One of the common mistakes home gardeners make with their vegetable beds revolves around when to harvest. People tend to let things go too long without picking or harvesting from the plant. My personal theory is that you're all waiting for what you're growing at home to look like what you buy at the store, but that's the wrong way to approach it! The beauty of growing your own food at home is that it really shouldn't look like you bought it from the grocery. Homegrown food is far more 'rustic' than anything you will find commercially grown. Embrace it! With that, I am often asked by clients and friends, "When is the right time to harvest lettuce?" More often than not, I will simply say, "Harvest the lettuce when you want to eat the lettuce." A typically infuriating answer, no doubt! I don't intend to be entirely blasé about it, but rather it truly is a matter of taste. Some people prefer small tender baby leaves. Some people prefer something hardier with heavy veins and a cripsy bite. Either way, experiment at various times throught the plants lifecyle. As a plant grows, it's leaves and fruits develop flavor and the flavor profile will change. Young greens tend to be sweet and mild. Older greens tend to get bitter and tough. As with most things in life, timing is everything and it's up to you to decide.
To harvest lettuce, try to remove the larger, outer leaves of the plant first. Using a small scissor, cut the stem as close to the base of the plant as possible, leaving the small interior leaves behind. These leaves will soon fill in and become outer leaves, and thus you're creating a cycle of lettuces to harvest. If you prefer to harvest full heads of lettuce, do so when the heads are full and the outer leaves are starting to yellow and wilt, but know that if you cut the entire plant, the odds of it being regenerative are diminished.
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