By: Susan Patterson, Master Gardener
Used extensively in Italian, Portuguese, Netherland, and Chinese cuisine, broccoli raab is also known as rapini, spring broccoli, and broccoli rabe. This leafy plant, similar to turnip and broccoli, is grown for its leaves and its unopened flower buds and stems. Knowing when to cut broccoli raab plants and how to harvest broccoli rabe is crucial for achieving a tasty crop.
There are several varieties, with one being grown in the spring and one in the fall. Different varieties mature at different times so be sure you know what variety you are planting. This is extremely important when it comes to harvesting broccoli rabe leaves.
Broccoli rabe is not difficult to grow. Seeds should be sown in the fall, winter, or very early spring. Waiting too long in the spring to plant seeds speeds up the rate at which the flowers open, leading to poor quality leaves and a subsequently poor broccoli rabe harvest.
Plants that grow in the fall grow some before heading into dormancy for the winter. Harvesting broccoli rabe leaves occurs on these plants only after some spring growth has taken place.
It is easy to know when to cut broccoli raab plants. Broccoli rabe harvest occurs when plants are 1 to 2 feet (31-61 cm.) tall, and flower buds have just begun to appear. Keep a keen eye on plants, however, as they bolt extremely quick.
Using a pair of clean and sharp garden shears, cut the stem 5 inches (13 cm.) below the bud. Trimming broccoli rabe down to the ground after the first harvest is not recommended.
After you cut the first shoot, the plant will grow another small shoot that is also edible. This can be harvested later in the season.
Now that you know a little more about harvesting broccoli raab leaves, you can enjoy your crop with confidence.
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