When is the best time to harvest buttercrunch lettuce? Usually, buttercrunch (or “butterhead”) lettuce is best harvested during the latter end of the year. The cool season in most growing zones in the United States starts around September to October.
Keep this in mind because buttercrunch lettuce normally needs as much as 75 days for optimal development. Around that time, you can be sure that it’s pretty much ready for harvesting. The key here is to harvest it in such a way that it keeps growing. This means removing the first head and then allowing the leaves to grow and create another crown.
Here are some basic tips to follow to ensure that you get a lot more lettuce from your buttercrunch harvest.
Step #1: Harvest only in the coldest part of your day
I can’t emphasize this enough. You should harvest only at the time of day that puts the least stress on the plant. If you harvest or remove heads during the heat of noon, the plant is doubly stressed. Not only are you stressing it out by removing its parts, but it’s also stressed from the heat and light of noon.
As much as possible, remove heads when it’s relatively nice and dark or cool, preferably both. Of course, you shouldn’t harvest in total darkness. You might hurt yourself because you’re using cutting equipment. But near the break of dawn would be an ideal time.
Step #2: Select only the firmest heads
You’re looking for the right texture. You can’t wait for the buttercrunch lettuce to fully mature and get really hard. Instead, look for enough firmness. It shouldn’t be tough because if you harvest buttercrunch lettuce once it has matured to peak toughness, you miss out on its best flavor and texture.
You want something that is nice and crisp to the bite, but at the same time delivers optimal freshness and flavor. The best way to get this, of course, is to harvest only firm heads that are not yet fully mature.
Step #3: When to harvest another head
Take a long look at the plant that you just harvested from. Ideally, you should have left enough leaves there for the plant to be able to produce another head that you can collect later on. This ensures that the lettuce will remain productive longer through the growing season.
You should be proactive, however. If you notice that there are too many leaves on the base of the plant, you might want to cut these back. Cut them individually. Why? You’re trying to reduce the chances that the plant will blossom.
You don’t want your buttercrunch lettuce base sprout flowers because this would change the internal chemistry of the plant and the lettuce head that it produces will be bitter or would have an overly tough texture.
So, understand that whenever lettuce starts producing flowers, the plant is basically changed for the worst. You have to prune the leaves in such a way as to discourage the production of flowers.
How to Harvest Buttercrunch Leaves
Buttercrunch lettuce leaves grow outwards from the center of the head. The younger leaves replace the outermost leaves that fall off or have been harvested. That means you can pick the outer leaves as you need them.
Because you can eat buttercrunch leaves of any size, wait at least 24 days if you want to harvest young lettuce leaves. You can start picking the leaves when they have grown to at least 2-3 inches or wait for them to develop fully.
You can do this repeatedly, and the lettuce leaves will keep growing back. It’s commonly referred to as cut-and-come-again harvesting.
Use one hand and gently hold the head steady, and use the other to pick the leaves off. Insert your thumb into the inner side near the base, then grab the leaf with the rest of your fingers. Gently detach the leaf from the base by twisting it off.
You can also use gardening shears or scissors to trim the individual leaves off the base. Whichever method you use, be careful not to disturb or damage the delicate roots.
How to Harvest Buttercrunch Heads
Buttercrunch lettuce heads take about 50 to 60 days to mature and grow to about 6 to 8 inches in diameter. The leaves are broad and fan-shaped and have a vibrant green color. There’s an ample window of time for you to pick them before they go to seed.
You can use a very sharp and long knife or pruning shears to harvest a lettuce head. First, raise the outer leaves with one hand until you can see the base. With your other hand, begin to cut roughly an inch from the bottom, making sure to keep the leaves are still attached together.
You will leave a short stub with the roots intact allowing the lettuce to re-sprout back and form a new head that can be harvested again in two to three weeks.
Storing Harvested Buttercrunch Lettuce
Of course, whether you plan to eat lettuce or store it, you have to rinse it first in cold running water. It will wash away any dirt, dust, insects, or insecticides that may have accumulated inside the lettuce head or on the leaves.
While you’re at it, you can dispose of any damaged leaves. Shake off the excess water and pat the head with a paper towel. If they’re individual leaves, scatter them on a paper towel and allow them to air-dry. You can also cover them with another paper towel, so it will absorb whatever moisture is left.
When they’re dry, wrap the head or leaves with a paper towel and put them inside a plastic bag. After that, you can store them in the crisper drawer inside your refrigerator.
It’s best to eat lettuce fresh, so you must refrigerate them right after harvesting them. If stored correctly in the fridge, the leaves will be good for ten days, while lettuce heads can last up to three weeks.