The central head is always the largest, but many varieties of broccoli also make numerous small side shoots. If you leave them — and continue to care for the plant — your broccoli bounty will be increased.
First, keep your eye on that central head. You want it to grow as large as possible while remaining firm and tightly packed, with no sign of expanding buds that signal imminent flowering.
As soon as it stops enlarging and/or the buds begin to swell, cut it off, locating the cut right above a leaf node where a secondary shoot is forming.
The ideal spot for decapitation can be anywhere from 4 to 9 inches down, depending on the season. Hot weather makes broccoli bolt, and although it doesn’t mind light frosts it will be killed by hard ones. So if the main head reaches harvest size in early fall, cut it short. Leaving most of the plant behind will give you the most side shoots. If the main head isn’t ready until the weather is about to turn, you might as well cut it with a longer edible stem and enjoy it while the enjoying’s good.
Note: The large-headed broccoli common in both stores and gardens is not the only source of delicious spears and tender florets. You can also grow the heirloom variety ‘Di Cicco’, or sprouting broccoli. This one also makes a large plant, but instead of offering one large head and several much smaller ones (which are ready much later), sprouting broccoli skips the big production in favor of a smaller central head and a steady supply of side shoots that, while by no means huge, are larger (and earlier) than the side shoots of traditional broccoli.