Lettuce — Latuca sativa

plant profile:

Humans have been cultivating lettuce for millenia. Though many varieties exist–crisphead (head lettuce), butterhead, cos (romaine), leaf, asparagus (not to be confused with asparagus grown from crowns), and Latin–all lettuce belongs to the same genus and species. Because lettuce flowers are perfect, they do not rely on wind or insect pollination, though both can play a role. Saving lettuce seed is easy and is a great place to start your collection.  Saving seed from just one plant can provide enough stock to last a small gardener two or three seasons.

steps for saving lettuce seed:

  1. As the days grow longer in late spring/early summer, pick a variety of lettuce you’ve particularly enjoyed. Remove those plants from your bed which exhibit off characteristics or bolt early.
  2. Each plant will send up a stalk on which heads will form up to 25 florets.
  3. To preserve the variety’s unique characteristics, remove different varieties that are flowering or about to flower. If you’re still eating on those plants, simply remove any seed stalks they send up while the plant(s) you wish to save seed from is in bloom. This will prevent cross pollination.
  4. Once mature, shake the heads in a sack or bucket to collect the seed. Rolling the heads between your fingers is another effective method for harvesting the seed.
  5. Each lettuce seed consists of the seed and a feathery chaff  (which is quite similar to a dandelion seed). To remove the chaff, spread the seed over a fine mesh screen and toss (and/or blow gently) until the chaff separates.
  6. Dry the seed for a day or two, then store in a cool, dry, dark place. Seed saved correctly will last for three years or more.

tips for lettuce seed

  1. Start with a cos or leaf variety. These plants have no trouble sending up the stalk, while head varieties may require extra attention. Drunken Woman Fringe Headed or Flashy Troutback are excellent choices!
  2. If timed right, you can save 4-6 different varieties in one season–2-3 in the spring and 2-3 in the fall.
  3. Lettuce is great because you can harvest the outer leaves of a plant before it flowers and still collect an abundance of seed. Just be careful not to pluck too many of the inner leaves!
  4. If space is an issue, try growing one or two plants in a medium-large pot.