Believe it or not, broccoli’s popularity is rising. In 1980 the average American consumed 1.4 pounds of broccoli per year. In 2015, that number rose to 6.6 pounds each year. While the vegetable has been grown in Europe for centuries, it has only been grown commercially in the U.S. since 1925. California produces 90% of the U.S. crop, with Arizona, Texas and Oregon following. While is U.S. produced nearly 130,000 acres of the vegetable, we are still ranked third in the world, behind China and India.
Broccoli is cool season vegetable, so it can be grown in spring or in the fall. It takes between 75 and 140 days to grow. The seeds can either be directly planted into the ground, or they can be transplanted from greenhouse or hotbeds. While the crop can grow in a variety of soils, the ideal environment for growing the vegetable is in well-drained soil that is moderately salt sensitive, and nutrient dense with a pH of 6.o to 6.5. The ideal temperature is between 60-65°F, however the seed can germinate anywhere from 40 to 95°F.
Mid-October through December is the prime harvest time, but some crops are harvested through April. Broccoli cannot be harvested by machine, so it is harvested by hand. Broccoli harvested for fresh consumption will be packed in the field. Workers cut the stems at 8 inches and place the heads on a belt to be bunched together in two to four heads and then cut to 7 inches. They are then packed into cartons that weigh about 23 pounds. Florets that are cut in the field are loosely packed into tote bags and then packed into cartons. Broccoli harvested for the freezer packs will be cut at 6 inches from the stem and placed in trailers to be taken to the processor. After harvesting, broccoli must be cooled quickly to preserve the shelf life. After being packaged in the field the cartons are filled with slushed ice for shipping.
Selecting and Storing Broccoli
Look for a deep, vibrant green color without any yellowing. It can be flexible but should not be limp. If your broccoli smells of cooked cabbage than it is too old. If the florets have a purple or blue cast, then they will have more vitamin C and beta-carotene. When storing your broccoli, place it in the coolest part of the refrigerator in a loose plastic bag that is left open. Use within 3 days for best flavor.
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Penn State Extension
Agriculture Marketing Resource Center
University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources
Colorado Integrated Food Safety Center of Excellence
USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service