I’ve been learning how to preserve homegrown lettuce from the garden and have found the best way to make it stay crisp and fresh longer. Outside of utilizing the crisper drawer to store lettuce, I’ve learned a few tips and tricks over the years. Learn how to keep your lettuce crisp and fresh longer so you can grow your garden and eat it, too.
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How to preserve lettuce from the garden longer, keeping it crisp and fresh until used.
Taking lettuce out of the crisper drawer to find it limp and curling at the edges (or finding rotten lettuce) as it starts to turn brown is a bummer. Especially when it was in there for a very long time.
You work so hard on growing beautiful salad greens, just to let them shrivel up a day after your harvest? Not anymore!
Good news! The days of wasting your garden-fresh lettuce and fresh greens are gone. Learn how to keep your homegrown lettuce fresh as long, or longer than, store-bought lettuce!
Different types of lettuce
It’s important to understand the different varieties of lettuce when choosing which one to grow. Lettuce plants are lumped into categories determined by their lettuce leaves type and the heads of lettuce. When it comes to a home garden, you’ll mainly find romaine, crisphead and butterhead lettuce so we will focus on those for the purpose of this article. These are also the most commonly found in the grocery store and fresh salads.
Romaine lettuces are a hard-leaf lettuce variety. Often harvested as a whole head of lettuce, you can also harvest the leaves slowly as they grow instead of ending the entire plant from another lettuce harvest. When romaine is fully matured, the head of lettuce is shaped like a long, narrow football with layers of luscious crisp leaves without much water content.
You can enjoy romaine’s eloquent tasting leaves in salads, on sandwiches, etc. Romaine is one of the easiest lettuces to preserve.
Butterhead lettuce is among the soft-leaf lettuce varieties. This loose-leaf lettuce develops a sweeter-tasting crop. It develops a loose head, making it a perfect cut-and-come-again crop to grow in your garden. Butterhead’s light, buttery palate and soft leaves make it the perfect loose leaf lettuce for sandwiches.
Crisphead lettuce, also known as iceberg lettuce, is a harder lettuce with tight, crisp leaves and a high water content.
Next time you’re at your garden center, or are planting these tiny seeds, keep in mind which lettuce seeds yield which variety.
How do you keep garden lettuce fresh and crisp?
How do you keep garden lettuce fresh and crisp?
Some of these methods will work for you and some of them might not. There might be a best time in your area to use certain methods in the early spring, and other methods that would be best for an early fall harvest. There isn’t a best-by date on homegrown harvests, so just use trial and error, take notes and keep an eye on your crop.
Don’t wash it
Although your first action after harvesting might be to wash your goodies, try to resist. Washing your hard-leafed lettuce can add moisture to the leaves leading them to wilt a little quicker.
For lettuces like romaine, it’s best to harvest them as a whole head and add them to a quality storage container. I wrap mine with a paper towel to soak any excess moisture.
Check the paper towel often and switch it out once it’s saturated.
If you wash your lettuce, dry it very well
If you’re using soft-leaf lettuce, rinse your lettuce and either air-dry on a dish towel or gently spin them in a salad spinner. Flour sack towels or even cloth diaper inserts are a great way to air dry, also. Use whatever you feel will yield the best results drying your pre-washed lettuce.
The key when maintaining the freshness of soft-leaf lettuce is to eliminate excess moisture. I store my loose, soft-leaf lettuce in either plastic baggies or reusable baggies.
Be sure to not overstuff the baggies and add a paper towel, or dry, clean towel to suck up the extra moisture!
Invest in quality storage containers
Investing in quality storage containers for any reason is a good idea. The same applies to preserving your freshly harvested garden lettuce, investing in quality storage containers for any reason is a good idea.
I’ve been using these produce storage containers for about a year now and they never disappoint. I store broccoli, peppers, beans, my lettuce and my more in them.
I bought a head of romaine lettuce over the summer and, embarrassingly enough, I forgot about it. When I pulled the plastic container out about 2 weeks later, instead of finding a brown lettuce, I found a lettuce head with relatively fresh individual leaves. The inner leaves and romaine heart was even in pretty good shape! I could’ve lost a full head of lettuce, but didn’t.
You can also use mason jars for storage as well. I found this great new shop called “Mason Jars Makerplace” where you can buy different types of tops for the jars!
I have these great flip tops that work wonders if I want to store a small amount of long-stemmed herbs. Fill the jar with water, add the top and slip your herbs right in! This is one of the easiest ways to increase the shelf life of your lot of lettuce after a successful (or barely successful!) growing season.
Whenever I buy hard-leafed lettuce like romaine, I don’t wash it. I wrap it with one paper towel before putting them in my handy storage containers for later use.
Make sure you check the paper towel every 3-6 days, replacing the towel when it’s damp. Putting a paper towel in with your lettuce pulls the moisture from the crop. Less moisture means preserving lettuce to be fresh longer. #Winning
Keep an eye on it
If you’re planning a large harvest day, make sure you keep an eye on your produce after. It’s so unfortunate when you harvest a nice crop and forget about it for a little too long.
Don’t worry too much. There’s a quick tip for reviving lettuce that has started wilting!
Leave it in the garden
It might be best to leave your soft-leaf lettuce in the garden until you’re ready to enjoy it. A winner for the salad bowl and a favorite cool-season crop, Butterhead lettuces are great for a slow harvest in all methods of gardening, as long as it stays cool. Harvest the tender leaves (outer leaves) in the early morning to add to a spring mix of other leafy greens for lunch!
