Building a DIY Hydroponics System Part 7: Harvesting
This is Part 7 of a 7 Part Series of how to build and manage a DIY Hydroponic Lettuce System!
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Now we're to the step you've all been waiting for! Today you'll get to harvest your first crop of lettuce! Here are the simple steps we take to harvest.
Harvest in the morning. Lettuce tastes the best after it has had time to "rest" from soaking up light all day. So whenever possible, wait to harvest until after a good long stretch of time where your lights have been turned off (aka, right away in the morning.) This isn't absolute; sometimes we have someone pop in mid-day who needs some more lettuce, and if we don't have any harvested in the fridge, we'll sometimes harvest on the spot. But it just tastes the best when harvested right away in the morning.
Harvest when the head of lettuce looks full. It's really not that complicated. If it looks full and yummy, like something you could carry down the aisle if you were about to marry a lettuce farmer, then you can pick it. There really is a pretty wide window of when you can harvest a head of lettuce. We've found that lettuce is usually ready to harvest between 40 and 55 days depending on conditions and lettuce variety. To keep it simple, if you've got a 28 site system and you pick the 4 biggest heads every week, you should be good.
Lift Lettuce from rails. You'll find a big long wad of tangled up roots under it. Just lift the whole thing gently out of the water. It'll be drippy, so using a bowl or cup underneath can help keep your floors dry as you carry the head to where you'll finish processing it, like your kitchen. We like to harvest multiple heads at once and place them onto a tray to transport to our kitchen.
Remove the roots, net cup, seed plug and under leaves. This freaked me out at first since it feels like you're breaking something. Don't be freaked! Just rip the roots off of the bottom to make removing the net cup easier. Pull the net cup off, and then remove the root base by twisting the seed plug and snapping it off. There will be some dried up tan or yellowed leaves underneath that you can tear off as well. (Fun fact...ducks & geese love this stuff!) We find the lettuce keeps fresh longer if kept with the full head intact.
Rinse the lettuce & store in the fridge. This step is kind of optional, since there's no dirt we're dealing with that needs washing off. However, just like lettuce in the store that gets a nice mist periodically, this lettuce seems to keep well with some moisture on it. I just rinse it all under cold water, shake off the excess moisture, and stick it in a big plastic storage container lined with a paper towel (to soak up extra water.) If we plan to give any heads of lettuce away, we just use a gallon bread or storage bag lined with a paper towel, closed up with a twisty tie. Store in your fridge until you're ready to eat it! It's important not to put lettuce directly into the fridge without it being in a bag or container, as the cold air from your fridge will cause it to wilt. Keep it moist and in a container away from cold blowing air.
Our lettuce usually lasts at least 2 weeks looking fresh! The flavor, beautiful color and texture is top notch!!! Fair warning: you may have to stifle your giggles while observing the lettuce available in the produce section the next time you go to a grocery store. There really is no going back!!
High five, lettuce farmer! 😃