use the green leaves for salads.

Kale (Brassica oleracea)

Available in varying shades of green and purple, kale is a type of non-heading cabbage with crinkly or flat leaves. Kale becomes bitter when exposed to too much heat so seeds should be planted in spring and fall.

Taking around two months to mature, you can pluck young leaves from the plant for fresh salads or wait for larger leaves to use in cooking.

Radicchio (Cichorium intybus var. foliosum)

A type of leaf chicory, radicchio is well known for its striking purple-red leaves and bright white veins. It has a somewhat bitter, spicy, and nutty flavor raw but becomes much sweeter when touched by frost or roasted.

Though the more common varieties grow similarly to cabbage, there are other types of radicchio that form upright heads that resemble romaine lettuce. Either type can be a cut and come again plant. Carefully peel back and remove the outer leaves for heading varieties.

Romaine Lettuce (Lactuca sativa)

With tall upright heads and firm ribs, romaine (or cos) lettuce spans far more varieties than the common green leaf type used in Caesar salads.

Because they bunch together as they grow, cut the outer leaves for easy greens on the go.

Scallions (Allium fistulosum)

Also known as green onions or spring onions, scallions are quick growing plants with tubular, hollow green shoots that emerge from a small bulb.

Because they grow so rapidly, snip greens an inch or two above the soil line when plants are about six inches tall. Scallions will continue to send out shoots from the bulb.

Spinach (Spinacia oleracea)

Spinach requires six weeks of cooler temperatures to thrive. As it grows, keep an eye on its leaves and pick them before they have fully matured. If you wait too long, spinach becomes bitter with age.

To get the most out of your crop, harvest outer leaves and let the center continue to grow.

Swiss Chard (Beta vulgaris subsp. vulgaris)

Swiss chard is essentially a beet, but without the edible bulb. It grows crinkly, deep green leaves on colorful stems.

Keep Swiss chard productive by snipping outer leaves as soon as they are mature.

Turnip Greens (Brassica rapa)

As with beets, turnips produce tasty and nutritious greens above the soil. Cut these when they are about 4 inches in length, taking just a couple leaves from each plant at a time.

Cut & Come Again Gardening Tips

There inevitably comes a time where cut and come again vegetables will have expended all their energy and exhausted their capacity to produce new growth.

Although you should be able to get several harvests per plant each growing season, you can help replenish their energy stores by fertilizing regularly. Use a well rounded fertilizer, such as compost tea.

Each time you take from a plant, give it a thorough watering. A good drink after cutting will aid in the plant’s recovery while also boosting growth.

Cut and grow again

Baby Kale var. Red Russian being harvested as a cut-and-grow-again system

Most vegetable gardeners growing leafy vegetables will have heard the term ‘cut-and-grow-again’. As a harvesting technique the term is often poorly understood, and many gardeners may not appreciate quite how useful the system is – especially if they have just a small piece of land.

Any vegetable that is picked for its leaves can be harvested under a cut-and-grow-again system. This includes vegetables that most people would not consider suitable, such as kales, cabbages and hearted lettuces, as well as those that have become associated with the system like leafy lettuces, oriental greens, chards and perpetual spinach.

Leafy crops suitable for harvesting under a cut-and-grow-again system: Oriental leaves and chard var. Bright Lights

Leafy vegetables have one active growing point at the centre of the plant where the leaves of the plant are produced. When harvesting these vegetables a gardener must choose where to cut. A cut made at the base will remove the whole plant including the central growing point. This is a single harvest approach typical for cabbages and hearted lettuces. With the growing point gone, all that remains is to clear the remaining stump to make space for the next crop.

A single harvest approach – cutting below the growing point

But that same gardener, poised over the crop with the knife, could make the cut just a little higher above the plant’s main growing point. After a successful cut-and-grow-again harvest a sizeable handful of loose leaves will be picked, while the growing point will remain undisturbed. A close inspection of the remaining plant will reveal several tiny, immature but perfectly formed leaves, and right in the very centre the growing point. Undamaged by the harvest the growing point will continue to produce leaves, and with nothing to impede their growth the miniscule leaves will quickly grow into full-sized leaves. In good growing conditions a spinach, lettuce or parsley plant could have enough new green leaves to be harvested again within just a few weeks. With no work at all – no seed to sow or new plants to tend – and at a fraction of the time there are more young, tender leaves ready to eat for another meal.

