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Lettuce – Eating Fresh Even After it Stalks?

You know how a lot of articles always tell you that once lettuce stalks it’s no good? That’s just not true. It might be true most of the time, but it’s not true all of the time.

The writers of those articles are lettuce growers who haven’t had to find a way to either make it last — or not eat lettuce.  I have been in that position often, so I’ve tried about everything when it comes to lettuce.

For years I bought those bags of organic lettuce at the Food Lion after my lettuce in the garden stalked. A couple of years ago I had a little question and answer session with myself.  I asked myself why I was eating this green stuff that had no taste to it and probably no nutrition?  After that I decided not to buy it anymore and put my money towards something a bit more nutritious.

Bottom line for me: lettuce out of the garden — or no lettuce at all.

Anyway — back to the stalking lettuce:

The Secret

It’s almost the end of July and most of my lettuce is stalking. It can still be eatable. The secret at this point in time is knowing which leaves to pick and when.

I picked this lettuce the morning of July 20th. Probably it will be the last lettuce harvest of the summer. But who knows? I said the same thing 3 pickings ago.

When to Pick

After lettuce has stalked and it’s middle-of-the-summer hot, the morning after a rain is prime time for what I call investigative harvesting. Since you can’t judge from how it looked the day before, going out to see what you can find is the only way you’ll know.

I’ve found the leaves of lettuce look totally different after a rain.

Reminder: It’s critical to have your bowl of cool water with you in the garden so you can immediately immerse the lettuce leaves after picking.

Now here’s rest of the secret:

Which Leaves to Pick

For green lettuces pick only leaves that have that same bright green as in the spring.  If they are dull or blue/green don’t pick them.  They won’t be any good.

Strangely, these could be leaves near the bottom of a foot high (or higher) stalk!  Many times they’ll be at the top of the stalk.  Other times they won’t.

For red lettuce – look for the same color it had in the spring.  If the leaves are too dull or faded they’re probably not good.

One point worth noting:  I wouldn’t pop it into my mouth at this stage.

After Leaving the Garden

  • It’s a good idea to leave your lettuce immersed in water, cover the bowl and put it in the refrigerator for 8 to 12 hours. Usually, I’d say an hour — but this late in the season and this hot — go for at least 8 hours. (Use water that is pure and not loaded with chemicals.)
  • Then remove from the frig, gently wash, and “fling” dry.
  • Place lettuce in plastic bag and refrigerate for another 24 hours if necessary.

The Taste

Realistically, it will taste stronger than new spring lettuce, but I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how good it is.

My Stalked Lettuces’ Track Record

My husband is the one with the ultra sensitive tastebuds.  If he detects even a small amount of bitterness he won’t eat it.  After I toss the lettuce with a little olive oil and vinegar he thinks it’s delicious 9 times out of 10.

Final Thoughts

The more you do this, the better you’ll get at knowing just by looking if the leaf is good or not.  Believe me, if you’re a lettuce lover like me, those fresh salads into July are worth the time and effort.

Other Posts on Lettuce:

Lettuce – Bitter? – Secrets to Keeping it Tasty

Lettuce – Favorites, Tips and Several Sources

Lettuce – Spinning Like a Great Chef

Lettuce – Plant in the Fall/Harvest for 3 Seasons

Lettuce – A Teaser and Reminder

Lettuce – Time to Plant

Lettuce – Cold Frames and Voles

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All content including pictures is copyrighted by TendingMyGarden.com.

16 comments to Lettuce – Eating Fresh Even After it Stalks?

  • Beppy

    Neat! This is so great. Thanks

  • gayle graham

    Theresa,
    I was one of those folks who pulled out the lettuce in late spring when it started stalking and didn’t even think about planting it again until fall—until I read your previous post, “Lettuce–Bitter…” This summer, for the first time, I planted lettuce in random places (under squash plants, between string beans, etc) and followed your advice about the cold water bath (in the garden, early in the day) and refrigeration. Guess what! We are eating delicious lettuce from the garden, even in this summer heat and we love the taste. Thanks for your advice!

    I have noticed lettuce will not sprout well in hot soil, but have managed to find a few shady spots that were cool enough to get seeds started. Do you have hints about planting during the summer months?

    Thanks,
    Gayle

  • Theresa

    Hi Beppy,

    Yes, it really is great having lettuce this late!

    Theresa

  • Theresa

    Hi Gayle,

    It pleases me greatly that you took action on what I wrote and are now eating delicious lettuce from your garden! Lettuce is just too good to not have it a lot more than just a month or two. I especially appreciate your taking time to let me know.

    As you have found, lettuce does not germinate in hot soil. (And accolades to you for going ahead and trying!) Once the temperature gets above 80 degrees lettuce doesn’t want to germinate. The optimal temperature for lettuce germination is 77 degrees. It will germinate at temperatures below that, but at 77 degrees you get about 99% germination in about 2 days. It’s quite grand that you found a spot cool enough in the garden to get the seeds started.

    There is a way around that. You can start them indoors where it’s cooler and then move the flat (or whatever) to outdoors. How it does will depend on the weather because as you already know — lettuce started in mid summer heat just doesn’t do what lettuce started in cool weather does. But if good fortune is with you —- you’ll really have a jump on the fall season! But be sure to sow more in August and September just in case the summer sown lettuce wears itself out —- which it probably will.

