Have you ever heard of a lettuce variety that could be described as “cute”?
If not, you probably aren’t familiar with tom thumb lettuce, easily the cutest leafy green there is. These little heads of lettuce pack a delicious punch and are absolutely irresistible.
Keep reading to learn everything about Tom Thumb lettuce, including what makes it unique, how to eat it, how to grow it, and where to find it.
What Is Tom Thumb Lettuce?
Tom Thumb lettuce is a type of dwarf butterhead or bibb lettuce, which means it perfectly lives up to its name.
This lettuce variety is characterized by crisp, buttery leaves that form a loose head shape. They’re very small, only about 3 to 5 inches in diameter when mature. Think of a baseball or tennis ball made of lettuce, and you’ll have a good idea of their size.
The leaves are darker green on the outside and turn a creamy yellow toward the center.
Tom Thumb lettuce is an heirloom variety originating in the 1800s. It’s known to be a very productive crop that can be enjoyed in all the same ways as any other lettuce.
What Does Tom Thumb Lettuce Taste Like?
The flavor of this little lettuce is usually described as mild, sweet, crisp, creamy, and buttery.
It goes well with just about any other ingredients but is flavorful enough to hold its own at the same time.
It has a satisfying crunch whether the heads are eaten intact, or the leaves are separated.
Best Uses for Tom Thumb Lettuce
This little lettuce can do everything its bigger relatives can do but with a tiny twist.
Tom Thumb lettuce can make a really unique salad.
Start by slicing one mini lettuce head in half and plate it. Then drizzle your favorite dressing over it and add any other toppings, like nuts, diced apples, onion, and bleu cheese.
Think of it as a mini iceberg wedge salad with just as much crunch!
You can also harvest each head for an individual salad and make one serving per head, picking off each leaf for a more traditional type of salad.
Cut the heads in half and remove the leaves in the center to make a cup for the fillings of your choice. This is a fun way to make little taco salad bowls.
The leaves are perfect for sandwiches, burgers, and wraps and add a mild, sweet flavor and crisp crunchy texture.
Growing Your Own Tom Thumb Lettuce
Growing your own Tom Thumb lettuce is easy!
It’s a very tolerant and forgiving crop that grows quickly and produces well without any special attention. It grows well in a variety of climates.
You can also plant more per square foot than other varieties because the mature heads are so small.
Planting Tom Thumb Lettuce
This variety is frost-tolerant but does best around 60 to 80 degrees F.
It will take between 7 to 10 days for seeds to germinate, and they should only just barely be covered with soil so they still receive some light. Seedlings do best when they’re started indoors and transplanted, especially if you’re planting once the weather has already turned warm. A greenhouse is also a great place to grow Tom Thumb lettuce.
You can even grow them entirely inside, either near a sunny window or under grow lights. Because of their miniature size, they can easily prosper in containers.
For outdoor growing, choose a spot with either full sun or partial shade.
Each plant should be about 8 inches apart, with rows spaced 16 to 18 inches apart. Be sure to weed as your lettuce grows to ensure it has access to all the nutrients it needs.
Stagger your planting, so you end up with Tom Thumb lettuce heads that mature at different times, allowing you to have a more consistent harvest.
Soil and Watering
Tom Thumb lettuce does best with nutrient-dense, fertilized, and well-draining soil.
You want to maintain soil moisture and water daily, but don’t let the soil be constantly soggy. Drip irrigation is a great way to take the guesswork out of watering. You can also mist your plants with a garden hose for gentle watering.
Adding mulch will also help keep the soil moist and suppress weed growth.
Harvesting Tom Thumb Lettuce
On average, Tom Thumb lettuce will reach maturity in 50 to 70 days from planting.
Once they’re ready to harvest, you can either pull the whole root system up, slice the base of the head with a sharp knife, or pick individual leaves.
If you pick leaves from the outside, you can allow the inner leaves to continue growing.
It’s best to pick leaves only if you plan to use them right away, as they’ll wilt, whereas harvesting the whole head or keeping the roots intact will extend storage life. Keep them in the refrigerator until you’re ready to eat them to they stay fresh.
Where to Find Tom Thumb Lettuce Seeds
To grow your own crop of teeny tiny lettuce, you can get quality seeds from True Leaf Market or Amazon.
If you’d rather get a headstart and skip the germination stage, check your local nursery for seedlings that are ready for transplanting.
Though it’s not as common as other head lettuce varieties, Tom Thumb lettuce is still relatively popular.
You might find it at your local grocery store, but specialty food markets are more likely to carry it. Don’t be surprised if your regular stops don’t stock it.
Always check with local farmers! They often grow different crops from what you’d typically find in the grocery store, and they’re also sometimes open to trying something new.
Tom Thumb Lettuce: Small But Mighty
As delicious as it is adorable, you’ll absolutely love Tom Thumb lettuce.
Whether you’re buying it fresh or want to grow it yourself, it won’t disappoint. Make the most adorable little salads you’ve ever seen with this mini variety.
Head over to our Lettuce Plant page to see all the other amazing and delicious varieties of lettuce!
- About the Author
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Hope Schwartz-Leeper is an avid reader, writer, and lover of all things nature with degrees in English and Philosophy.
Born and raised in the Northeast, Hope has always had an affinity for spending time outside. Growing up and attending college in New York, then living on Cape Cod and finally settling in Rhode Island has given her plenty of experience with the climate and environment of these areas.
She loves growing her own food and plants and is always trying to grow something new. She’s hoping her apple trees will one day bear fruit, but for now she’s excited about anything that comes from the garden.