How to Harvest Broccoli
Harvest broccoli when the plants have reached maturity according to the days-to-harvest guidelines for the variety you are growing, and the plants have reached mature size and show indications of readiness, as described below.
The flavor of broccoli is best when the plant is harvested in the morning when soil and air temperatures are coolest. When picked later in the day, the flavor of broccoli becomes stronger, and it is more likely that bitter flavors will develop.
Harvest mature heads of broccoli by cutting the stem approximately 5 inches (12.7 cm) to 8 inches (20.3 cm) below the head. Harvest sprouting broccoli by cutting the flower shoot just above where it emerges from the plant.
For both types, make the cut at an angle and not straight across, because this better allows the cut to heal over, and the plant can then continue growing and producing smaller shoots. After the main shoots or head has been harvested, keep watering and caring for the plant, and it will continue growing new, smaller flower shoots you can harvest and eat in a few weeks’ time.
The Timing of Broccoli Harvest
Broccoli comes in two main types: short-season and long-season. Short-season varieties grow from a seedling to a mature plant in 48 to 90 days and are usually planted in early spring. Long-season varieties take 90 to 120 days or more until they are ready for picking and are usually planted in early fall.
Check the seed package or the nursery tag on seedlings to know which type of broccoli you have. Wait at least the minimum number of days needed for maturity of the variety you are growing, and as the harvest window approaches, watch the plants closely for signs that they are ready for picking.
Indicators Broccoli is Ready to be Picked
The size of a mature broccoli plant depends on the variety and the growing conditions. Smaller varieties grow to an ultimate height of approximately 1.5 feet (.46 meters) tall, and larger varieties grow to approximately 3 feet (.92 meters) tall.
Check the seed package to find out the final expected size of the variety you are growing. However, the size of the plant is also affected by:
- Irrigation: Broccoli grows best is soil which stays moist.
- Sunlight: Most varieties like full sun, but some do best in partial shade.
- Temperatures: Broccoli is a cool-season crop and germinates and grows at temperatures as low as 40ºF (4.4ºC).
- Fertilizer: Broccoli grows best with regular application of nitrogen-rich fertilizer, such as blood meal, fish emulsion, and high-quality compost.
As the plant reaches the days-to-harvest date, it begins forming a tight head of flower buds in heading varieties. In sprouting types of broccoli, the plant begins growing elongated flower shoots, sprouting out from the main stem along with the leaves.
In heading types of broccoli, the head is ready for harvest when it is between 4 inches (10.2 cm) and 8 inches (20.3 cm) in diameter. Which size to expect depends on the variety, and the seed package also provides this information. Mature sprouting broccoli shoots are approximately 6 inches (15 cm) to 10 inches (25 cm) in length.
It is important to harvest broccoli before the flower buds begin opening. Broccoli ready for harvest has tight, dark-green flower buds with no sign of yellow flowers emerging. If your broccoli is harvested a bit late, after the flowers have started to open, it is still edible. However, it will have a stronger flavor and may be bitter.
What to do with Harvested Broccoli
After you harvest broccoli, you can store it for up to one week in the refrigerator before using it. You can also blanch broccoli and store it in freezer bags in the freezer for up to one year after harvest.
Broccoli can be eaten cooked or raw, and flavors are best with short cooking times, such as with steaming or stir-frying. You can also eat the leaves of your broccoli plants, but harvest them after the main flower head or shoot has been picked.