Brussels sprouts are hardy, cool season, slow growing vegetables that are a part of the cabbage family. Despite their reputation for being despised by children, many people consider Brussels sprouts to be a delicacy. When cooked properly, they are a tender, delicious vegetable. Brussels sprouts are high in protein and contain significant amounts of vitamin A and C along with other vitamins and minerals. Growing Brussels sprouts can be a bit tricky compared to other garden vegetables due to their temperature and soil requirements. The edible part of the plant, the small cabbage-like head, grows in the axis (of middle) of the plant.
Growing Conditions of Brussels Sprouts
Brussels sprouts do best in cooler temperatures and do not tolerate heat well. The quality and taste can be affected when grown in hot, dry conditions. Brussels sprouts also need uninterrupted growth for a high quality crop. Because of their long growing season and cool climate requirements, they can be difficult to grow in hot southern states. Planting in the summer for a cooler fall harvest will give the most successful results in most parts of the county.
The soil should be well drained, moist, and high in both organic matter and nitrogen. The soil should be in the pH range of 6.2 to 6.5. Before amending your soil, have a soil test performed. You can contact your local university extension office for a soil test.
Brussels sprouts need a constant supply of nitrogen; they can receive this either from periodic application of compost, manure, or a nitrogen fertilizer side dressing. A side dressing is simply an application of nitrogen fertilizer around the base of the plant (about 3 inches out). Use about one tablespoon of dry fertilizer per plant.
Planting Brussel Sprouts
Brussels sprouts are usually transplanted from seedlings in early to mid-summer or about 90-100 days before the first frost date in the fall. Starting the seed indoors where you can control the climate and later transplanting to your permanent garden space will bring the best results. You may also purchase seedlings to set out in the garden.
For a summer harvest, you need to transplant seedlings very early in the spring and select a heat-resistant variety. If Brussels sprouts grow in hot, dry conditions they can take on a bitter flavor; for this reason it is usually best to plant in summer for a fall harvest.
Fertilize the soil with a general fertilizer (5-10-10) prior to planting at a rate of about 5 pounds per 100 square feet. A side dressing of nitrogen can be applied at planting and three week intervals.
Place your transplants 24 to 36 inches apart with 30 inches between each row. Water the plants well after transplanting. Using a starter solution will help to establish the plants more quickly. You can purchase a starter solution or make your own by using a 5-10-10 fertilizer and mixing it with 12 quarts of water and letting it sit for a few hours before using. Add about a cup of solution around the roots prior to covering.
Harvesting Brussels Sprouts
Brussels sprouts are ready to harvest at about 85 to 95 days after setting plants out. Early, tender sprouts will be picked several times. When harvesting, pick the sprouts that are lowest on the plant first. You can determine harvest time by visual inspection, but be sure to harvest once the lower leaves begin to turn yellow. Once the lower leaves start to yellow, the sprouts will quickly over mature and loose their tender texture and delicious flavor.
To pick the sprout you will break the leaf directly below the sprout and carefully remove the sprout from the plant. Picking the leaves and sprouts will send out a signal to the plant to continue to produce new sprouts. You may also choose to harvest the entire plant. If you do not consume the sprouts right away they can be refrigerated for 7-10 days or stored at 32 degrees with high humidity (around 95%) for several months.
Brussels Sprouts Diseases and Pests
Some common pests and diseases of Brussels sprouts include:
- Cabbage loopers
- Root maggots
- Dampening off
Daily visual inspection of your plants can help to prevent heavy infestations. Physical removal and disposal of the pest may be all that is needed. If the infestation is larger there are commercially available products (pesticides) that may be used.
Dampening off is caused by overly wet conditions that promote fungal growth. Use treated seed and do not over water your seedlings.