Every gardener understands the joy of eating produce that they grew themselves, enjoy that is out of all proportion with the nutrition and even the taste of the veggie.
Raising your food yourself provides a satisfaction that is difficult to quantify for those who have never done it. And no wonder!
There are so many obstacles, hazards, and setbacks to be overcome it can feel like a proper battle, especially concerning pests.
One of the most popular vegetables grown in gardens around the country and the world is broccoli.
Highly adaptable, super nutritious, and tasty it is no wonder it is a favorite. But it’s also a favorite of all sorts of insect life and other pests that like to eat it too.
If you don’t want to eat those insects in the bargain, you’ll need a way to keep them off and get them out of your broccoli.
That is much of the time easier said than done, but you won’t need to worry about that if you have this guide.
Keep reading and I will tell you everything you need to know about getting worms out of your harvested broccoli, and how to keep them out.
There are Worms Hiding in My Broccoli?!
Likely, at least if you grew it yourself. Broccoli is, sadly, highly prone to hosting a variety of pests, including moths (larvae), caterpillars, and yes, worms.
This is because broccoli provides plenty of nutrition for growing bug bodies and good cover to protect the pests from predation by other critters.
When assessing broccoli for worm infestation, some signs are easier to spot than others.
Damage to leaves and stems is relatively easy to spot depending on the size of the pest and the severity of the infestation.
In the most harrowing cases, they can be found wriggling and hiding within the florets or heads themselves!
In all cases, you’ll want to get the worms off your broccoli before you cook it, for obvious reasons!
Before We Go On, What Kinds of Pests Are We Dealing With?
There are all sorts of broccoli pests out there, but today we are concerned with the most common, and stubborn, worms.
Worms are something of a misnomer because these critters are actually insect larva. But to our eyes, they look like tiny worms or caterpillars.
There are three species of the most common broccoli worms: cabbage loopers, cabbage worms, and diamondback moths.
These worms are light green in color and are anywhere from 1 ¼ – 1 ½ inches long.
They have a white or pale stripe down their sides, and they feed on the leaves of broccoli plants and young, developing florets. Loss of foliage means broccoli will lose the ability to photosynthesize, harming growth.
Imported Cabbage Worms
These worms range from 1/2 inch to 1 3/4 inches in size and are typically a bright green with faint yellow dashes or solid lines on the flanks and back. Voracious eaters, they also feed on the leaves and florets of your broccoli.
These moths lay eggs on the underside of broccoli leaves and when the eggs hatch the green larvae will eat away at the plant’s leaves and stems.
After the first few days of hatching worms are a pale to emerald green color with distinctive black heads.
The damage caused by these persistent, hungry caterpillars can easily stunt the growth of your plants.
Don’t worry. Now that we know the enemies, we can deal with them, and the trick we are going to talk about will work on all of them.
Broccoli Worms are Very Difficult to Spot!
Notice anything about our worms’ descriptions up there? Bingo: they are all green. As you might expect, this green color works to wonderfully camouflage these meddling little parasites against the green of your broccoli’s stems and foliage.
In fact, combined with their small size, this makes them incredibly difficult to spot before and after you harvest your broccoli… even up close!
You can and should, of course, inspect your broccoli while it is growing and after you pick it.
Look for nibbled leaves, holes, and strange brown residue (worm poop) that might indicate an infestation.
But since these worms are so hard to spot, you might not see the worms themselves, even if they’re there.
The point is you cannot depend on a visual inspection alone to declare your broccoli good: if you do that, you might well end up with a side of worms to go with your veggies…
The Best and Easiest Way to Get Worms Out of Broccoli
What’s the best way to get worms out of your broccoli? Easy: drown them.
It really is that simple, for the most part. After you harvest your broccoli, you should immerse it in salt water for a bit shortly before cooking. Do the following:
- Remove leaves and rinse broccoli thoroughly as normal to remove dirt and debris.
- Chop broccoli into smaller stalks or into comfortably bite-sized florets.
- Draw several quarts of cold water in large bowl, enough to cover the broccoli.
- Add 1 teaspoon of salt per quart of water. Stir thoroughly to mix.
- Add broccoli to water. Allow soaking for appx. 30 minutes.
- Observe: you will probably see worms bobbing on the surface of the water! The salt will irritate them and help them float away.
- After 30 minutes, remove the broccoli from the salted water, rinse thoroughly under running cool water, and place it onto a paper towel to dry off any excess moisture.
- Check your broccoli for any lingering worms.
- Cook your broccoli as desired.
And that’s it. It really is that simple. By immersing the broccoli in a strong salt water solution you will remove the worms and help lift them out of all the nooks and crannies where they might be hiding.
This is a far safer and surer option compared to the vain effort of trying to locate them by sight.
Caution: This Can Still be Unsettling at Dinner Time
One word of wisdom, take it from me: Don’t tell your family or guests about this little trick, and try not to let anyone see it in action, for obvious reasons. It’s a surefire way to ruin your dinner plans!
Yes, dealing with insects in general and veggie pests in particular is just a fact of life when gardening. Yes, getting them off of food that is still safe to eat is just a part of it.
However, just because you and I know, that does not mean that our family and guests need to know it too! They probably are not ready to know, for that matter.
What Happens if You Miss a Worm?
Now, all this talk of getting rid of broccoli worms raises another obvious question: what if you miss one?
The truth is that it’s not a big deal however disgusting it sounds. These worms are harmless to humans, and they won’t hurt you even if you eat them.
You may, or may not, discover them in the broccoli if they do manage to stick around after the salt water bath you subject them to.
The worst that will happen is that you end up with an unpleasant surprise at dinner time, should you miss one and your guests, if they are guests, probably won’t be coming back. At least they won’t be going to the hospital over it…
Prevention is a Viable Strategy for Broccoli Worm Deterrence
Now, you are probably thinking that you’d be much better off if you didn’t have to go through this pre-prep exercise at all with your broccoli, right? Right.
So what’s the solution? Just buy your broccoli from the store? Not hardly. We have other options.
One of the best options is planting “companion” plants that can help to naturally repel broccoli worms.
These plants can even have a place in the kitchen so you aren’t wasting space in your garden or planters. Things like chives, sage, garlic, and oregano will all help to keep these pesky worms away.
You can also put up row covers or mesh nets to prevent the moths from reaching the broccoli and laying their eggs on it in the first place. So-called “mechanical” barriers might seem a pain but are indeed effective against larval pests.
Another option, though one most gardeners are understandably reluctant to try, is a pesticide.
Used in immense quantities by commercial farms, these big grow-ops use them because they work!
There are all sorts of man-made and natural pesticides that can eliminate or at least reduce the populations of broccoli worms, and the adult versions that lay their eggs.
Another strategy to consider is a periodic good soaking to help eliminate eggs and larva, assuming your broccoli and surrounding plantings can handle it.
As noted above, these worms are highly vulnerable to drowning, and many can be eliminated by a good drenching from heavy rain alone, so you can affect the same end with your garden hose.
Finally, you can also try using beneficial nematodes which are a type of worm that is beneficial to your garden because they attack some insect larvae directly and efficiently, serving as a sort of natural bioweapon.
So, in conclusion, when it comes to preventing broccoli worms there is no single “silver bullet”.
It’s often a combination of preventative measures and a final, careful soak that is needed in order to enjoy the fruits of your harvest free from any nasty little surprises.
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Tom has built and remodeled homes, generated his own electricity, grown his own food and more, all in quest of remaining as independent of society as possible. Now he shares his experiences and hard-earned lessons with readers around the country.