Hold Some Lettuce: How to harvest lettuce and cabbage
Every Fall, I have a hard time getting used to growing lettuce and cabbage after a summer of growing tomatoes and okra. Instead of laboring for the fruit on the plant, you labor for to the plant itself. Because of this, harvesting the produce differs. The hard fact for a winter gardener is, for the most part, each plant only offers one harvest.
There are several ways, however, to cheat and maximize each plants productivity. Sure, you may not be able to partially harvest a turnip or beetroot, but harvesting their leaves and the leaves of other greens, like lettuce and cabbage, are much more flexible.
Get an early meal on lettuce and greens like kale and turnips by collecting the mature outer leaves and allowing the younger heart to keep growing. The outer leaves can become too mature if left on the plant too long, but a discrete eye can avoid that.
I like to start on one end of a row of lettuce and work down every day, then starting over several days later. This provides many prime leaves, perfect for salads.
Once the head matures or just before a hard freeze kills the plants, complete the harvest by cutting the whole head at ground level, or of course, pull the whole plant up with turnips or the like.
Cabbage is a different story. The outer cabbage leaves are worthless to eat, but have another purpose.
When cutting the cabbage head, (which incidentally should be a large and firm), leave a few loose outer leaves on the base. This allows the stump to continue to grow and produce several smaller cabbage sprouts. These sprouts grow to be 3 or 4 inches in diameter and are tender and tasty.
Using these two techniques, a winter garden can be similar to a summer garden. As the greens grow, they will provide a substantial first harvest for the table. Give your hard-spent garden more than one mow-over this season, and prepare to give the salad fork a lot of use.
If you have turnips in your garden or really any greens and want to know how best to clean them, go here.