Once you spent months growing broccoli in your gardens, it’s finally time to harvest your broccoli heads. Harvest time is one of my favorite times in the garden, as I get to plan out future dinners and how I will use those veggies. Before you head into your garden, make sure you learn how to harvest broccoli to make the most of your hard work.

Broccoli plants don’t suddenly turn a unique color or pop up a sign that says “we’re ready.” Deciding that it’s time to harvest is a bit tricky, but there are a few signs to watch that let you know your broccoli is ready to harvest.

1. A Developed Head

The first sign that your broccoli is ready to be harvested is that it has a head on it, and that’s the most visible sign of all. It should have firm and tightly gathered florets.

2. The Size of the Head

Next, look at the size of the head. Most standard varieties produce a head that is 4 to 7 inches wide, but you should refer to the seed packet of the variety you selected. Some produce much more substantial heads, while others aren’t known for a large central head and develop small shoots instead.

The size of the head is an indicator that the broccoli is ready to harvest, but only if it has reached the standard size for its variety.

3. Color

Another indicator is the color of the head. It should be a deep green unless you picked a variety that is purple or light green. Make sure it’s the right color. For green broccoli heads, if you see signs of yellowing, that means the head is getting ready to bolt, and you need to harvest immediately or lose the broccoli head entirely.

4. Floret Size

Perhaps the most reliable way to determine readiness is to look at the floret size or the flower buds. It’s a reliable indicator. When the broccoli is ready for harvesting, the florets on the outer edges will be the size of match heads.

How to Harvest Broccoli

So, now you know that it’s ready for harvesting, it’s time to pick the heads. You want to make sure you have a sharp garden knife on hand. Here are the steps for harvesting broccoli.

  • Go to your garden in the morning before the soil warms up. Harvesting in the morning produces the best taste.
  • Select the head that you believe is ready for harvesting — measures around five inches or more below the head.
  • Take the knife and cut off the heads of the broccoli plants. Cut smoothly; avoid sawing at the stem of the broccoli plant because it can cause damage to the plant. That damage lessens the chance of having a second harvest.

Don’t forget that you also can eat the greens of a broccoli plant. The upper leaves are delicious with a sweet taste, which is better than kale. You do have to cut the midribs out of the leaves.

To prepare the broccoli leaves, you can steam and eat them just like you do for kale. I prefer to saute my broccoli leaves with some butter and garlic. It’s delicious, especially if you add some chunks of bacon. Bacon makes everything tasty, right?

How Many Times Can You Harvest Broccoli?

Most people think that you can only harvest broccoli once, but they’d be wrong. I was surprised by this, as well. When I finally grew some fantastic broccoli heads, I was preparing to remove the plant from my garden when my mother told me to leave it and develop a second harvest.

After you harvest the main head, smaller side shoots will grow out from the broccoli. Instead of being one large center head, you’ll find the plant producing tiny heads all over where the main head once was.

You can tell when these are ready to harvest because the florets will grow to the correct size – of a match head. Harvest those side shoots as they grow up. You can harvest from one broccoli plant several times over a few weeks as these side shoots grow up.

Pulling Up Your Broccoli Plant

Once you see your plant hasn’t had any new growth after a week, it’s time to pull up the plant from the ground. When the side shoots stop growing, it’s a sign that the plant is no longer in production mode, and you’ve harvested all that you can from this plant.

All you need to do now is pull the entire plant out of the ground, including the roots. You don’t want to leave it in place because it can rot in your soil. Add the entire plant to your compost pile, but be sure to cut it into smaller pieces. Otherwise, it will take too long to decompose.

How to Store Harvested Broccoli

I find it hard not to use fresh broccoli immediately. Broccoli is delicious eaten raw, but it makes a fantastic part of your dinner. I add broccoli to pasta dishes, side dishes, and more.

If you can’t use your broccoli immediately, it can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 7 days to 14 days. Always wash it beforehand then dry it before placing in the fridge. For long-term storage, you can blanch broccoli and freeze it for up to one year.

Another option would be to dehydrate the broccoli florets to be tossed into soups at a later time. Canning broccoli is not recommended, but you can pickle broccoli. Pickled broccoli stems are quite delicious, and it’s a unique snack. Some people say that the florets of broccoli are too mushy to pickle, but the stems and their

Time It Right

Timing is everything when it comes to harvesting broccoli, which is why it’s so tricky. You want to let the plants grow to get the biggest heads of broccoli possible, but you don’t want to wait too long. Otherwise, the florets will open, and your broccoli head will be past its prime. After all of your hard work, that’s the last thing you want!