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What Makes Broccoli Grow Bitter?

>19 June 2012
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Alright. I wanna know what’s up with my broccoli plants!!

Every head I harvest is bitter!

I had the same problem last year. I figured I’d just planted it too late last year, and that the heat had caused the trouble. So I got my broccoli in the ground several weeks earlier this year, but it still happened. My neighbor grows the most beautiful heads of broccoli every year, and never has bitter broccoli. She even harvests side-shoots throughout the summer, so it can’t be the heat that is effecting them.

What gives?

My broccoli looks a little yellowish to me, too. Does that mean it’s lacking something? I side-dressed it with plenty of straw and chicken manure.

I also thought I might not be picking it soon enough. If you leave broccoli florets too long, the buds will begin to open up. When this happens, it does get bitter. But I tried harvesting the small side-shoots as soon as they popped out, and they still tasted horrible.

I considered that it might have been the variety I planted, but this year I used two different varieties (one heirloom, one generic pack of Green Sprouting Broccoli) and they were both bitter. Now that I think of it, the heirloom variety was also called Green Sprouting. Maybe that’s the problem?

Maybe my plants are in more direct sunshine than my neighbors. Maybe if I planted them in a semi-shaded place they might do better? I think I’ll replant in the Fall and see if I have better luck.

Anyways… just brainstorming here.

It stinks to have all of this broccoli and none of it is edible.

Have you ever had bitter broccoli? Any thoughts on how to have a better harvest next time?

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23 Comments »

  • Vanessa said:

    Something I’ve discovered about broccoli is that the leaves are even more nutritious than the heads (which I don’t like very much, anyways). So, I have been harvesting the leaves all spring/summer and adding them to green smoothies or dehydrating and powdering them (like this: to use in smoothies throughout the fall and winter. I am up to a gallon of greens from outer cabbage leaves, broccoli leaves, kale, and spinach grown organically in my urban garden this year!

    Since I know you also like using all of the parts of what you grow, thought I would share :)

  • Kendra at New Life On A Homestead (author) said:

    Oh wow! That’s awesome, Vanessa!! I bet my leaves are bitter, too, haha. I need to check that out. Thanks!

  • Sophie said:

    I’m sorry it must be so frustrating! broccoli is so good usually!

  • Connie said:

    I had this problem a few years ago. I’d love to know the answer!

  • Ruthlynn said:

    Howdy, do you use pesticide? If not do you have worms in the heads? Both can make yours taste bitter. I use diatomaceus earth, no bugs no worms. I have been told to soak the green heads in cold water for an hour before cooking, worms will float to the top (if you have them). If you wait too long to cut the heads, they bloom and go to seed, very bitter.How are you cooking yours? Might be for too long. Broccoli is more of a cold weather veggie. Might want to stop and plant again for the fall.Good Luck.

  • Kendra at New Life On A Homestead (author) said:

    Ruthlynn,

    No pesticides. We used floating row covers, and planted peppermint to discourage the white moths that bring worms. We had a few, but not nearly as bad of a problem as last year. I soak my broccoli in cold salt water for a while to kill all of the worms. I hadn’t cooked the broccoli yet. I’ve just been trying to eat it raw. Thanks though!

  • Ashlee said:

    I’m getting ready to harvest my broccoli. If you find the answer let me know, I might need an answer, too. I didn’t know broccoli could be bitter, I hope mine isn’t. My lettuce, for the second year in a row, has been bitter, and it hasn’t even bolted yet. I don’t know what I am doing to not be able to grow some yummy lettuce. I have a whole row of mixed lettuce that is inedible, so I know the frustration.

  • Kendra at New Life On A Homestead (author) said:

    Ashlee,

    Every bit of my lettuce was bitter last year. This year I planted it in containers, and moved them into the greenhouse. NONE of it has been bitter!! I think it’s ’cause it isn’t in direct sunlight. I’ve had to keep them watered a lot ’cause it gets really hot in there, but it has been really nice being able to enjoy fresh salads, finally!!

    The chickens are always glad to help take care of anything I deem inedible.

  • JulieG said:

    I don’t know but I searched and came up with;

    A rise in the temperature of sun’s heat and the hot rays falling directly on the vegetable makes it to turn bitter.

    The acid level of the soil can also cause bitterness.

    Any stress on a vegetable such as high temperature, low moisture, low fertility, or foliage disease can cause bitterness.

