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Planting, Growing and Harvesting Brussels Sprouts

October 11, 2013

I needed a refresher in growing Brussels sprouts so I went to my most reliable garden sources–books and online–to summarize what the experts recommend.

It’s been about twenty years since I grew Brussels sprouts in my garden. In the past, I contended with aphids and Santa Ana conditions (hot and windy) as I recall; that’s probably why I haven’t grown them since. It also can be hard to find transplants in nurseries. But, I’m planning to give them a try this winter. For me, gardening is about experimentation.

Did you know Thomas Jefferson brought Brussels sprouts to the US in the early 1800’s? Read more about this vegetable in Wikipedia.

PLANTING

image

Photo credit: Tomwsulcer, Wikimedia Commons

  • Set plants in the soil just above the lowest leaves. (Remove any damaged lower leaves).
  • Space plants 18-24 inches apart when planted in raised beds.
  • In mild-winter areas transplant in late summer to fall for winter to spring harvests.
  • When planting for fall harvest, count back from date of first frost to know when to transplant to the garden. (For example, October 15 minus 90 days equals July 15). Frost improves flavor.
  • Interplant with lettuce to maximize garden space.

GROWING

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Photo credit: Gwen and James Anderson, Wikimedia Commons

  • Full sun produces sturdy, quick growth of the two to three foot stem. Days to harvest—85 to 100 depending on the variety.
  • Plant where no other cole crops have grown for the last one to three years.
  • Too much organic matter in the soil may produce too many leaves and loose sprouts, though generally plants prefer fertile soil.
  • Add lime to acid soil. Preferred pH of 6.5-6.8 is higher than most vegetables.
  • Mulch plants to retain soil moisture.
  • Plants prefer freezing to hot spells. Temperature range 40-75 degrees F. Optimal temperatures, 60-65 degrees F.
  • Feed lightly once or twice a month with seaweed extract, fish emulsion or compost tea. Others recommend fertilizing with a complete fertilizer once or twice before sprouts form.
  • Stake plants with high winds (think Santa Anas in SoCal).
  • Remove yellowing lower leaves as sprouts mature to make room for them to grow.
  • Challenges:  aphids, cabbage loopers, cabbage worms and cabbage root maggots. Row covers can minimize infestations. BT can be applied to control cabbage worms and cabbage loopers. Control aphids with insecticidal soap and beneficial insects. Powdery mildew and rust can be problematic but some varieties are resistant to these diseases.

HARVESTING

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Photo credit: Rudiger Wolk, Wikimedia Commons

  • One plant produces 50-100 sprouts.
  • Small sprouts (about one inch in diameter) are the most tender. Harvest sprouts from the bottom up the stalk.
  • Twist sprouts to remove from stalk.
  • Pinch out the top of the plant to force sprouts to mature faster.
  • The crown of the plant is edible—prepare like cabbage.
  • Sprouts can remain on the plant after frost, which may improve flavor and sweetness. Harvest as needed.
  • Before a severe frost, uproot the plant, remove the leaves and hang the “log” upside-down in a cool location to prolong the harvest.

And maybe next year I’ll try these.

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‘Red Ball’ Brussels Sprouts from Territorial Seeds.

Sources for Planting, Growing and Harvesting Brussels Sprouts: Sunset Western Garden Book of Edibles, Pat Welsh’s Southern California Organic Gardening, How to Grow More Vegetables, Organic Gardening, San Diego Master GardenersBonnie Plants, University of Illinois Extension.

Between Harvests, Appreciating Small Things

Transplanting the Broccoli Seedlings