How and When to Harvest Broccoli at Its Peak

Knowing when broccoli is ready to pick and the best way to harvest it is key for getting the most out of your plants.

After properly planting and caring for broccoli in your garden, knowing when and how to harvest broccoli is key to maximizing the fruits of your labor. Broccoli is a relatively easy-to-grow vegetable, but to get the best-sized crowns with the richest flavor, you need to time your harvesting correctly. Here's how to harvest broccoli for the best taste and storage life.

When to Harvest Broccoli

Broccoli can be grown from nursery starts, but most gardeners choose to start these plants from seed. As a cool season crop, broccoli can be planted in spring or autumn, although growing broccoli in autumn is usually a bit easier due to the cooler temperatures. Depending on the variety of broccoli you choose to plant, crowns should be ready to harvest about 50 to 85 days after planting

Although every gardener wants to harvest large broccoli crowns, you don’t want to just base your harvesting on the size of your broccoli plants. Temperature and the nutrient content of your soil can all affect the size of your broccoli and your broccoli may become overly mature if you wait for it to get larger to harvest.

To avoid bolting, spring-planted broccoli should be harvested when temperatures are consistently around 60 to 65°F during the day. As a frost hardy plant, broccoli can handle some frost, but the larger crowns of fall-planted broccoli should be harvested before a hard freeze.

broccoli plant in veggie garden

Bob Stefko

How to Tell When Broccoli Is Ready to Harvest

You'll know your broccoli is ready to pick when the central crown stops growing. Mature broccoli should also be a rich, green color with tightly packed florets. It’s important to harvest your broccoli before it begins to produce flowers or turn yellow, which frequently occurs in spring-planted broccoli when summer sets in and temperatures rise quickly. Once broccoli begins to flower, its flavor will turn bitter and be less pleasant to eat.

How to Harvest Broccoli

When you’re ready to harvest your broccoli, use a sharp knife or garden shears to cut off the stem at a slight angle, leaving about 2 to 3 inches of stalk beneath the broccoli crown. Then, leave the remainder of the broccoli plant in the soil, which will encourage it to send out side shoots for a secondary harvest. This second flush of smaller broccoli heads will form more loosely, but they’ll be just as tasty and they’ll extend your harvest time by several weeks.

The smaller broccoli side shoots can be picked when they reach a harvestable size. Make sure you pick them when they are still firm and bright green. Just as with the larger broccoli stem, when you harvest the side shoots, cut the shoot off, leaving it with about 2 inches of stem. After harvesting the side shoots, you can compost the remainder of the plant because it's unlikely to produce more crowns.

For best flavor, harvest your broccoli in the early morning, before the sun is high overhead.

Storing Fresh Broccoli

Broccoli is best when used fresh from the garden, but if you harvest more than you can use right away, it stores easily too. Broccoli can be kept in the refrigerator for about 3 to 5 days. It’s best to loosely wrap your fresh broccoli in a perforated plastic bag or container and avoid washing your broccoli until you’re ready to use it. 

For longer storage, broccoli can be kept in the freezer for 6 to 8 months. To preserve your broccoli’s color and texture, blanch fresh broccoli for 3 minutes and then flash freeze it for a few hours. After that, place your frozen broccoli in an airtight container to prevent freezer burn.

Troubleshooting Your Broccoli Harvest

One of the most common issues that backyard gardeners may encounter when growing broccoli is undersized crowns, also known as buttoning. When this occurs, you may be tempted to will wait to harvest your broccoli in hopes that crowns will get bigger, but then the plants just go to seed. There are several reasons why broccoli may develop small crowns, including insufficient watering, lack of nitrogen, too much competition from weeds, and temperature stress. 

To avoid buttoning, be sure to sow your broccoli seeds at the right time and stay on top of weeding. Broccoli plants require regular and consistent watering; about 1 to 2 inches of water per week should do. As heavy feeders, broccoli will also need regular applications of fertilizer. Choose a balanced or low nitrogen fertilizer and apply it about once a month. Amending your soil with compost prior to planting can also support your broccoli’s growth and help it develop larger crowns.

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