    When my broccoli florets were at the bitter stage, the peeled stems were still delish!

    Good luck and when you find the answer, tell us.

  • LindaG said:

    I did a little bit of research because I am still learning. What I read was
    1. Don’t plant in the same spot 2 years in a row.
    2. Broccoli should be planted in the summer and harvested in the fall when it’s cooler.
    People seemed to agree that heat can make it bitter. Cucumbers, too, apparently.

    Do you have chickens or pigs that might eat it?

  • Kendra at New Life On A Homestead (author) said:

    Thanks for all of the advice, Julie and Linda :) Yeah, next time I’ll try planting them somewhere a tad bit shadier. I should try the stems, Julie. Thanks! Guess the chickens will keep getting the florets this time around ;)

  • Ashlee said:

    Well, mt broccoli tasted good. I hope you figure out the problem with yours. I might have to try containers next year for my lettuce. I really want some fresh salads, too.

  • Connie said:

    When I plant broccoli – I use paper hats or pin up the leaves over the head with a clip to keep them out of the sun. I usually have very large wonderful heads… about 3 times the store bought size and no bitterness. Hope it helps.

  • Kendra at New Life On A Homestead (author) said:

    OH, I love that tip, Connie!!! Thanks! I’d be curious to know what variety you grow. I’ll try to remember to do that next time :)

  • Lisa Lynn said:

    Not enough water, too much sun…those would be my guesses.

    Like Connie said, tie the leaves over the heads to keep them cool. Nothing like keeping a cool head :)

    It’s probably not too late to salvage the side heads by giving extra water.

    Good luck!

  • Teri Vogeli said:

    Definitely sounds like sporadic watering. The picture you have shows good tight heads but they’re yellowing. In the south, I’d plant middle summer so they’re ready to harvest in the cooler months, and keep the water level as even as possible. God bless the future harvests!

  • Melissa said:

    Now that you mention it, the broccoli I’ve nibbled on raw from my garden has been sorta bitter. But I haven’t thought much about it cause it cooks up fine. I steam it or use it in a stir fry.

  • Kendra at New Life On A Homestead (author) said:

    Melissa, I wonder if I cooked it if the bad taste would go away? Man, I’d really kick myself if all that broccoli could have been edible after all, lol!!

  • Kay said:

    Same problem here this year, inedibly bitter when raw but after cooking, it was just fine. Some was blanched before freezing, some was stir fried or steamed but all that started out bitter when raw ended up delicious. We are in the South, don’t use pesticides, had to do the salt water soak because of the worms. The most productive variety we ever grew that never got bitter was Early Dividend.

  • John Stott said:

    Hi Kendra

    Alas, broccoli can be a pain. It is a fussy plant. Like all veggies variety and growing conditions, location and soil acidity need to be taken into account. A nice cross section of suggestions too.
    I find that it is best cooked, I prefer steaming for a few minutes as we like a crunch.
    However, manure the year before planting. Chicken manure is grand but the fresher, the higher the ammonia, this can effect taste in all veg. Rotate planting, only put the same variety in that spot every three years. One lady correctly raised the point of watering, another strong sun. Water a lot in dry conditions like yours and yes, cover the heads. Thought of old camo netting on a frame?

    Finally, it is a cold weather lover. It is like others of its kind and tastes better after a frost or two. In England folk tend to see it as a winter veg.
    If I may suggest, test the soil acidity, the meters are cheap. Aim for a neutral reading. You may need to add lime or more organic rotted material to adjust the acidity / alkalinity.
    Hope this helps!

    God bless

    John

  • Kendra at New Life On A Homestead (author) said:

    Thank you for your suggestions, John! I definitely think I need to focus on broccoli as a cold weather crop. It just gets so hot so quickly here in the South. I do need to test the soil, too. That’s one of those things I’ve been meaning to do from the very beginning!

    Blessings to you my friend.

  • Nicole said:

    We have never had success with broccoli either. I have heard either early spring or fall so we tried both. Hoping to have better luck with fall.
    I can say that with cauliflower pinning the leaves over the heads worked WONDERS for making it more edible.

  • travis h. said:

    Usually bitter lettuce is caused by not enough iron in the soil. You can get supplements to add to the soil. It could also be the cause of the bitter broccoli. And make sure you dont skimp on the watering.

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