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Sunday, October 25, 2020

Growing Butterhead Lettuce

Growing Butterhead Lettuce

If you're tired of the same old Iceberg lettuce you buy at the grocery store, try growing your own romaine, crisphead, butterhead, or leaf lettuces. There are many colors, shapes, sizes, and textures of lettuce that you can easily grow so you will never have a boring salad again!

Why grow lettuce at all?

Growing lettuce is easy to do, it takes up little space and it's the perfect vegetable to grow on a deck or patio pot where it's handy at dinner time!

Not only that, but lettuces can be planted several times every season for a continual supply and some will give you more than one harvest.  So I guess my question would be, why wouldn't you want to grow your own lettuce?

 Butterhead Lettuce

This article will focus on Butterhead Lettuce which is also known as Butter Lettuce, Bibb Lettuce, and Boston Lettuce.  See the end of the article for links to growing crisphead, romaine, and leaf lettuce.

Though Butterhead lettuce doesn't really have a buttery flavor, it does have a mild, sweet flavor and a creamy texture that feels like it's melting in your mouth.

It is often sold in the grocery store as a whole head with the roots still attached which keeps the soft leaves from wilting since they're more fragile than romaine or iceberg lettuces.


Butterhead lettuce is an excellent source of vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, calcium, and iron, which help fortify bones and fight off inflammatory diseases.

Types of Butterhead Lettuce

Leaf colors include bright green leaves, deep purple-red, and a calico mixture of the two.

Butterhead Lettuce Varieties

There are several varieties you can choose from to grow.  Here are some great recommendations.

Green-leaf varieties

The green butterhead lettuces tend to be a little more tender.

Bibb Lettuce
Bibb Lettuce
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Butter Babies

Tom Thumb
Tom Thumb Lettuce
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Buttercrunch Lettice
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Red-leaf varieties

The red variety is more fragile than the green, but both can deteriorate quickly.

Oak Leaf

Buttercrunch Oak Leaf
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Blushed Butterhead

Speckles ButterheadLettuce
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Four Seasons

Four Seasons Buttercrunch
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Growing Butterhead Lettuce

Days to Harvest:  55- 60 days

Seed Depth: 1/4" to 1/2". Needs light to germinate.

Days to Germination: 7-14 days.

Plant Spacing 8-10" apart for larger varieties
6 - 8" apart for Bibb varieties.

Container Size: 6" deep

Optimum Growing Temperature: 55 - 60 degrees. Will survive light frosts.

Full Sun in the spring and fall. Tolerates part shade.

Soil: Plenty of compost will encourage fast growth.

Seeds will last up to six years


Consistent water for the best flavor.
Lack of moisture causes bitterness.


Since greens like lettuce are such a fast-growing crop, as long as they are grown in rich soil, there may be little need for further fertilization. 

If you're growing a lettuce variety that you can cut and harvest again, or a crop, like Crisphead, that takes a bit longer to mature, a half dose of a balanced water-soluble or granular fertilizer every two weeks will give them a boost that will carry them through the season.

Note:  Too much nitrogen in the fertilizer will make the leaves taste bitter.

Ways to Sow Lettuce Seeds

Direct Sowing -- Spring

Direct sow into the garden 4 - 8 weeks before your average last frost date. If you're not sure when that is for your area, check it here.

Indoor Sowing for Spring

You can start lettuce seeds indoors two weeks before your average last frost date and transplant the seedlings out as soon as the ground can be worked.

Direct Sowing -- Fall

Direct sow in the garden 4 - 8 weeks before your average first frost date.

Winter Sowing.

Another way to sow lettuce seeds is by the winter sowing method.  If you haven't tried winter sowing, you're in for a treat. 

Winter sowing is basically sowing seeds in the bottom of a milk jug during the winter, setting the milk jugs outside for the winter, and leaving them there until the seeds germinate in early Spring.

Read all about it here:  Winter Sowing 101.

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Harvesting Butterhead Lettuce

A mature head of lettuce will be firm to the touch and 6 to 8 inches in diameter.

Butterhead lettuce is delicate and wilts quickly after harvest. Pick the leaves in the late morning when the dew has dried, or in the evening. 

It's important to harvest butterhead lettuce before the plant bolts (produces a flower stalk). The leaves of bolting plants are bitter and unpalatable.  Luckily buttercrunch lettuce takes a while to go to seed so there is usually plenty of time after it matures for harvesting. 

To harvest, lift up the outside leaves of the lettuce and with the other hand cut the head of the lettuce off at the base of the plant. Make your cut an inch above the ground. You want to leave the roots behind so you can harvest it again. The whole plant will keep growing and be ready for harvesting again in two to three weeks.

Cleaning Lettuce

Fill a large bowl or a clean sink with plenty of cool water. Add the lettuce or greens and swish them around to loosen and remove dirt.

Storing Lettuce For Later Use

Store butterhead lettuce unwashed in a loosely closed plastic bag or crisp container in the refrigerator. It should keep for 2 to 3 days. If you wash the leaves, dry them thoroughly, and refrigerate in a tightly sealed plastic bag,  the lettuce will last for about a week.

Saving Heirloom Varieties of Lettuce Seeds

Lettuce plants will eventually bolt and go to seed. Each lettuce plant makes many hundreds of seeds.

You just have to roll the little dried heads between your fingers and let the seeds fall into your other hand.  You can separate the seed from the chaff if you wish.  It’s best to save lettuce seeds on a dry day so the seeds are also dry.  Set out the seeds to dry thoroughly, then place the dried seed in a baggie or jar and store them in a cool, dry place.



No homesteading garden is complete without growing the foundation of your salad garden, lettuce!   So get some lettuce seeds and get growing.  You'll never have a boring salad again!


Where to go next:

More articles in this series:

Growing Leaf Lettuce

Growing Romaine Lettuce

Growing Crisphead Lettuce like Iceberg

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