Because of their bitterness, Brussels sprouts might not be the most popular vegetable you can serve up with a roast. However, these little buds are very nutritious and are actually pretty easy to grow at home.
All about Brussels sprouts
Brussels sprouts were hugely popular and considered to be a delicacy in 16th century Belgium, and so were named after the capital. The Brussels sprout was thought to have been introduced to America by French settlers in Louisiana, during the 1700s. The Brussels sprout is a member of the brassica family and related to cabbage, broccoli and kale.
Brussels sprouts prefer slightly cooler climates, doing best in temperatures 59- 64F and are at their most productive stage during the winter months. Depending on location, they can be harvested between October and March.
Types of Brussels sprouts
A number of Brussels sprout varieties are available. These include:
- Catskill – forming a large bud on a compact stalk
- Churchill – a hybrid with the ability to generate high yields
- Green gems – with an earthy and buttery flavor
- Gronigher – a good choice for novice gardeners
- Nautic -which are disease resistant due to the spacing of buds on the stalk
- Octia – with a short life cycle, ready in just 78 days
- Redarling- one of the varieties with a purplish-red head
Planting Brussels sprouts from seed
Planting these sprouts from seed is a good option. Simply find a modular seed tray and pop in one seed per compartment at a depth of about ¾ of an inch. If two seedlings pop up, it’s best to remove the smaller or weaker one to encourage the healthy growth of your main plant. While they do need regular watering, take care not to overwater your seedlings as this discourages strong root growth. Your plants should germinate in a week or two, and will be ready to be planted outside about a month after that.
Hardening up your Brussels sprouts
Seedling plants will benefit from being “hardened off” before they are exposed to tough outdoor conditions. This means helping the plant develop a tough cell structure by gradually increasing their exposure to outdoor conditions gradually over time. Some people use a greenhouse or cloche to protect the infant plants, gradually increasing the time, the plants are uncovered each day. Another way you can help your plants prepare for their new position is to move them around into a more exposed position. If your seeds have been started in a warm spot- like on a windowsill, make sure to give them a couple of days in a cooler internal position so they don’t get shocked from the temperature change.
Transplanting Brussels sprouts
Choose a spot in your garden that has full sun and good, rich soil. Prepare the soil by turning over and removing grass, weeds or rocks. As you are transplanting your sprouts, make sure to dig a hole big enough for the whole root. Loosen the roots out before planting. You’ll actually need to allow a good distance between plants around 25- 35 inches.
Soil and fertilizer for Brussels sprouts
Your sprouts will appreciate a fertile soil with plenty of compost and manure. Nitrogen-rich fertilizers can help encourage growth, but too much will not allow your sprouts to grow to their full potential size. Use the nitrogen for the first three weeks after transplanting then switch to potash closer to harvest time. It is possible to grow your Brussels sprouts in a large pot or bucket which helps you achieve good drainage and allows you to move the plant indoors in the event of extreme weather.
Brussels sprouts likes and dislikes
Brussels sprouts are thirsty plants, and they have an almost waxy leaf that can deflect excess water. Keep them well hydrated during the growth season, keeping the soil damp but avoiding puddles or water pooling where possible.
Tips to help your Brussels sprouts
- Build up a small mound of soil around the base of new plants to give them support as they grow
- Try staking your plants to help avoid them being blown over
- Use a hoe in the general area of your plants to remove weeds and also add some space for air and moisture
Brussels sprout timeline
Many of us have fond (or not so fond) memories of Brussels sprouts served with Thanksgiving Dinner. Most of your produce will appear between Thanksgiving and Christmas, so can be enjoyed right through the holiday season.
- Spring – sew your sprouts
- Late Spring – early Summer – plant
- Autumn – Winter – harvest
- Autumn – prepare new soil for the following year’s crop
You’ll likely see problems and poorly shaped buds if you don’t provide enough nutrients, or your plants are unsupported. Ensure your seedlings are packed tightly to give them a strong start.
Brussels sprouts might not be popular with kids, but they are considered to be very delicious to a number of pests. Cabbage root fly and cabbage caterpillars can move in and cause discoloration and damage. Try an insect mesh to keep them at bay.
When to harvest Brussels sprouts
Most types of Brussels sprouts will take 26- 31 weeks to mature. The best Brussels sprouts are tightly wrapped with a bright color and will be sized around 1 inch in diameter. You will notice a strong stem. Start removing sprouts from the bottom and work your way up. Remove the leaves below and then either cut or pull your vegetables. If you leave buds for too long on the plant they can become bitter.
Health benefits of Brussels sprouts
Some of the nutrients do decrease as a result of cooking but they still hold significant nutritional value once cooked. They may be small, but each Brussels sprout is packed with just about a full complement of vitamins. They contain:
- Minerals including iron, manganese and phosphorus, used for strong bones and teeth.
- Fiber, aiding digestion and helping you feel full.
- Antioxidants, to keep cancer away with a high level of antioxidants.
The biggest tip with regard to cooking is simply- don’t overcook! This will result in sprouts that are even bitter and a little bit too mushy. Once steam-cooked and sprouts cool down, they can be bagged and stored in the freezer for up to a year.
The bottom line: Bitter? Yes, a little. Buttery and delicious with bacon? Yes, that too. Brussels sprouts are relatively easy to grow, and if handled properly, will bring joy to your garden and your festive dinner plate.