Harvesting Broccoli Plants

March 10, 2015

Is My Broccoli Ready Yet?

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

Time)

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

produce.

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

stage.

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.

The Takeaways:

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

secondary florets.

4 After the first harvest, you will be harvesting broccoli every

week!

5 Every part of the plant is edible.

6 Eat it soon after you harvest to get the most health

benefits!