How Long Does It Take For Vegetables to Grow To Maturity? Seed Packets Often Display “Days to Maturity ” Information. For Example Days to Maturity For Lettuce Might Be Quoted As, Say, 45-50 Days. Many Gardeners Fail To Understand What This Means. Let Me Explain.

How to Grow Lettuce, From Butterhead to Cos
How to Grow Lettuce, From Butterhead to Cos

It’s not just seed packets and catalogues that show Days To Maturity information, so do many planting guides, magazines and websites. And the guides can be very misleading. Here’s why.

Growing Conditions Affect Days To Maturity For Vegetables and Flowers

Plants grow at different rates depending on the conditions. In winter there is less light and lower temperatures. So growth is much slower than in ideal conditions. This means that any Days to Maturity information is a guide only and probably focuses on ideal conditions.

For example, when I grew lettuce commercially I could plant them under glass (in a very large greenhouse) and expect to harvest 4-5 weeks later. Whilst in winter I could plant them under glass and wait 4-5 months before they were big enough to harvest. The days were shorter and temperatures much lower in an unheated greenhouse.

Other factors affecting growth rates include pH, moisture, nutrition etc.

But it’s not that simple.

How Many Days to Maturity for greenhouse crops
Days to Maturity for greenhouse crops will vary depending on growing techniques, temperature, light, nutrition etc.

What Does Days To Maturity Mean?

This is a key question. Are we talking about the number of days from sowing seeds to harvest? Or are we talking about when a module grown plant is transplanted?

And what do we mean by maturity?

A lettuce can be harvested was a head or as leaves. In the garden and my amateur greenhouse I often pull a few leaves off a young plant and leave it to continue growing. I might harvest it 6-8 times over a long season before I replace the plant for a younger more vigorous replacement.

But if I harvest the head it takes longer to reach this stage and hence Days to Maturity are going to be longer.

So does Days To Maturity mean the time from sowing seed to harvest? Or maybe germination to harvest. Or even transplanting to harvest. And at what stage of harvest?

And what if I grow in border soils, containers, hydroponically, using nutrient film technique etc?

Using Days to Maturity Information In The Garden

It’s not that the information given is totally useless. It tells us that in (perhaps) ideal conditions a plant will take, say, either 21 days or 120 days. That gives us clues on when it isn’t worth sowing. For example, if your growing season is, say 100 days for particular plant then there’s no point sowing those that are going to take 120 days to reach maturity unless you can harvest early or provide protection of some sort.

One trick we used commercially to get crops such as lettuce to harvest in minimal time was to sow them in large modules (blocks) and transplant when quite big plants. They were then in the greenhouse for less time before being ready for harvest. But this technique is not without problems.

Bigger plants take longer to establish unless conditions are perfect. They are also more prone to damage whilst being planted and that could mean more disease. so getting that balance right is an art form practised by commercial growers where a crop is harvested and replaced in 24 hours or less. It’s a very intensive process that aims to maximise output for every square metre of growing space.

Six crops a year is not unusual for lettuce in greenhouses. And where heating and LED lighting is available than many more harvests per season are possible.

The Variations Caused By Growing Techniques

Growing in border soils, containers, hydroponically, using nutrient film technique , using rock wool and many other methods are possible. Each imposes direct conditions on the plant and will affect the Days To Maturity the plant displays.

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