Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Lettuce Worth Saving

Living in a southern climate means an uncertain winter. Sometimes the winter is very cool while other times we experience 80-90 degree Fahrenheit days for a week or two at a time. Often, when there is a warm period during the winter the lettuce goes bitter. Even some more bitter-resistant kinds of lettuce that I have grown have gone bitter – until this year.

My Jerico Lettuce sprouted up quickly (Source: SESE)

Though Jerico Lettuce is not the most beautiful romaine lettuce it is the most bitter-free variety I have ever experienced. While some lettuce will go bitter in the middle of the winter, Jerico continued to produce healthy slightly-sweet leaves until they finally bolted in May.

Some uniformly green leaves of Jerico Lettuce

Saving lettuce is a pretty simple task. All a gardener needs to do is leave the lettuce alone and let the pollinators do their job. I chose to select my seed by saving only the largest lettuce heads that bolted last. Late bolting is essential to growing in a warm climate and if the early-bolting plants are not culled then the gardener will not improve the variety.

Lettuce beginning to bolt

Lettuce Flowers are so pretty

I am always experimenting with new techniques in harvesting and saving seed. This year I tried both cutting individual lettuce heads by hand (a very laborious process) as well as experimented with waiting until the majority of the seed had dried before cutting off each stalk. Cutting off individual heads by hand is probably only worthwhile if you have strong winds or the seed heads are going to be disturbed by something going through the garden. Otherwise it is much easier to wait until the majority of the seeds heads have started producing seeds and lop the whole stalk off at one time.

One method of harvesting lettuce is to harvest one head at a time.

Lettuce Heads beginning to dry.

I also harvest lettuce by cutting each stalk when most have gone to seed.

The rest dry out and go to seed shortly thereafter

Once I have gathered the seed heads and let them dry I rub them with my fingers to separate the individual seeds from the seed heads and white fuzz. Then I winnow them using either the wind (if there is a consistent wind outside) or a fan (if the wind is unpredictable that day).

Lettuce heads after drying and being rubbed to separate the seeds from the heads.

Winnowing the lettuce seed

That is about all that is required to save lettuce seed. I would highly recommend Jerico lettuce to anyone who wants to extend their lettuce crop beyond the usual season. It is not a beautiful variety, by any means, but it produces a reliable harvest long after other lettuce varieties have turned bitter.

Lettuce seed is easy and fun to harvest. (=


  1. I admit that I'm not a big seed saver, but I am always looking for varieties that do well here in Arizona. I will definitely add Jericho to my list. Thanks!

  2. How fun to try to improve the variety! Sounds like a great project.

  3. I really enjoy learning about seed saving and getting a kick in the pants to try it.

  4. Great post I will try this summer. But we have very short season in Canada. How long does it take from seed to harvest? How many seeds per plant we can get?

  5. Dear Waleed Serag,

    Thanks for your question.

    One lettuce plant can produce thousands of seeds. If grown in an enclosed area, such as a greenhouse, then you could most likely get a plant from seed to producing seed rather quickly. The key is to make sure the plant is large enough before introducing it to heat. Above 80 degrees Fahrenheit most lettuce begins to bolt (a process in which the stem rapidly grows up and the lettuce leaves become bitter). Once the stem grows to a certain size, it begins producing flowers, then seed. How long the process takes depends upon how ideal your gardening conditions are and how warm the soil is once the lettuce is large enough to sustain bolting and producing seed.


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