Red Salad bowl lettuce: uncut, loose leaves just cut and regrowth after a cut-and-grow-again harvest

Pak choi var. Joi Choi: full sized head; just harvested under a cut-and-grow-again harvesting system; regrowth

Mizuna: just cut, regrowth and fully mature plants

All this depends on the gardener cutting above the growing point so it helps to know exactly where that growing point is situated. How can that spot be identified? Quite literally it is at the centre of the plant, just above the point where the smallest leaves are attached. Normally this is quite close to the ground, but it does vary depending on the type of vegetable and its maturity.

Little gem lettuce var. Bubbles cut in half to show the postion of the growing point.

It is easy to tell if a cut has been made too low: if any harvested leaves, even just two of them, are attached at their base then the growing point has been removed and the vegetable’s regrowth ability has been seriously impaired.

Perpetual spinach: growing crop and loose leaves of perpetual spinach harvested by a cut-and-grow-again system.

Frequency

There is no rule about how often leaves should be harvested under a cut-and-grow-again system, but there are some basic guidelines to help a gardener decide. A general rule-of-thumb is to let the vegetable develop a decent amount of leaf before taking a cut, but not to wait so long that the quality of the older leaves start to deteriorate.

Managing a bed

If managed well a cut-and-grow-again crop is highly efficient, continuously producing green leaves that are generally better quality and available over a longer harvest period than the same crop picked as individual plants. The trick is to start harvesting early, when the plants are still quite young. At the next, and each subsequent, harvest cut the neighbouring uncut plants, but do not be tempted to take more than is required.

A bed of curly parsley var. Bravor (left) and pak choi var. Joi Choi (right) managed under a cut-and-grow-again harvest system

All good things come to an end

Unfortunately, even the best things come to an end. Eventually, the growing tip stops producing leaves and switches from a vegetative to a flowering stage. When this happens the plant has become reproductive, and will start to ‘bolt’, i.e. leaf production has stopped, the stem will elongate and a flower will emerge.

The length of the vegetative stage depends on the vegetable. For instance parsley and perpetual spinach, which are biennials, will produce new leaves throughout a growing season, and will only start to flower after having gone through a winter. Other crops, such as lettuces, coriander, rocket and oriental leaves, which are annuals, have different triggers to becoming reproductive and will have a much shorter growing period.

To the gardener, the first visible sign of the flowering stage is when the vegetable starts to elongate. As soon as a gardener notices the first signs of bolting the game is up, and now is the time to sow another crop.

Bolted crops of pak choi (left) and perpetual spinach (right)

After the crop has bolted the only thing to do is clear the bed

© Joy Michaud

Grow a Year-Round Indoor Salad Garden

My daily routine starts with soaking the seeds that I plan to grow. In fresh water, I soak 1 tablespoon each of sunflower, pea, radish, and buckwheat seeds, and 1 teaspoon of broccoli seeds. This is my daily minimum, and it will yield about 14 ounces of cut greens. The seeds should soak from 6 to 24 hours before planting. Even the smaller seeds, such as broccoli or mustard, should soak that long. I use 3-ounce plastic cups or small glass Mason jars for soaking. Whatever you use, it needs to be waterproof, I once made the mistake of using paper Dixie cups that fell apart overnight. Fill the cups to the brim, because the seeds will absorb a lot of water. My habit is to soak the seeds in the evening while I plant seeds from the day before and water my trays of greens. Then, I plant those seeds the next day. If your seeds have been soaking for 24 hours and you can’t get around to planting them, just pour the water off and let the seeds start to germinate in the cup. This isn’t ideal, but it will still give you a good crop.

Once the seeds are soaking, make sure your soil mix is moist; use 1 gallon of dry soil mix to 1 quart of water. When the soil is ready, I fold a few sheets of newspaper to use as a cover for each tray of seeds. The wet paper keeps the seeds moist better than the soil alone does, and it’s cleaner than wet soil. Plus, the wet paper helps to block light from getting to the germinating seeds too soon.

