Lettuce plants are another easy crop to save seeds from – making them an excellent starter project for beginners and more experienced seed-savers alike. Unlike quite a few other plants, very little in terms of planning or cleaning required for saving lettuce seeds. Lettuce is largely-self fertile, so chances of varieties crossing is of an extremely low risk. With some basic time isolation – achieved by planting different varieties 4-6 weeks apart – you can further reduce that risk to zero.
To save lettuce seeds you must allow them to bolt – this is when the lettuce plant will send up a large stalk with tiny flower heads on it, and the leaves will turn bitter. Usually this is the point when you rip up the lettuce and plant something else (or do a second sowing of lettuce) in its stead, but in order to save seeds you must allow the plant to complete its life-cycle.
- Lettuce plants
- A large bucket or paper bag (or something similar)
- Seed Envelopes
Since early-bolting is generally a thing you want to avoid with lettuce in order to prolong your harvest, only harvest seeds from your lettuce plants that are the last to bolt. This will pass down the genetic traits that will produce slower-bolting lettuce after a few generations.
The flower stalk that emerges will start to produce hundreds of tiny flowers, and pollinators like hoverflies and bees will swarm them like crazy. When the flowers are pollinated (which is mostly done by the plant itself before the pollinators even reach them), they will close up, and then produce tufts – similar to what dandelions do when they are ready to scatter their seeds. Lettuce seeds don’t ripen all at once, so for about 2-4 weeks it’s a good idea to bring out your bucket or paper bag and check daily. If there are any that are ready to go, simply bend the stalk over your receptacle, and shake the plant, being careful not to break the stalk. The seeds that are ready to be harvested will fall out of the flower stalk. Repeat until you have enough seeds for your liking.
After you’ve harvested your fresh seed, allow them to sit out in a dry, cool area for approximately a week so all moisture evaporates from the seed. Package them up in your seed envelopes and label. Lettuce seeds are good for approximately 5 years in standard storage, and for up to 10 years in cool or cold storage.