Our winter garden produced quite a bit of lettuce; 52 heads of Bibb lettuce to be exact. So I decided to let five of them continue to grow so I could learn about harvesting seeds.
This is what Bibb lettuce looks like right before harvest.
This is what Bibb lettuce looks like right before a seed harvest. Quite different I know. I had lots of people ask me what it was, not believing it was lettuce.
Normally you pick your lettuce before it starts shooting up a seed stalk (or bolting). In order to save the seeds, you need to let the plant flower. The lettuce bloom only opens for a short time each day. I could find mine open for about thirty minutes each morning.
While I was waiting on all the blooms to mature, I explored seed savings tips & information on the worldwide web. The most helpful thing I did was contact Garden Hoard, who I had previously purchased seeds from. I love how much information is enclosed in each seed order. Garden Hoard (aka Katie Flickinger & team) not only sell handpicked seeds, bulbs, & plants, they promote educating gardeners to grow successfully! They have a great section on their website about seed saving & even more specifically, seed saving articles on fruits & vegetables. However, they have nothing about lettuce. I had done my research & knew I was waiting for the yellow blooms to mature into seed pods but that was the extent of my knowledge. I wasn’t sure if I knew when or how to correctly harvest the seed pods. So I emailed Katie at Garden Hoard with a few questions.
I was so happy when she quickly & enthusiastically responded. She initially gave me a chunk of info & answers. For another week or more, we emailed back & forth almost 12 times. I’d send her a picture of the pods once the flowers fell off; she’d tell me not mature enough. In one email, she even sent me a picture of lettuce ready for seed harvest. I loved having a gardener to ask questions since this was unfamiliar territory for me.
One of the first things Garden Hoard told me was: one lettuce plant can produce 30,000 seeds! You should have seen my face while reading the email. I have five plants. What was I going to do with 150,000 lettuce seeds?! The second thing she told me was: if harvested & stored properly (see below) lettuce seeds can last up to five years. Well this was good but still… 150,000?!
Here are some other great tips she shared with me:
- Lettuce is awesome for seed saving, because it will almost always come true from seed. However, to be sure that there is no crossing between lettuce varieties, you should plant a different crop between the rows of lettuce.
- The small flowers will turn into feathery white tufts, and tucked inside are the tiny black (or white) seeds.
- They don’t ripen all at once, so you have to watch the pods and collect them as they are ready. Whenever you see some seeds turning dark, shake the pod over a paper bag so you can catch them. Then, in newspaper, let them dry for two weeks, and when they are completely dry, store them in a Ziploc bag in your fridge.
After waiting & waiting for all the white tufts to appear, I was in need of garden space! The five lettuce plants were now at least 4 feet tall. Florida’s spring gardening season was in full swing by the time SOME sections of the plants were ready for seed harvest. I waited a little longer then I decided to just pull up three of the most mature plants (& replanted eggplant & okra). I pulled the entire plants, removed the top 12 inches of the each, which included seed heads & stems. I let them dry for two weeks. The more they dried the more white tufts appeared!
I repeated the process with the remaining two lettuce plants. Doing it this way, I had some seed pods that never gave me tufts because they didn’t have time to mature. I also had overly mature pods that the seeds were falling out of, since they had so long to mature. This was okay because even if I collected 100,000 seeds that was still going to be enough. Chuckle.
Now the test… will the little black lettuce seeds sprout? I tossed some of my most mature seeds into one container filled with more water than gardening soil, making it muddy. I threw some smaller less mature seeds into a second container of gardening mud…and then waited, very impatiently. What if they didn’t sprout? I was going to be SO disappointed. You would have thought I’d won the lottery the morning I checked on them & saw sprouts! I was so excited that I had successfully saved my first seeds. Whew! Both containers of seeds sprouted one day apart. This also helped to guide me on how mature the seed pod should be when removing it from the plant.
Now I have a tedious process of removing the seed pods, opening them up, and separating the seeds. Once that is completed, I have to find them homes. First in line to receive seeds is Katie at Gardening Hoard. We love following Garden Hoard on Twitter & Facebook so give them a buzz & tell them Bee sent you.
Happy Seed Saving (<– that’s a first)!