Harvesting Broccoli

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Before harvesting broccoli, you'll need to make sure it has reached its peak size and texture. Hopefully your broccoli plants are large and lush and have begun to produced some good-sized heads.

Head Of Broccoli

When you see the head beginning to form in the center of the broccoli plant, you'll need to closely monitor it's growth. Check it often to make sure the tiny buds that make up the head remain tightly closed. If the head resembles a miniature rolling meadow or cloud, you're in good shape. If the head is spindly and looks like a chunk of sea coral, it is past its prime. Once the buds begin to swell up or you see some yellow peaking out from under the buds, harvested the head immediately, regardless of its size. When the buds open up, the broccoli will be mealy or grainy. The idea is to harvest broccoli when the head is as large as possible, but before the head is too mature and the buds open up. Most of the time, the broccoli you grow will produce a head somewhat smaller than those you might find in the grocery store.

When our broccoli plants are getting close to being ready for harvest, we like to check them twice a day - once in the morning and again in the evening.  Over the years, we've learned that sometimes broccoli heads can be decently tight in the morning and then start opening up in the afternoon.  So on our morning check, we pay extra attention to the look of the heads.  Once you grow enough broccoli, especially the same variety of broccoli, you get a pretty good feel for when you should harvest and when you should let it grow for another day or two.  When in doubt, it's better to harvest your broccoli a day or two early, rather than waiting too long and getting an inferior product.

Harvested Broccoli Plant

When harvesting broccoli, you'll need a sharp knife. Cut the head at its base. Try to make the cut as level as possible and as clean as possible.  Take special care to avoid cutting the surrounding stems - these are where the side shoots will appear.  Leave the plant undisturbed in the ground after cutting off the head. It will produce smaller side shoots after a week or two, depending on the weather. These can also be harvested and eaten. Again, keep a close watch on these smaller heads. Once the buds begin to swell up, harvest them right away, regardless of size.  The heads on side shoots will often be about the size of a single broccoli floret.  Each plant might produce 2-3 side shoots.  If you grow enough broccoli, these extra side shoots can easily add up to 1 additional head of broccoli, or more.  This is important if you are planning to freeze a bunch of broccoli for later use.

After you've harvested the main head and side shoots, the plant can be pulled up by the roots and added to your compost pile.  We typically like to chop up the plant a little bit first, just to help it break down faster.

The harvested broccoli can be eaten right away. It will also keep for about a week in the refrigerator.

Chopped Broccoli

Broccoli stores best in the refrigerator if the heads are left intact. If you have a large broccoli crop, a great way to preserve it is by freezing it. Cut the florets off of the head. Blanch them in boiling water for 1 minute and then plunge them into an ice water bath for 2 minutes to stop the cooking process. The florets can then be drained and placed in an airtight bag or container. Store the container in the freezer.  We typically use Ziploc bags to freeze our broccoli.  We fill the bags about half full and then lay them flat until they are frozen.  Once they are frozen, we stack them up like books on a shelf in our freezer.  The broccoli will keep well in the freezer for up to 6 months.  Another option to keep your broccoli long term is to dehydrate it and then store it in an air-tight bag or container.  We've never tried dehydrating broccoli, but we do know several people who do, so we know it works.

The leftover big stems can be saved and grated up for use in soups and casseroles.  Or, you can chop them up and add them to your compost pile.  Another option is to give away the broccoli stems to friends or neighbors that have rabbits.

Now that you're done harvesting broccoli, it's time for a few of our favorite broccoli recipes.

Click here for some of our favorite broccoli recipes

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