When you’re ready to plant, put 1 tablespoon of compost and 1/2 teaspoon of sea kelp meal in the bottom of the tray. Then, fill the tray with the moistened soil mix, up to 1/4 inch from the rim. You’ll need a little space for the seeds and for room to hold the water while it soaks in. Then, level off the soil so it’s even. Plant the seeds by dumping them on top of the soil; don’t bury them, as they’ll be covered with the wet newsprint instead.

After they’re planted and covered, move the trays into a warm, dark place for the next four days. I use the cupboard over my refrigerator, which is warm and dark. I also have a cupboard by our woodstove that’s cozy and dark. You could use a closet or even a cardboard box in a warm spot on the floor. If you don’t have a really warm place, this method will still work, it just might take five or six days for the sprouts to grow up to an inch high.

All these steps combine to force quick germination and growth. It may be counterintuitive for gardeners or farmers who generally put seedlings into the light as soon as they germinate so that their stems are short and stocky. In contrast, you’ll be encouraging these seeds to grow long stems to reach for the light before putting them on a windowsill to get some sun.

When the greens poke up about an inch high and the wet newspaper cover is sitting on top of the still-yellow leaves, I call it the push-up day, or the final day of their stint in the dark. This is the day that you’ll want to move trays into the light. I have a freestanding shelf that’s 20 inches wide, 12 inches deep, and 72 inches high, and it has a cupboard to keep the trays in the dark and four shelves above the cupboard for the trays to turn green and grow. This shelf illustrates the absolute minimum amount of space you’ll need to grow enough salad greens for four people to have a good-sized tossed salad every day.

When the salad greens are about 6 to 10 inches high, they’ll be ready to harvest. I prefer scissors, but a sharp knife works well too. First, pick off any remaining seed hulls, and then cut the greens about 1/4 inch above the soil line. I place the cut greens in a shallow container and rinse them in fresh water. By covering the greens with water, any remaining seed hulls will float to the surface and dump out over the edge of the container.

Chop the harvested salad greens into small pieces, about 1/4 inch at the stem end and longer at the leaf end. The stem ends are usually tender, but the longer they grow, the tougher the bottom of the stem can get. Buckwheat lettuce, radish, and sunflower greens are tender enough to top a sandwich without cutting them, but I like to chop them for use in a salad.

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Most local farm stores don’t carry organic seeds in 2- or 4-pound bags, they usually only sell the ounce packages, which are too expensive for this purpose. I’ve used seed stores online, such as Johnny’s Selected Seeds, High Mowing Organic Seeds, and Handy Pantry, and I have my own online store, The Daily Gardener. Many catalogs now offer seeds for sprouts, but I caution you to buy a small amount to start with to make sure you’re happy with the germination rate and the size of the soil sprouts before you buy a large quantity of seeds.

That’s all there is to it. This method for growing an indoor salad garden has surpassed every expectation and hope I had when I first started this project after a moment of inspiration.

An avid gardener, author Peter Burke has been teaching garden classes since 2006. He also started The Daily Gardener, a shop that provides organic seeds for indoor gardening. He lives and gardens with his family in Calais, Vermont.

A Simple Way to Grow Fresh Greens Indoors This Winter

Just because the temperatures have started to drop doesn’t mean you have to live without fresh greens until spring. No matter what size home you live in, there’s room for a garden of soil-grown sprouts to carry you through the depths of winter. You just need a little guidance from someone who understands the struggles of living small.

The following is an excerpt from Year-Round Indoor Salad Gardening by Peter Burke. It has been adapted for the web.

Growing soil sprouts runs counter to much of what I always held true about gardening in general. When I try to explain soil sprouts to my farming friends and gardening buddies, they often have trouble understanding the concept at first. I know what bothers them: They think that if they plant 70 sunflower seeds or 150 broccoli seeds, their crop will be enormous compared to the tray of greens I describe.

One farmer complained, “It is so seed intensive.” He thought too many seeds were required, and he dismissed the idea. He reasoned that one mature sunflower could produce easily hundreds of seeds, or each full-grown plant a large head of broccoli. Why harvest the sprouts before they’ve had a chance to produce their full yield?

But when you look at it in a different light, it makes sense. No one would call it “seed intensive” to grind up wheat berries or corn kernels—which are viable seeds—to make bread or object to boiling rice to make dinner. Soil sprouts are just another way—a different way—to eat seeds. Rather than grinding or boiling I grow them for a short time. Plus many of the seed varieties that I grow for greens wouldn’t be used as food themselves, like radish seeds and broccoli seeds.