This way you can have your lettuce salads and eat it, too!
For hard-leaf lettuces (think romaine) consider practicing succession planting. Practicing succession planting with romaine lettuce provides an ongoing harvest of lettuce all season long. You can do this with any crop, plus it’s so much fun seeing crops in the garden. Here’s a visual example:
Download the image below (for free)!
How to harvest lettuce
Depending on the variety of lettuce, your harvest method will vary. Harvesting methods will also vary according to how you plan to enjoy your harvest.
For all varieties, harvest your lettuce just before maturity. The best taste is achieved with a young and tender crop. Once lettuce reaches or passes maturity, it will turn start tasting bitter and spoil quicker.
Harvest early in the morning before the sun is in full force as the leaves will be crisp and ‘well-rested’. For looseleaf varieties, use a sharp pair of small snips to gently clip the leaves away. For full-head varieties, use a sharp knife or harvest sickle to make one clean cut, removing the full head.
- It’s best to harvest lettuce in the morning before leaves have been exposed to the sun.
- As time passes and the plant loses vigor, planting a second round of seeds than waiting for new leaves is recommended.
- Keep lettuce in the refrigerator for up to 10 days in a loose plastic bag
Here’s a handy table to help you determine when to harvest your variety of lettuce.
|Ruby; Prizehead; Grand Rapids; Deer Tongue; Black Seeded Simpson; Green Ice; Lollo Rosso; Red Sails
|Iceberg; Crisphead Great Lakes; Igloo; Webbs Wonderful
Forellenschluss; Vivian; EZ Serve;
|Boston; Bibb; Buttercrunch; Four Seasons; Tom Thumb; Bronze Mignonette; Yugoslavian Red
|How to harvest
|Harvest as needed/ongoing
|Harvest full head with one clean cut at the base
|Harvest as needed/ongoing or wait for full-head is formed
|Harvest as needed/ongoing
How to revive lettuce after it has started to wilt
Did you harvest lettuce about a week ago and forget about it? Did you go to make your afternoon salad and realize you have a case of limp lettuce that has started to develop brown spots?
I told you there was a quick tip for if your lettuce starts to wilt! Add ice to cold water and submerge your lettuce for 10 minutes to 1 hour, depending on the hardiness of the variety.
Butterhead lettuce is a prime candidate for this ice water trick. Iceberg is not, as the lettuce is far too fragile and won’t withstand the ice crystals that will form on the leaves.
Your lettuce should start perking right up! This trick works with almost every vegetable, including fragile salad greens. For thicker, stalkier vegetables like broccoli, asparagus, etc. just put the stalk edge in a jar of water.
Don’t forget to download the image below (for free!)
Can you freeze lettuce?
I’ve often wondered if it’s possible to freeze lettuce to keep it fresh. My initial response would be ‘no’ since lettuce is a more tender vegetable.
It turns out that you can freeze almost anything and, although I haven’t tried it, you can read more about freezing lettuce here.
TL;DR? Here are the most important points from the above article:
It’s important to note you won’t be able to make salads with your frozen lettuce: quality freezer bag or not. I promise you honesty on this blog and honesty is what I’ll give ya.
It’s suggested to use frozen lettuce within six months of freezing. You won’t be able to make salads, but frozen lettuce can be added to soups, quiches, stir fry dishes and casseroles. If your lettuce is frozen correctly, you can thaw out full leaves in the fridge and use them as lettuce wraps.
You can also puree lettuce and freeze them in bags or ice cube trays. Dried lettuce is also an option, and will certainly keep for a much longer period at no extra cost. Creativity belongs in the garden and the kitchen. Whether your lettuces grows in container gardens or deep, hugelkulter garden beds there is a way to preserve your fresh lettuce harvest.
How do you preserve store bought lettuce?
Keeping store-bought lettuce fresher longer can be more difficult than homegrown, fresh harvested lettuce.
If you are buying lettuce in a bag, be sure to pick out and discard, or use, any piece of lettuce that already looks wilty – be sure to check the bottom of the bag! Add a paper towel, or a reusable towel, to your bag to soak up moisture. Check it regularly; remove and replace moist towels. If you leave the lettuce in the bag for a few days, consider poking a small hole in the bag to release moisture.
If you are buying fresh, unpackaged lettuce then you’ll want to treat it like your homegrown lettuce, with the added step of washing your lettuce thoroughly and making sure it’s dry. Add to a container of choice, and stick a towel in it. Be sure you remove any rubber bands.
Preserving lettuce: Conclusion
Part of homesteading is often learning how to eat locally and seasonally. Pay close attention and, for example, you’ll notice that products such as berries are more affordable in the warmer months (depending on where you are).
When eating lettuce, it will usually have to be fresh if you’re using it for salads and such. But if you use these tips and tricks, though, you can extend your harvest for weeks to months.
What’s your favorite type of lettuce to grow? Drop a comment below!
The winner of the giveaway is Gail from Wisconsin! Thank you to all that participated.
Check out all of our cohosts’ great garden information:
How to Choose the Best Garden Space from The Self-Sufficient HomeAcre
Choosing the Best Garden Seeds from Homegrown Self-Reliance
How to Grow Food in Just 3-4 Weeks from Oak Hill Homestead
Theme Gardens – How to cultivate fun, flavor & ‘buzz’ by The Farm Wife
How to establish a fantastic edible food forest easily by 15 Acre Homestead
Step-by-step plan on how to get your seeds started for a Spring garden by Bloom Where You’re Planted