    I usually start sowing lettuce for fall about mid August. I start it in flats and then transplant to the garden. (A lot of people have success with sowing lettuce in the garden. I’m not one of them.)

    Again, I want to tell you how thrilled I am that you are eating and enjoying your lettuce still even in this July heat! Thank you so much for telling me about it.

    Theresa

  • Christine

    Theresa, thanks for the advice. Too bad I just pulled up all my lettuce that was stalking 🙂 I will know for next year. I am going to start my lettuce indoors for fall. I was successful this spring direct sowing but it seems like a better idea to start it inside since it’s so hot out.

  • Theresa

    Hi Christine,

    So sorry that you pulled up all your lettuce!

    I’ve written 9 posts on lettuce, but can you believe that I am going to write another! It’ll be on starting lettuce – fall planting – etc. Also one on summer varieites. Don’t know when I’ll get to them, but they’re coming.

    In the meantime, may I suggest that you direct sow as well as starting inside. For the direct sowing, wait till the temps cool a bit. Sprinkle lightly with straw. Water or wait for rain.
    You’ll be way ahead of the game by doing it both ways and you might find some things that are surprising.

    Let me know how you do. It was good to hear that you were successful this spring in direct sowing. Thanks for letting me know,

    Theresa

  • Lyn

    What can I do about these little beetle bugs eating my zucchini plants
    and my cucumber plants. I don’t want to use bug spray or anything poisonous?

  • Theresa

    Hi Lyn,

    By “little beetle bugs” I am assuming you are talking about cucumber beetles which come in two varieties – spotted and stripped.

    The real problems with these beetles is the bacteria that lives in them. When they bite into the plants they infect them with bacterial wilt. Which of course – shortens the time the plants will live and produce.

    At the beginning of the season many people use row covers to keep the beetle off. (You would have to hand pollinate when the seedling got blossoms.)

    You can also use a handheld vacuum to vacuum the bugs off and then dump them in soapy water to kill them.

    Or just hand pick them. Check for their eggs on leaves and squish those as well.

    In severe cases you could spray with Neem Oil. (I like to stay away from any spray.) Neem oil should be sprayed very early in the morning or late in the afternoon. Be very careful that you don’t spray when the bees are working or it could harm them and other beneficial insects as well.

    All I do is handpick.

    Theresa

  • lyndsay

    I saw you can buy lettuce stalks in the grocery store. I have 4 in my garden and was wondering what I could do with them? Thx lyndsay

  • Theresa

    Lyndsay – please explain in detail what you are talking about. If your lettuce has stalked in the garden — it’s going to seed. The only thing you can do is save the seed.
    I’ve never heard of buying lettuce “stalks” in the grocery store.
    Theresa

  • Kristina

    My lettuce stalked before I even knew when I should have harvested it. My husband found out we could still eat it and I harvested a lot for a friend, my sister and my parents. I still have more to pick but was curious if more leaves will grow in place of what I have taken or if I should just get rid of the stalks I am done with?
    Also, do have any advice for cabbage? For some reason wasps have taken interest in my cabbage and literally destroying them. When should I harvest those? Lost 2 to wasps but more are growing.
    Thanks!

  • Theresa

    Kristina,
    I raise numberous varieties of lettuce (all types) and start harvesting them when the leaves are only about 2 inches long! I call it grazing. I graze EVERY day and the lettuce continues to grow and replenish itself.

    I also succession plant from March through June, so I have lettuce in all stages. When the older lettuce stalks and/or turns bitter from the heat, I still have the newer lettuces. Then I start growing it again in late August to take me through the rest of the year and sometimes into the winter under a protective covering.

    If your lettuce has stalked and you pick off all the leaves, it may grow some leaves, but it will not renew itself.

    Unless you need the space to grow another crop, you could cut the stalks to the ground and allow the roots to rot in place. (That’s good for your soil.)

    I’ve written almost 2 dozens posts telling about how to grow and harvest lettuce well into the summer. Put the word “lettuce” in the search box on the left hand side of the side and click the magnifying glass to search. There’s all kinds of information to help you.

    I don’t know what’s happening with your cabbage.
    I do know that wasps are considered beneficial insects. I’ve watched them attack various pests in my garden, so I know first hand what they can do. Based on that, it could be that they are attacking some kind pest bug that’s on the cabbage.
    That would be a possible reason. If you ever find out for sure, I’d love to know.

    Good luck with everything!
    Theresa

  • Theresa

    Kristina — just one more thing. I hope you understood that the wasps are probably not doing the damage, but rather a pest bug is destroying the cabbage. The wasps are, in all probability, cleaning up the pests for you.
    Theresa

  • Rowela

    I saw some lettuce stalks in the Asian grocery store a few weeks ago, I’m just wondering if you know how to use them or how you cook them, they’re like 1 foot long and about 2 inches in diameter (minus the leaves , and tops/ flowers are chopped off)

  • Theresa

    Sorry Rowela. I don’t know anything about them. I eat lettuce only from my garden and have never tried eating the stalks. Although, I must say, I’m curious now. Might have to experiment. 🙂
    Theresa

  • Vicki

    Hello,I just started growing red leaf lettuce but I have no idea about when or how to harvest them. I picked a bunch and cleaned them and left them in the fridge and forgot all about them and ended up throwing them away.I haven’t picked any since, and that was in July or August. It is now September and they’re still in my garden growing. Are they still good?

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