What Does Broccoli Grow Bitter?

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.

harvested broccoli in basket
harvested broccoli in basket

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.

broccoli plant in the garden
broccoli plant in the garden

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.

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?

26 thoughts on “What Does Broccoli Grow Bitter?”

  1. I have a Square Foot Garden and just harvested my puny broccolis. I planted them May 19, and it had just finished snowing here in Canada. Anyway, I tasted it raw, it was so bitter! But I decided to go ahead cook them. I roasted them in the oven at 425 with olive oil, salt and sliced garlic. After they started getting charred I took them out and added lime juice and parmasean. They were just fine! Not the slightest bit bitter. Don’t throw it away! Roast it.

  2. I have found that the variety of lettuce that I plant has a lot to do with getting bitter. I found that Butter crunch lettuce never gets bitter in my garden, also, flashy back trout lettuce from Uprising seed co. doesn’t seem to get bitter. Still eating in August.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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


    • 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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!

  9. 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!

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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?

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

    • 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.

  15. 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.

    • 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!

  16. 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 🙂

    • I see that you wrote this 5 years ago so I hope you remember giving this advice. I’m impressed with your drying and powdering broccoli leaves idea. Can I just ask how you did that? Did you use a dehydrator and then pulse the dried leaves in a food processor? And do you know how your powder relates (in nutrition) to a store brand such as Greens?


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