Most first time broccoli growers there can be a lot of confusion
around harvesting broccoli plants. Once you know the life cycle
of a broccoli plant, it’s easy to tell, as we teach in our education
classes. Let’s do a quick walk-through.
Why Grow Broccoli?
Broccoli is one of the fun things that we get to grow during the
winter months here in California. I love it because it’s super low
maintenance, it produces food for weeks, it’s a nice change of
pace from leafy greens in the winter, and it’s so good for you!
The cancer-fighting properties in broccoli diminish quickly once
it’s picked, so by growing your own it you maximize your health
benefits. Also, every part of the broccoli plant is edible – leaves,
stem, head, and flowers!
1. The Head Appears
After weeks of just green leaves, your precious prize will start to
emerge from the top center of the plant. This is where the new
growth comes from. As in the above picture, you will recognize
the baby broccoli (you may have to pull back leaves to see it
when it first emerges)…but this is just the beginning.
2. The Head is Tall and Firm (Harvest
Your head of broccoli will grow in size, and will emerge from the
leaves. The size of the broccoli at optimal harvest time will
depend on the size of the plant. If the plant is small it will
produce a small head and if it is large it will produce a large
head. In other words, don’t expect every head of broccoli to
grow to be the size of the biggest broccoli you’ve seen at the
farmers’ market. If you wait too long it will go on to the next
stage and start to flower! A better indicator than size is firmness
– you want to let it get as big as possible while staying a firm
and tight bundle of buds. The more you grow broccoli, the
better idea you will have of what size broccoli each plant will
3. The Head is Opening Up
This head of broccoli has gone a little past its optimal harvest
time, which you can tell because the buds on the head are no
longer closely bunched together but are separating. The plant is
saying “I’m done getting bigger, I’m going to flower now!”
If you see this happening to your beautiful head of broccoli,
don’t despair! It is still edible, and still delicious, so go ahead
and harvest it as soon as you can, before it goes onto its next
4. The Head Starts to Flower
This broccoli has really gotten away from us in the garden, and
it’s reached the flowering stage! Insects and hummingbirds will
pollinate the broccoli flowers and soon they will turn into seed
pods. When that happens, in a sense the plant has done all it
needs to do – it has passed on its genetics, and is ready to die.
But we don’t want the plant to die, we want it to keep
producing broccoli for us! So if your broccoli ever gets to this
stage, harvest it anyways! The plant will recognize that you’ve
stopped it from reproducing, so it will continue to produce
secondary heads in its attempt to pass on its genes.
Plus, even though we didn’t grow the broccoli for its flowers,
they are also edible! I like to use them raw in a salad or as a
beautiful and delicious garnish for a variety of dishes. The
flowers are sweet
5. The Secondary Florets are Ready
Once we’ve harvested our first broccoli head, whether we got it
as a tightly bunched head, or as a bouquet of flowers, our plant
is going to focus all of its energy in producing its secondary
broccoli florets. These will emerge from the joints along the
stem of the plant – where each leaf meets the stem – from the
top down. These florets won’t get as big as the first head, but
they will follow the same ripening process, so keep an eye on
them to harvest them before they spread out and flower.
Broccoli can take a month or few before it produces its first
head depending on light and other factors. Once you harvest
that first head, there will be florets to harvest every week for the
next month or two, so after all of that waiting and garden care,
you will be able to enjoy your broccoli for many meals from
winter into the spring.
1 Broccoli takes time to grow, but harvesting broccoli right
will produce a lot of food.
2 Harvest heads before they start to open up and flower.
3 If it goes too far, harvest it anyways, so that you get
4 After the first harvest, you will be harvesting broccoli every
5 Every part of the plant is edible.
6 Eat it soon after you harvest to get the most health