Densely packed clusters of vitamin-rich heads of cauliflower and crowns of bright green broccoli are phenomenal cool-season crops to grow in the backyard garden.
These easy-to-grow superfoods are members of the brassica family, and they have a narrow window for successful harvesting. Broccoli and cauliflower grow best in the early spring, fall, and winter months, with frost protection in some climates.
Harvesting broccoli and cauliflower can be tricky because elevated temperatures and delayed harvesting can cause broccoli to produce flower shoots called bolting, resulting in bitter produce. Follow our tips for harvesting broccoli and cauliflower so that you can enjoy these delicious and nutritious vegetables at their peak of perfection.
When to Harvest Broccoli
Knowing when you should be harvesting broccoli and cauliflower can make all of the difference in the success of your crops, and timing can be a bit tricky if you don’t know what to look for.
Follow these tips for harvesting broccoli and cauliflower so that you can get the most out of these cool-season favorites:
- Broccoli plants grow 18 to 36 inches tall and have broad, green leaves and a great central stalk with flower buds that will be harvested as food before they go to flower.
- Prepare to pick broccoli when crowns are large, green, and very firm. The best time for harvesting broccoli is when the heads are tight and firm to the touch.
- If you see the edges of the head loosening up a bit or yellowing, it’s pertinent to harvest it immediately.
- Allowing broccoli to remain on the plant when it has passed its optimal picking period will result in the broccoli head initiating its bloom. If this happens and you catch it early enough, you can still save your harvest. Although the flavor of your crop may not be at its peak, it is very much edible.
- When harvesting broccoli past its optimal time, it should be consumed right away and not stored.
- If you miss the harvest window and your broccoli shoots up blooms, then your plant has bolted. At this point, you can leave it in the garden and allow pollinators to enjoy.
How to Harvest Broccoli
To remove the broccoli from the stalk, either snap off the stalk about 5 inches down from the last crown buds or use a sharp knife to cut the broccoli crown from the plant. Remove the main head of buds and leave the remainder of the plant, as small shoots may still continue to form for later daily picking and consumption.
When to Harvest Cauliflower
When it comes to harvesting broccoli and cauliflower, the timing and parameters for picking are somewhat consistent. Harvest your cauliflower crop when the crowns are large, full, and very firm. Knowing the cauliflower variety you are growing and what color florets your plant will produce will be very helpful in determining harvest time.
Colors can vary from classic white to purple and even gold. If you see the edges of the head loosening up a bit or discoloring, harvest it right away.
- Look for flower heads that are compact and firm when harvesting cauliflower.
- The head will begin to bloom if you let cauliflower remain on the plant past its prime time for picking. Don’t fret too much if this happens, as long as you spot this change early. Although the taste won’t be optimal, you can still consume the cauliflower, but it will not be suitable for storage or freezing, and it should be used right away.
- If you miss the harvest window and your cauliflower shoots up full blooms, then your plant has bolted. At this point, you can leave it in the garden and allow pollinators to enjoy it, and add the plant to the compost pile later.
How to Harvest Cauliflower
Just like broccoli, the best way to harvest cauliflower is to remove it from the stalk by either snapping off the stem about 5 inches down from the crown’s last buds or using a sharp knife to cut the entire crown away from the plant. Remove the main compact head of buds and leave the remainder of the plant, as small shoots may continue to form for later daily picking and consumption.
How to Store Broccoli & How Long Does Broccoli Last
With appropriate storage, a head of broccoli can last for a week or more when harvested in a timely manner. Broccoli loves the cool temperatures of the refrigerator until it is ready for consumption. Broccoli does not store well if it is wet or sealed too tightly in plastic wrap.
Storing Broccoli in the Refrigerator
- Keep broccoli loosely wrapped in an unsealed plastic bag.
- If your broccoli is wet from dew or washing, dry the head of broccoli thoroughly before storage.
- Lightly wrapping a paper towel around broccoli before placing it in a plastic bag can help with excess moisture control.
- Keep the broccoli in the coolest part of your refrigerator, preferably in the back or in a crisper drawer.
How to Freeze Broccoli
If it cannot be used within a week, you should consider freezing your harvest for later use, where it will retain its fresh taste for six to eight months.
Here are some basic tips for freezing broccoli:
- Rinse and cut the crowns into florets.
- Submerge florets in a bowl of cold water to eliminate any lurking pests or dirt.
- Steam or blanch florets for 2-3 minutes.
- Move to an ice water bath.
- Dry and cool bright green broccoli segments.
- Arrange florets on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet and place them in the freezer for 1-2 hours.
- When florets are frozen, transfer them to a freezer bag, removing as much air as possible before sealing.
The Best Way To Store Cauliflower
Cauliflower heads are a bit more delicate than their brassica cousin but are stored similarly. Cauliflower can last in the fridge for up to two weeks when kept properly.
- When storing cauliflower, it is best to keep the head intact.
- Wrap the cauliflower in a clean, damp cloth or paper towels to keep the humidity around the cauliflower consistent.
- Place wrapped cauliflower in a freezer bag and leave it unsealed for aeration.
Broccoli & Cauliflower Varieties to Grow
Broccoli and cauliflower make for healthy, delicious, and satisfying farm-to-table crops. Check out some of our favorite varieties for growing and harvesting broccoli and cauliflower.
Cauliflower Varieties to Try:
- ‘Mulberry Hybrid’ produces eye-catching purple heads.
- ‘Early White Hybrid’ matures in 52 days and produces large, 8-9 inch white heads.
- ‘Flame Star Hybrid’ produces lovely yellowish orange heads.
- ‘Snowball’ produces while tight clusters of buds.
- ‘Cheddar Hybrid’ produces orange heads that resemble cheddar cheese.
Broccoli Varieties To Grow:
- ‘Blue Wind’ is an early variety of broccoli that matures in a mere 45 days.
- ‘DiCicco’ is another quick-producing variety, maturing in only 45-50 days. This variety is an heirloom Italian type that produces compact blueish-green heads.
- ‘Belstar’ matures in 66 days and produces large dark green crowns.
- ‘Imperial’ matures in 77 days and benefits from extra heat resistance, which can help the plant not to bolt.
- ‘Sun King’ is a heat-tolerant and tasty variety that produces 6-8 inched blueish-green heads with smaller off-shoots.
- ‘Marathon’ has a maturation date of 68 days. Its dense floret is best when grown in the coldest months of the year. This variety is not heat tolerant.