How to Grow: Brussels Sprouts

Learn how to plant and grow Brussels sprouts.

Listen to podcast: podcast transcript Brussels sprouts (Brassica oleracea) have gotten a bad rap. These mini-cabbages on a stalk may look weird, but they taste great if you harvest and prepare them correctly. I’ve learned the key to enjoying this cabbage-relative is to let them get touched by light frost in fall before harvesting. Then the sweetness comes out. I like to roast “sprouts” with balsamic vinegar and root crops such as beets and carrots. Don’t be afraid to sweeten them up with some of our good ol’ maple syrup when cooking, too.

When to PlantBrussels Sprouts on the plant

Brussels sprouts are a slow growing vegetable that prefers cool temperatures. Start seeds indoors in March or April, 4 to 6 weeks before your last frost. Plant seedlings or purchased transplants from the garden center, into the garden 4 weeks later.

Where to Plant

Brussels sprouts grow best in full sun on well drained fertile soil. Amend the soil generously with compost prior to planting to support their long growth period.

Brussels sprouts produce small little “cabbages” along their stalk. This vegetable takes a long season to grow.

How to Plant

Plant seedlings 18- to 24-inches apart in rows 2 feet apart. Plant them a little deeper in the garden than they were growing in the pot to help the stalk stand upright. Even if they flop over, the stalks will still grow upright and yield a great crop.

Care and Maintenance

Since Brussels sprouts take all summer to grow and mature, they need a little feeding to keep them strong. Add a small handful of an organic fertilizer, such as 5-5-5, monthly through summer. This will help produce a bigger plant and more sprouts. Keep the row well weeded and apply an organic mulch such as hay or untreated grass a clippings to keep weeds away and the soil moist. The mulch also keeps the soil cool, which all cabbage-family crops love. You can stake individual plants in late summer to prevent them from falling over during a thunderstorm. This will keep the sprouts cleaner.

Young seedling may fall victim to cutworms in spring. Protect transplants by wrapping a 3-inch-thick strip of newspaper around the stem, keeping it 2 inches above the ground and 1 inch below. The other major Brussels sprouts pest is cabbageworms and cabbage loopers. Check in early summer for green worms eating the leaves and spray an organic pesticide containing Bacillus thuriengensis (Bt) on plants to control them.

Harvest

Brussels sprouts are fun to watch grow and to harvest. The sprouts start maturing from the bottom of the stalk upwards. They will continue to mature new sprouts as long as the plants are healthy and weather warm enough. Pick individual sprouts as needed when they’re about 1 inches in diameter. Larger sprouts are tough and woody. Remove the leaf just above the sprout first to be able to see it better and with a sharp knife cut it off the stalk. If my sprouts are slow to form, in early autumn, I like to top the plant. By taking off the top 6 inches of the plant, it will send more energy to size up the sprouts forming below.

Additional Information

All Brussels sprout varieties take 90 to 100 days to mature from transplanting in the garden. ‘Diablo’ and ‘Jade E Cross’ are two popular varieties. ‘Red Rubine’ features purplish-colored sprouts that hold their color even after cooking.

Excepted from the Northeast Vegetable and Fruit Gardening book.

Podcast Transcript

Brussels sprout, Brussels sprout! Throw the nasty rascal out. Give us pizza, give us meat. Give us anything that’s sweet. In the evening how I hate to see you lying on my plate. You are green and round and wide, Which makes you very hard to hide. And so, with milk, I wash you down. Even then I gag and frown. Though you’re good for me, no doubt. A pox upon thee, O Brussels sprout. This Grandpa Ticker poem pretty much sums up many people’s feeling about eating Brussels sprouts.

But I think Brussels sprouts are misunderstood and misused. When cooked correctly with the right ingredients such as cheese, raisins or nuts, they taste amazing. You can also eat them shaved raw in salads. The key is to pick Brussels sprouts after the cold has turned them from smelly little cabbages to sweet, delectable orbs.

Brussels sprout cultivation dates back to the Romans, but they became popular in Europe, and especially Brussels, in the 1600s. They’re simple to grow. Plant seedlings of green or red varieties when you would broccoli, in well-drained, compost amended soil. Protect transplants from cutworms and flea beetles. Side dress monthly with an organic fertilizer and keep the cabbageworms from shredding their leaves by spraying Bacillus thuriengensis. By fall you should have 3 foot tall plants with round sprouts forming along the stem. If you aren’t seeing many sprouts forming, simply cut off the top of the plant so it sends more energy into forming sprouts and less into new growth. Brussels sprouts can take a frost and keep producing right into winter.

From the Vermont Garden Journal

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