Growing Brussels Sprouts

How to Grow Brussels Sprouts in Your Vegetable Garden

Stem of Brussels Sprouts
Photo: Morten Strunge Meyer / http://www.freeimages.com/photographer/msm-40458

Overview and Description:

Growing Brussesl spouts can be one in just about any home vegetable garden, if you have patience. Brussels Sprouts require a long season. However they actually taste better when hit with a slight frost, so although they are a late harvest, they are a relatively long one.

Because of their fondness for cool weather, Brussels Sprouts are a fall crop in warmer climates, becaus, s with broccoli, growiing Brussels sprouts in warm weather and long days will cause the “sprouts” to open and be unsuitable for eating.

Named after the city of Brussels, Brussels sprouts were first made popular in Belgium, where they’ve been grown since about 1200. The sprouts are buds that grow in the axils of each leaf. They look like tiny cabbages and are considered a type of wild cabbage. The plant itself looks like a small palm tree and the sprouts grow along the trunk-like stem. The green variety is the most commonly grown, but there are red Brussels sprouts too.

Botanical Name:

Brassica oleracea

Common Name(s):

Brussels Sprouts

USDA Hardiness Zone

Brussels sprouts are grown as annuals, so hardiness zones do not apply.

Mature Size:

Brussels sprout plants reach a size of 2-3 ft. (60 to 90 cm) tall x 8 - 12 inches (20-30 cm) W. The sprouts are about 1- 1 ½ inches (25 to 40 mm) in diameter, but you can harvest them smaller.

Exposure:

The plants will grow and sprout best in full sun to partial shade.

Days to Harvest:

You will have to be patient.

Brussels sprouts take about about 3 months, from transplant, before you can begin harvesting.

How to Harvest:

Each sprout grows in the leaf axil or joint. They begin maturing from the bottom of the plant upwards. You can start harvesting when the lower sprouts reach the size of large marbles. Just be sure to pick before they get too large and start cracking and turning bitter.

Some people prefer to cut, rather than pull the sprouts. Pulling is made easier if you remove the leave below the sprout first, then twist and pull the sprout. Each plant yields approximately a quart of sprouts total.

To extend the harvest in cold seasons, mulch plants with straw and/or cover with a row cover for protection. Whole plants can be pulled, potted and stored in a root cellar. Bare root plants can be stored in a cool cellar for an additional 2-3 weeks of harvest.

A second crop may begin to grow at the base of the stem. These will not be as tight as the first buds, but they are still edible.

The leafy tops are also edible and can be cooked as greens. Cutting the tops is a good way to speed up the development of the remaining sprouts, at the end of the season.

Brussels Sprouts Growing Tips

Soil: Soil pH should be at least 6.5, but preferably higher. Brussels sprouts like a sweet or slightly alkaline soil. A good amount of organic matter will help maintain the moisture they need for their intense growth.

When to Plant: In colder climates, start seeds indoors and set outside when there’s no threat of a hard frost. Be sure to allow the full time outdoors for required days to harvest.

In warmer climates, fall planting is preferred. You should be able to direct seed in mid-summer for a late fall/winter harvest. You may also be able to squeeze in a second, early spring crop, direct seeding in February and harvesting in May. Hot climates where the temperature never approaches freezing are not really suitable for growing Brussels sprouts.

Seeding: Direct sow in warm areas. Otherwise start seed indoors approximately 5-7 weeks before last expected frost. Cover seeds with 1/4 - ½ inches soil and keep moist. Transplant when the seedlings are about 3 inches tall. Don’t allow seedlings to become root bound or the plant will remain stunted when transplanted.

Transplanting: Brussels sprouts like the soil around them to be firm, but not compacted. Pat it down lightly.

Spacing: Space plants about 2 ft.

apart with 3 ft. between rows or stagger plants 2 ft. apart in each direction, for a grid.

Feeding: Fertilizing twice a season (once when the plants are about 12 inches high and again about a month before harvest) is often recommended, but if you have a fertile soil to begin with, it doesn’t seem to be necessary. One dose of an organic, slow release, granular fertilizer will feed the plants most of the season.

Tip: When the Brussels sprout plants are small, you can plant a short season crop between the rows. Bush peas and beans are a good choice, because they provide extra nitrogen to the soil.

Maintenance:

Brussels Sprouts are prone to the same problems as cabbage and broccoli. The most common pests are: Cabbage looper, imported cabbage worm, cabbage root maggot, aphids, and Harlequin bug. Since this is a late season crop, you have time to monitor for problems before the crop develops.

Diseases include: blackleg, black rot and clubroot. Disease control is best obtained by rotating the crop each year. Clubroot is diminished when you raise the soil pH to about 7.0.

Suggested Varieties:

  • Bubbles’ F1 (85-90 days) Early and easy. Tolerates heat and drought. 2" sprouts. Resistant to Powdery Mildew & Rust.

     

  • Jade Cross’ F1 and ‘Jade Cross E’ F1(90 days) Jade Cross was a 1959 All-America Selections Winner. Both are compact plants good for windy locations. Sprouts are slightly larger on Jade Cross E. Good disease resistance.

     

  • Long Island ImprovedOP (90 days) High yield. Another small plant that stands up to wind. Freezes well.

     

  • Oliver’ F1 (85 days) Early producer. Easy to pick, 1 inch sprouts. Compact, disease resistant plants.

     

  • Royal Marvel’ F1 (85 days) Early and productive. Resistant to bottom rot and tip burn.

     

  • Rubine’ (85 - 95 days) Purple plants. Late maturing and lower yield than green varieties, but good flavor. 1 ½ inch sprouts. Heirloom.