Brussels sprouts have a long growing season, requiring around 30 weeks to harvest, but they are a perfect vegetable to see you through the winter months providing vitamins K, C, A, and B6. Brussels sprouts are actually quite a little superfood as they are also a good source of fibre, magnesium, phosphorus, thiamin, folate, potassium, manganese, copper, calcium, and iron, so it really is worthwhile having a go at growing your own!
If you fancy growing your own sprouts for next year’s dinner, here’s what you need to know!
Those with clay soil which drains well will do better at growing Brussels sprouts than those on lighter, sandy soils. They need a firm, slightly alkaline soil with a bit of body to support the long stems and adding a good handful of fish, blood, and bone fertiliser prior to planting will pay dividends.
Sprouts grow well in both full sun and partial shade but more important is to make sure they are protected from wind. They are tall plants and will need to be staked in exposed areas to prevent being blowing over in high winds.
As the sprouts begin to form in early autumn, earth the stems up with at least two inches of soil to help to prevent them rocking in the wind. Wind rock can break the small root hairs that take water and food into the plant, which can cause lower yields.
As they are a slow growing crop, take advantage of the space by planting other quicker crops in between like radish, lettuce, or rocket.
Brussels sprouts grow tall first and will not really start producing sprouts until they reach almost full height. Each sprout grows in the leaf axil or joint.
They ripen from the bottom of the stalk upward, so you can start to harvest them when the lower sprouts reach the size of large marbles by removing the leaf below the sprout first, then twisting and pulling the sprout. Remove any yellowing leaves on the plant as they can harbour disease and restrict airflow around the ripening sprouts.
If you want to pick every sprout on the stalk, cut the whole stalk as the sprouts will keep fresher for longer.
After harvesting, a second crop of Brussels sprouts 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.
Gluts of sprouts can be frozen. Blanch them for two or three minutes before freezing and reduce the cooking time when you use them.
The leafy tops are also edible and can be cooked like cabbage greens.
If you have any great recipes for using Brussels sprouts, please do let us know and make sure you try The Indonesian Cook’s recipe for Brussels Sprout Fritters.
Brussels sprouts are prone to the same problems as cabbage and broccoli, such as attack by cabbage root fly and cabbage white butterflies, and clubroot which causes stunted growth and swollen, distorted roots.
Netting with insect netting, using brassica collars, and practising good crop rotation are all preventative measure you can take to ensure the health of your Brussels sprouts.
Blown sprouts are another problem for the sprout grower where the sprout buttons are loose in appearance rather than tight and firm. This can be caused by the soil not being fertile enough in organic matter or the ground not being firm enough when planting out, which leads to wind rock. Remove the blown sprouts and apply a high nitrogen liquid fertiliser to try to stem the problem.
Brussels sprouts are the perfect winter crop, even tasting better after a light frost, and they can be cropped right through until February to fill the hungry gap.