With my methods, seeds that could only be planted in the outdoor garden in the past can now be used to grow fresh greens indoors. They’ve found a useful place in the pantry as winter food. An indoor salad garden can even work as a full-time garden for those who live in apartments or condominiums with no other place to grow their own food.

Indoor Gardening Takes a Different Approach

The techniques that work for an indoor salad garden of soil sprouts are not the same as those I use for my earth garden. Much of what I had learned about gardening went out the window when I started this project. An indoor garden required an entirely different approach. For instance, instead of watering the seeds after planting, as I would normally do in my earth garden, I water the seeds before planting by soaking them. Where I usually plant seeds in the soil outdoors, for soil sprouts I scatter the seeds on top of the soil indoors. In my outdoor garden seeds are planted in carefully spaced patterns. For my indoor garden’s soil sprouts I spread the soaked seeds on top of the soil so close together that the seeds touch.

Normally gardeners take pains to provide plenty of light for young plant starts, providing grow lights from the moment the new plants emerge from the soil. It’s a totally opposite approach for soil sprouts; I start them in the dark for 4 days.

For the experienced gardener, it’s a bit of a challenge to go against the grain of years of gardening outdoors. I know it was for me. If this is your first garden and it’s all new, you don’t have the “this-is-how-I-usually- do-it” attitude to overcome. But I should give you fair warning that if your expert gardener friends tell you you’re doing it all wrong, they would be right—that is, if you were growing outdoors!

Just be patient and invite them over for a fresh salad sometime in January, when they’re frozen out of their own gardens.

1. Watering the Seeds First

Presoaking gives the seeds a jumpstart before planting. Usually seeds must soak up enough water from the soil to initiate growth. Depending on the environment it might take days before the seeds even begin to sprout. Although soaking is common to hasten the process of growth for large seeds, with soil sprouts all of the seeds are soaked first, regardless of size. This step is a key to realizing the “fast growth” found in indoor salad gardening.

2. Plant on Top of the Soil

Planting the seed on top of the soil also saves a day or two because the stem and leaf don’t have to push up through the soil. It also prevents the seed hull and leaves from being covered in soil and keeps the sprout cleaner. Cleaner stems and leaves mean there’s less of a chance the plants will develop damp off (a disease that quickly kills young shoots) or molds, and the greens are easy to clean at harvest time. If you’ve ever cleaned fresh greens from the garden, you’ll appreciate this aspect of soil sprouts.

3. Seeds Are Touching

Outside I would need a 50-foot garden row to plant the same tablespoon of sunflower seeds that I use inside in a small tray that’s only 1⁄8 of 1 square foot in size. By planting the seeds so close that they touch, I get the maximum possible harvest of greens from the smallest possible area. The seed has only enough room to send a root down into the soil and a stem up toward the light, but this is entirely adequate for the short “growing season” of shoots.

4. Grow in the Dark

Growing in the dark also flies in the face of everything I know about vegetable gardening. For my traditional garden I use lights and a cold frame or a greenhouse to give young plants plenty of light in the early stages. But soil sprouts are grown for the stem and first leaves of the plant only, and the first few days of darkness encourage a long stem to grow by “forcing” the seed to search for light. Outdoors, in more hostile conditions, a seed stem may have to make its way through a pile of leaves or straw before it comes out of the dark. The simulated darkness of a tray with paper covers takes advantage of this natural urge in plants to search for light. It encourages a very productive harvest. Total darkness isn’t necessary; even low-light conditions will do the job of forcing the sprouting seeds to develop long stems in the first stages of growth.

5. Plant Every Day

In my outdoor earth garden I typically plant varieties like tomatoes or squash once per season. For vegetables like lettuce and carrots I do a second planting at mid-season to harvest a fall crop. For varieties like radishes I replant every 2 weeks and enjoy a steady supply of fresh roots all growing season.

With soil sprouts I plant every day. For a steady supply of greens from my indoor salad garden, planting every day is key. I routinely start small batches of seeds, about 5 tablespoons (74 ml) spread over five trays each day. So every day a batch of seeds planted a week ago are coming to harvest. And I know just how many trays I’ll need, week to week, harvesting just what I need each time. I want my indoor salad garden to remain small and manageable, not large or time-consuming.

