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Lettuce gone to seed? Empty Lettuce gone to seed?

Post  newgloves on 9/19/2010, 9:50 pm

I just got back from a vacation & it struck me how tall one of my leaf lettuces is. I planted it in July & it's a variety that's supposed to be tolerant to warm weather. So, this one plant has produced better than the others but upon returning from vacation the plant is about 18" tall. Not the leaves, the stalk. The stalk is about 18" tall w/ various lettuce leaves shooting off it the entire way - but not bunchy like lettuce should be. My other lettuce plants are the typical, bunched off the ground although they're not as old/mature as the one plant. I've never grown lettuce before but I'm assuming that this plant has flowered/gone to seed/bolted? I don't see any actual "flowers" on it but this must be the only explanation for such a strange looking lettuce plant. Am I correct? Should I pull it & replant? Thanks!

Oh, also, at what stage do you usually start harvesting various leaves off lettuce anyways? I keep expecting it to look like the grocery store loose leaf lettuce bunches but they're not getting that big. Should I be harvesting various lettuce leaves for salad before they mature to that size? Is that the same for spinach - I'm beginning to think that spinach doesn't get very big even when mature - not more than 6-8 leaves on it. Thanks for your advise & info as I'm new to growing lettuces & spinach!
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Post  Patty from Yorktown on 9/19/2010, 10:04 pm

Hi,
18" lettuce has bolted, you are correct. However if this lettuce has made it through a whole summer you might want to save it's seeds. Just let the plant flower, it will probably have a lot of small little yellow flowers. The flowers will get little bits of fluff on them, still leave them in the garden, when you start to get dry crunchy bits on your lettuce plants it is time to harvest. Cut the flower heads and put them in a paper sack until they are really dry. At this point it should be easy to break open the seed heads and find little lettuce seeds. It is really easy. I harvest any lettuce leaves that look like the plant can survive without them. Yes, they are on the small side. Spinach leaves are better tasting at the baby size. My spinach has to be planted in the fall and then over winter, get snowed on a time or two before it really starts to grow in the spring. I hope this helps, feel free to ask more questions if you need to.

Patty in Yorktown
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Post  plb on 9/22/2010, 1:55 pm

Sounds like it's bolted. Even lettuce that is tolerant of warm weather can bolt if it's not watered enough (which might have happened since you were away). If the other lettuces of the same varieties didn't bolt in the same conditions, I would not save the seeds from the one that bolted since clearly it's less resistant than the others, so if you want to save seeds do it from another plant.
As for when to harvest, you can do two things. One is to sow closely and harvest the single leaves when they're ready, and the plant will produce more leaves but will not form a head like the ones you see at the supermarket. The advantage of this approach is that you can start making salads in a very short time!
Otherwise allow more distance between the plants (usually 4 lettuce plants per square), and don't harvest from them. Eventually they'll produce a head IF they're the right variety (some always stay loose, so do a bit of research on the type you want). You'll have to wait much longer in this case, though.
Of course you can do both (as I do), keep some for cut and come again and let a few grow to full size.
With spinach, I find that it doesn't grow much big, it's a fairly small plant and it bolts easily so I end up harvesting it as soon as it starts to bolt.
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