Brussels Sprouts Gardening
Brussels sprouts, Brassica oleracea, are a unique type of cabbage belonging to the Brassicaceae family. Though the vegetable is native to the Mediterranean region like other cabbages, they’re named after Brussels, a city in Belgium, where they have been popular since the 13th century. Brussel sprouts are rich in nutrients, primarily antioxidants, fibers, and Vitamin K. Something you need to know about brussels sprouts gardening is they are an annual cool-weather crop that grows up to 2 to 3 feet in height, forming numerous miniature cabbage heads along thick stalks. They’re planted in late summers, taking about 80 days from transplant to reach maturity and be harvested in late fall or early winter. Brussel sprouts taste best when they’re harvested after being subject to light frost.
Types & Varieties of Brussels Sprout
Different Brussels sprout varieties exist, with subtle differences in the sizes and number of buds attached to the stalks and also their color and flavor. Several tiny buds are attached close to each other in some varieties, while others have bigger buds with some spacing between them. Colors range from pale green to reddish-purple.
Common varieties of Brussels Sprouts:
- Catskill – It’s an heirloom variety, introduced in 1941. It produces 2” round, deep green sprouts attached to long, strong stalks. It takes between 85 to 110 days to grow to maturity.
- Dagan – The variety produces bright green sprouts that hold their shape well at harvesting. They grow tall stalks with medium to large sprouts, taking about 100 days to reach maturity.
- Green Gems – These varieties grow to about 34-36” tall, packed with beautiful 1.5” sprouts. The mini cabbages have a golden interior and reach maturity in just over 85 days.
- Churchill – It’s a fast-growing hybrid that produces flavorful, green sprouts in as little as 90 days.
If you’re building a vegetable garden for self-sustenance, plan around 2 to 8 Brussels sprout plants per person, and since the individual plants are spaced at least 16” apart, plant around 8 to 10 feet per person.
Temperature and Timing for growing Brussels Sprout
Brussels sprouts are cool-season vegetables that grow best at temperatures between 45 and 75°F. In warmer climates, they’re planted in late summers for a winter harvest, while in cooler climates, they’re planted in early summers to be harvested in the fall. They can tolerate below-freezing temperatures for a couple of days. In fact, the flavor is enhanced when they’re subject to light frost.
Sun Exposure and Soil Requirements
Full sun, with exposure for at least 6 hours a day is best for Brussels sprouts gardening. They prefer growing in fertile, well-drained soil that’s amended with plenty of organic matter. Make sure the soil pH is between 6.5 to 7.
How to Plant Brussels Sprout
Brussels sprout gardening begins by planting the seeds ½ to ¼ inch deep in pots or seedling trays 12 to 14 weeks before autumn’s first frost. Plant 2 to 3 seeds in each module and maintain moisture in the soil. The seeds will sprout in 7 to 12 days. After the seedlings appear, remove the weaker ones, keeping the strongest ones to develop further. Once the seedlings are 4 weeks old, they are ready to be transplanted into the garden.
When it’s time to transplant them in the garden, harden off the plants by setting out the seedling tray in a shady spot outdoors, bringing them back inside for the night. Increase the sun exposure gradually until they’re ready to be planted in the garden bed in about a week.
Set the transplants 16 to 18″ apart in rows that are spaced 30 inches apart. Remember to firm the soil around the seedlings, so they’re well-anchored to the ground as they develop into mature plants.
Brussels like their soil evenly moist. Offer about 1 inch of water each week, watering at the base of the plant. Overwatering can result in stunted growth and root rot, so be careful in providing just the right level of moisture.
Fertilize the soil once before setting the transplants and a second time at mid-season. For fertilizing the sprouts, you can either side-dress the plants with aged compost or use a balanced organic fertilizer, such as 5-5-5.
Stake the plants since they’ll become top-heavy as the buds start developing. If there isn’t a stake for support, the plants will lean over or fall.
Once your Brussels sprout gardening goes successfully, there will be loads of sprouts to harvest at the end of the season. Here’s how you harvest sprouts:
- As the crop approaches harvest, the leaves near the buds start turning yellow. It takes about 3 to 4 months for the buds to come to harvest from the time of transplanting. Once the buds are about 1.5 inches in diameter and still firm, it’s time to harvest them.
- Near the end of the growing season, remove the lower leaves to allow more room for the development of the buds.
- The lower buds mature first; puck them before they turn yellow. Yellow buds are bitter. Harvest the upper bulbs as they develop. If you want all the sprouts to come to harvest at the same time, pinch out the growing tip.
- If a drastic temperature drop or rise is predicted in the coming days as the plant approaches harvest, you can harvest the entire stalk. The stalk is also edible once the tough outer layer is removed.
When stored unwashed in a plastic bag, Brussels sprouts will stay fresh in the fridge for over 3 to 4 weeks. Remove the loose, yellow outer leaves from the buds before storing them. Blanched sprouts can be frozen and used for up to 4 months.
Pests and Diseases
- Aphids are a common problem with Brussels sprouts. These insects collect on the stems and weaken the plants by sucking the sap from them. You can hose them off with water.
- Cabbage loopers and cabbage worms also attack Brussels sprouts. You can either handpick and kill them or spray the plants with Bacillus thuringiensis.
- Cutworms often come out at night to feed on the plants. Place cutworm collars around the plants at the beginning of the growing season to protect the young plants.
- Brussels is susceptible to cabbage yellows. This is a fungal disease that begins at the lower buds, turning them yellow and then progressing to the higher buds. Plant resistant varieties and apply compost tea regularly to prevent the disease.
- Clubroot is another fungal disease that affects Brussels sprouts. They result in the swelling of roots and weakening and wilting of the plants. Maintaining a neutral soil pH and an adequate supply of calcium and magnesium can help control the disease.
Follow this guide, and you’ll hopefully grow lots of crunchy, flavorful Brussels sprouts to grace your dishes.