6. Harvest More from the Seed

As I explained above my objective when growing sprouts in soil is to encourage rapid growth of the stem and a large seed leaf (called a cotyledon). This allows me to harvest nearly all of the stored nutrition from the seed. This general principle has been understood in Asia and elsewhere for many centuries. I was surprised to read an Italian recipe from the year AD 1624 that included radish sprouts, and the English have used cress sprouts for many years, too. Rich in vitamin C, cress sprouts helped sailors to combat scurvy on long voyages. For my indoor salad garden, I’ve included a variety of seeds and developed in-depth techniques to grow soil sprouts full time.

Some mystery still remains, though, even after all these years working with seeds. I’m always excited by the miracle I witness each time I soak them for another batch of sprouts. As soon as I pour the water onto the seeds, it’s off to the races, with all the potential in those little “horses” galloping to the finish line—I can almost hear the cheers!

I’ve learned a lot about seeds and sets from growing soil sprouts; in fact some of the techniques I’ve put to good use in my outdoor garden, too. Take peas, for instance. They’re hardy in the cool Vermont spring, but that’s truer for the plant than the seed. An early, wet spring can make for patchy germination at best, and other times the peas just rot in the soil. One early spring day a few years ago, I realized that I had all these hale and hearty pea sprouts growing indoors in trays, and I wondered, “Why not transplant them outdoors?”

They were an instant success.

I planted two rows of peas, and they had no trouble growing perfectly well, with no setback effect from transplanting. This was especially surprising. The typical book on gardening will tell you that peas do not transplant well!

For many years, I have had an annual bet with a friend of mine: Whoever grows the first 3-inch pea plant wins. He categorically ruled this transplantation technique unfair. For our bet the seeds must be planted directly in the ground outdoors. Still I plant an extra-early batch of peas just for bragging rights—and for the delicious sweet peas, too. Sometimes going against the grain, stepping outside the box and doing something counterintuitive, offers rich rewards. Growing soil sprouts is one of those times.

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How to sow salad

You don’t need to have a greenhouse or even a propagator to grow your own salad leaves. You can sow salad leaves indoors on a sunny windowsill. These tips will help you grow tasty salad from the comfort of your own home.

How to sow salad on a windowsill

Start by selecting the salad leaves you wish to grow. A simple mix of different leaves such as ‘Leaf Salad Spicy Oriental Mix’ or ‘Leaf Salad Winter Mix’, which is ready to harvest just three weeks after sowing, is the easiest way to do it.

If you want more control over the salad leaves that you grow, choose seed of individual leaves and then mix them together before sowing. The following crops are suitable for growing for a leafy indoor harvest: Beetroot, rocket, pak choi, lamb’s lettuce, mizuna, spinach, lettuce ‘Salad Bowl’.

Sowing salad leaves – step-by-step

  • Start by filling a pot with multi-purpose compost. Choose a pot at least 20cm wide and 15cm deep. Firm the compost surface with your hands so the compost level is about 1cm from the rim of the pot.
  • Place a saucer under the pot, then water the compost using a watering can with a sprinkler head on it. Once the water has drained into the saucer, you are ready to sow.
  • Sprinkle the seed on the surface of the compost. Don’t worry if some of the seeds are touching, but make sure that the seed is scattered as evenly as possible. Aim for a light covering of seed over the compost surface.
  • Cover the seed with a fine layer of sieved compost – or you can use Perlite or Vermiculite – so that none of the seeds are visible.
  • Place a large clear plastic food bag upside down over the top of the pot and secure it to the rim of the pot with a strong elastic band.
  • Place the pot on a well-lit sunny windowsill in a room that is heated at between 18-22C. Keep checking the pot and add more water to the saucer each time the compost looks pale and dry.
  • Germination times can vary but seedlings should appear in 10-14 days. Keep rotating the pot after germination, or the seedlings will start to lean towards the light and can become stretched and ‘leggy’.
  • Once the seedlings are starting to produce leaves, feed them with a liquid feed such as Miracle-Gro all purpose liquid plant food to encourage rapid growth.
  • When the stems have reach 15-20cm long, they are ready to harvest. Cut them with kitchen scissors, leaving half of the plant intact. They will regrow and give you another harvest in a few weeks’ time.

To find out how to grow chillies from seed, click here.

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