Growing Celtuce

Celtuce stems picked and washed, ready to use.

Celtuce stems picked and washed, ready to use.

The celery of the lettuce family is called celtuce. It’s been selected for its stems, rather than the leaves, but the young leaves are also good for salads.

Sowing seeds too thickly is a common error, especially for me, but fortunately with lettuce you can salvage the situation by thinning them out and using the thinnings for salad. We have been having celtuce as a salad lately, and also for cooking, as I thin out my lettuce bed in favour of standard lettuce.

Growing celtuce

celtuce in mixed lettuce

Celtuce has the long leaves in this mixed lettuce bed.

How did I come to have too-thickly sown mixed lettuce? Last year I collected a lot of seed, at first carefully from individual marked plants, and later (when I had bags of seed already) just from the whole bed of remaining stalks, which went into a big bag to dry and be processed. During summer I was not having much success germinating lettuce, probably because the ground gets too hot in the sun, so I resorted to using my mixed bulk bag and sowing thickly with the expectation that only a few would survive and at least show me when the season had started. One of those trial beds eventually got the right conditions and I got a thick covering of seedlings.

celtuce tall

Left to mature, celtuce produces flower stalks that can be used as a cooked vegetable.

Celtuce is the long thin leaf in the above shot. It is a lettuce, but is grown mainly for its stems, which you use like celery (hence the name) in stir fries etc. It has a strong lettuce taste though, which I find a little off putting, and for salad leaves it must be picked young before they fill with latex. It is however fine in a robustly dressed salad or as a cooked vegetable (i.e. in stir fry or risotto), and I seem to be the only one here who finds the flavour strong.

Here on the right is a mature plant, slightly past the best stage for harvesting the stem, as it is showing flower buds.

So I’ve been progressively thinning the bed to just standard lettuce and eating (and giving away) the celtuce while it’s young.

Celtuce can be thinned early from a mixed bed for salad leaves.

The lettuce bed thinned of celtuce to leave broad leaved salad types.

Heres the bed after a couple of thinnings. There are still a few celtuce plants I missed.

I’ve planted another row of pure celtuce seeds, by the way, as I would like to grow them for the stems again. I’ll report back on the result.