Step-by-step Guide to Growing Brussels Sprouts
Brassica oleracea gemmifera (fam. Cruciferae) Hardy biennial, usually grown as an annual Sowing to harvesting time: 28-36 weeks Size: about 90 cm (3’) tall Yield: 6 plants per 3 m (10’) row, each producing about 1 kg (2 lb) of sprouts
Brussels sprouts—firm, tight, buttonlike miniature cabbages—are one of the most highly prized of all winter vegetables. These brassicas were practically created for growing in the cool, temperate climates where many other vegetables do not thrive, and they are fairly straightforward to grow. The recent introduction of F1 hybrids has all but eliminated the once common problem of ‘blown’ sprouts, those with open and leafy, rather than tight, heads. The flavour of these new varieties is also an improvement, making Brussels sprouts an even more important choice for your garden.
A descendant of the wildand closely related to , Brussels sprouts have a growth habit quite different from other brassicas. The stem of the plant is crowned by a head of inward-curling leaves. From the crown almost down to the base of the stem are closely packed leaf joints, and careful plant breeding has ensured that tight little cabbage-like heads are produced in these joints all the way up the stem. Each of these miniature cabbages is called a sprout. Tradition says that the vegetable originated in the area of northern Europe which is now Belgium, and takes its name from the capital city. It is an economical vegetable to grow, as both the leafy tops and the sprouts make delicious vegetables.
With most brassicas, the buds in the leaf joints do not form until the second season of growth, but Brussels sprouts develop theirs during the first year. The natural tendency of the plant is to form sprouts near the base and then in turn up the stem. After those formed first at the bottom have been picked, the sprouts further up the stem grow bigger, so that a succession of pickings can be made from the same plant. For quite a long time, plants were developed which would produce greater quantities of large sprouts. However, large sprouts have less flavour, and the trend now, started by the commercial growers, is to grow plants which produce a mass of small to medium-sized sprouts, all of which come to maturity at about the same time.
It is a good idea to decide what you plan to do with your sprouts before choosing your varieties. For general kitchen use, you will probably want a variety which grows fairly large and produces a succession of sprouts throughout the winter. However, if you plan to freeze most of your crop, choose a commercial growers’ variety so that all the sprouts will be ready for harvest and preparation at once. Remember, too, that the picking season can be extended by using a range of varieties which will come into production at different times.
The harvesting season for sprouts is from early autumn through to early spring. There are some extra early varieties which will begin to crop in late summer, but, unless you are extremely fond of sprouts, it is rather a waste to begin harvesting them at a time when so many other seasonal vegetables are at their peak.
Brussels sprouts are one of the best cool-climate crops. They are hardy and will withstand considerable frost, although they will not tolerate extreme heat. A hot, dry summer seems to inhibit their capacity to produce tight sprouts in the following autumn. In the initial stages the seeds and young plants need a temperature well above the freezing point, but in the following winter the mature plants will stand quite severe and prolonged frost. The plants will not grow during such extreme conditions, but they will remain alive and will resume growth when the frost is past.
Suitable site and
Brussels sprouts are not particular about soil requirements They will grow in almost any type of soil, although they do best in a good deep loam. If the soil is at all acid, correct with an application of lime during the winter, otherwise you may run into trouble with a disease such as club root.
When choosing your site, remember that sprouts can grow into tall plants, and that they will occupy their position for quite a long time. If possible, try to arrange the rows so that the sprouts do not block the sunlight from other crops. A site in full sunlight is not essential, as long as-it gets sun for part of the day. And since Brussels sprouts are top-heavy plants, avoid a site which will get the full force of the wind, or be sure to give some wind protection.
Since Brussels sprouts are brassicas, do not plant them in a site previously occupied by another brassica crop, ormay build up in the soil. A site last occupied by or beans is a good choice. In fact, any position which was manured for a previous crop is good, but if this is not possible, dig the site deeply and work in a heavy dressing of well-rotted farmyard manure or garden , as early as possible in the autumn before planting. This will allow time for the soil to settle and become firm, which is very important if you wish to avoid blown sprouts. If you did not manure the site in the previous autumn, apply a top-dressing of a general compound fertilizer (which has slightly more potash and phosphate than nitrogen in it) at the rate of 90-120 g per sq m (3-4 oz per sq yd), about seven to ten days before planting.