Maximum Broccoli In One Season
Most gardeners don’t get maximum productivity from their broccoli crop. They harvest the main heads when they mature, then pull the plants out of the garden. To increase the yield from each broccoli plant fertilize the plant with some dilute liquid fertilizer just before the main harvest and then wait for the plants to produce additional side sprouts after the main head is cut from the stem. Most broccoli varieties will normally produce a central head 8 to 10 inches across. After it is harvested, they will produce numerous tender side shoots--each 1 to 4 inches across--for as long as six weeks afterward. That equals the amount of food yielded by original head. This is maximum productivity.
When To Harvest
Do not make the mistake of waiting too long to harvest broccoli. Broccoli heads are actually clusters of immature florets making up the flower of the plant where it eventually produces seeds. If you wait too long, that thick cluster of blue-green buds will gradually separate and the individual florets begin to open and turn into yellow flowers. The window of opportunity for harvesting broccoli is about three to four days. Broccoli tastes best when it’s matured and harvested in cool weather with cool nights. Try to harvest it before daytime temperatures hit 80°F.
Cut broccoli in the cool morning with a sharp knife. Cut the main head cleanly off down the stalk 6 to 8 inches to encourage maximum side shoot production where the leaves join the main stalk lower down. If you cut even lower on the stalk, taking some of the potentially productive leaf nodes, the remaining nodes will send out more vigorous side shoots. While there may be fewer new productive shoots from the stalk, the heads that form on them are larger. Four to six cuttings are possible from each main broccoli stalk for up to six weeks after harvesting the main head.
Important Note - Cut off the side shoots to get more production. Even if you don’t use all the side shoots, it is important to harvest them. Otherwise, the plant stops production completely.
Because the spaces between the florets on broccoli heads make a convenient hiding place for tiny caterpillars and aphids, some of them invariably find their way into the kitchen. Plunge harvested broccoli into warm water with a little white vinegar added, and any stowaways should float to the top. Never soak the shoots more than 15 minutes; use only warm water, because hot water destroys nutrients and cold water doesn’t clean as well.
Broccoli will keep fresh in the refrigerator for up to two weeks, but the longer it is stored, the tougher the stems get and the more nutrients it loses. Either can, freeze or pickle excess harvest. Freezing best preserves broccoli's flavor, color and nutritive qualities. Separate the large heads into bite-sized chunks with a bit of stem and cut the remaining lengths of stem into 1-inch pieces. Blanch the pieces in boiling water for three minutes, plunging them promptly into icy water for three minutes to stop the cooling process. This will kill any harmful bacteria, and allow the broccoli to retain its firm texture and bright green color. Drain them then store the broccoli in plastic freezer bags. Frozen broccoli retains its quality for up to six months.