“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.
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.
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.