Harvesting the Cole Crops

Vegetables must be harvested at the proper stage of maturity in order to obtain the highest quality produce. The harvest and storage recommendations for broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage are listed below.


Broccoli should be harvested when the head is fully developed, but before the small yellow flower buds start to open. At harvest, the terminal head should be tight, blue-green, and approximately 6 to 7 inches in diameter. Several smaller side heads (about 1 to 3 inches across) will develop in the axils of the leaves after the central head is removed.

Broccoli may be placed in a perforated plastic bag and stored in the refrigerator for up to 10 to 14 days.


Cauliflower heads exposed to sunlight become cream colored and coarse in texture. To obtain high quality cauliflower, the heads must be blanched by loosely tying the outer leaves over the heads when approximately 2 to 3 inches in diameter. The leaves can be tied over the heads with twine or cloth strips. The exclusion of light or blanching will keep the heads white and tender.

Cauliflower should be harvested when the heads are smooth, firm, and compact. Full sized heads may be 6 to 8 inches across. Overmature heads will begin to open up and become "ricey."

Cauliflower may be placed in perforated plastic bags and stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 to 4 weeks.


The harvest of cabbage may begin when the heads are firm and the size of a softball. Mature cabbage should be harvested when the head is solid and tight, before they crack or split. Splitting is caused by excessive water uptake; the resulting pressure splits the head. Splitting of mature heads may be prevented by pulling the plant upward and gently twisting. Some of the roots will be broken, thereby reducing water uptake.

Cabbage may be placed in a perforated plastic bag and stored in the refrigerator. A cool, moist (32 F, 90 to 95% relative humidity) root cellar would be fine for prolonged storage up to 3 to 4 months.

This article originally appeared in the June 7, 1996 issue, p. 94.


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