Broccoli Makes Tiny Heads

Aug 31, 2016 | Food

“My broccoli only produces small heads!” many of my radio callers say. “What’s wrong?”  New gardeners also ask about their broccoli producing lots of yellow flowers but nothing else. “How do I get my broccoli to make big bunches of broccoli?” they ask.

Here’s the thing about homegrown broccoli…the initial heads are the largest, but they aren’t usually as big as those you buy in the supermarket. Broccoli is a heavy feeder and although commercial growers do what it takes to produce the large heads that consumers are used to buying, home-growing conditions usually don’t supply the same level of nutrients, water and experienced timing.

That’s not to say that the first heads that a broccoli produces is always skimpy in a home garden. It’s not…but frequently it’s smaller than commercially grown produce. Note to new gardeners: don’t leave your first head on the plant waiting for it to get bigger. Once it “looks like broccoli” it should be cut and eaten; if you leave it too long it will flower and go to seed.

Here is a typical home-grown broccoli head. (The bronze leaf peeking up below it is a random lettuce leaf.)  This broccoli is ready to harvest.

Here is a typical home-grown broccoli head. (The bronze leaf peeking up below it is a random lettuce leaf.) This broccoli is ready to harvest and even going a bit past time. Cut broccoli when the flower buds are small, tight and green. 

 

Once you’ve cut your first broccoli head the plant will usually produce many new side shoots. In fact, some broccoli varieties are bred for good side shoot production, so if you want to be able to harvest broccoli all summer look for those types, as well as varieties that are bred for your region. Note that most garden centers only carry one type of broccoli seedlings at the start of the season; if you want special varieties that are better for heat, summer production or side shoots, start your own plants from seed. They are easy to grow from seeds early in the spring.

Here is what my broccoli plants have been producing all of July and August. I harvest these every other day so that the plant will continue to grow more.

Here is what my broccoli plants have been producing all of July and August. I harvest these every other day so that the plant will continue to grow more. 

Don't let these develop into yellow flowers or the plant will slow down in the production of these tasty broccoli shoots.

Don’t let these develop into yellow flowers or the plant will slow down in the production of these tasty broccoli shoots. Cut them off about two inches below these small heads and cook them stems and all – suggestions for some of the many ways to prepare these small broccoli shoots are below.

You can harvest the equivalent of a very large head of broccoli every other day if you have five or six broccoli plants in the garden and keep up with cutting off the side shoots.

You can harvest the equivalent of a very large head of broccoli every other day if you have five or six broccoli plants in the garden and keep up with cutting off the side shoots. Here is my harvest basket from late-August this year. Note that some of the broccoli heads are larger than others…that’s OK. Just pick them and enjoy!

 

If you keep up with cutting the small heads all summer you’ll be able to still be harvesting them well into the fall. They often become sweeter and more tasty after a frost or two! Here are some suggestions for cooking with these small broccoli heads:

  • Steam them quickly, cool, and add to salads.
  • Throw them in a garden veggie soup and either eat it right away or freeze for the winter.
  • Add them to a stir-fry – especially tasty with tofu.
  • Sauté them in olive oil with some onions, garlic (and hot peppers if desired) and toss with pasta and serve with Parmesan cheese.
  • Roast them until just beginning to brown in a hot oven, either with other veggies or alone. Serve with salt and pepper, Parmesan cheese or oil and vinegar.
  • Use them in an omelette or frittata.
  • Make cream of broccoli soup.

3 Comments

  1. Jenny Sintra

    Your basket looks delicious, I’ll stop worrying about my tiny broccoli heads and start harvesting to get as many side shoots as possible!

    Reply
  2. Coleen Power

    Thanks so much for the info. I’ll be content with small florets. Can I also eat the lower leaves or will that kill the plant?

    Reply
    • CL Fornari

      Coleen – it won’t kill the plant to eat some of the leaves – but I wouldn’t harvest more than 1/8 of the total at a time since the leaves are what’s powering the production of more side shoots.

      Reply

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