Common names: Brussels sprouts, sprouts
Botanical name: Brawsica oleracea gemmifera
Origin: Europe, Mediterranean
jade Cross (90 days) is resistant to yellows virus.
If youve never seen Brussels sprouts outside of a store, you may be quite impressed by the actual plant. Miniature cabbagelike heads, an inch or two in diameter, sprout from a tall, heavy main stem, nestled in among large green leaves. Brussels sprouts belong to the cabbage or cole family and are similar to cabbage in their growing habits and requirements. Theyre hardy and grow well in fertile soils, and theyre easy to grow in the home garden ifyou follow correct pest control procedures. Dont try growing the Brussels sprout as a houseplant? its too big to domesticate.
Brussels sprouts have four stages of growth: (1) rapid growth of leaves; (2) formation of the heads (which is the part you eat); (3) a resting period while the embryonic blossoms are being formed; and (4) development of the stalk, flowers, and seeds. The head formation stage is essential for the production of the vegetable, but not at all necessary for the survival of the plant. Brussels sprouts that are held in check by severe frost, lack of moisture, or too much heat will bolt, which means that theyll go directly to seed without bothering to form a head at all.
Where and when to grow
Brussels sprouts are frost-hardy? in fact, theyre the most cold-tolerant of the cole family vegetables?and can tolerate low 20?F temperatures. Brussels sprouts do best in a cool growing season with day temperatures under 80?F and night temperatures 20?F lower. Weather thats too cold for too long or too warm will make them taste bitter; if the sprouts develop in hot weather, they may not form compact heads, but will remain loose tufts of leaves. Brussels sprouts are not a suitable crop for very hot climates, although they will grow in most areas of the United States in one season or another. Time planting so that you harvest Brussels sprouts during cool weather. If your area has cold winters, plant for summer to early fall harvest. In mild climates, plant for late spring or fall harvest. In the South, plant for harvest in late fall or winter.
How to plant
Brussels sprouts like fertile, well-drained soil with a pH within the 6.5 to 7.5 range ? this discourages disease and lets the plant make the most of the nutrients in the soil. Theyre usually grown from transplants, except where theres a long cool period, in which case seeds are sown directly in the garden in fall for winter harvest.
When youre preparing the
soil for planting, work in a complete, well-balanced fertilizer at the rate of one pound per 100 square feet or 10 pounds per 1,000 square feet. If you have sandy soil or your area is subject to heavy rains, youll probably need to supplement the nitrogen content of the soil. Use about a pound of nitrogen fertilizer for a 10-foot row.
Plant transplants that are four to six weeks old, with four to five true leaves. If the transplants are leggy or have crooked stems, plant them deeply (up to the first leaves) so they wont grow to be top-heavy. Seedlings should be thinned to 24 inches apart when theyre three inches tall. If youre planting seeds, set them a half inch deep, three inches apart in rows 24 to 36 inches apart. Thin them when theyre big enough to lift by the true leaves and transplant the thinned seedlings.
Fertilizing and watering
Fertilize before planting and again at midseason, at the same rate as the rest of the garden. Brussels sprouts need abundant soil moisture and cool moist air for the best growth. Cut down on watering as they approach maturity.
If you live in an area with cold winters, pick off the top terminal bud when the plant is 15 to 20 inches tall. This encourages all of the sprouts to mature at once. Some gardeners believe that Brussels sprouts develop better If the lower leaves are removed from the sides of the stalk as the sprouts develop. A few more leaves can be removed each week, butthe top leaves should be left intact.
The cabbage familys traditional enemies are cutworms and caterpillars. Cutworms, cabbage loopers, and imported cabbage worms can all be controlled by spraying with bacillus thuringiensis, an organic product also known as Dipel orThungicide. Its especially important to control insects on Brussels sprouts; if they insinuate themselves into the tightly curled sprouts, youll have a lot of trouble dislodging them.
Cabbage family vegetables may develop yellows, clubroot, or downy mildew. Lessen the incidence of disease by planting disease- resistant varieties when theyre available, maintaining the general health of your garden, and avoiding handling the plants when theyre wet. If a plant does become infected, remove and destroy it so it cannot spread disease to healthy plants.
When and how to harvest
Time from planting to harvest is 85 to 95 days for Brussels sprouts grown from seed, 75 to 90 days from transplants. The sprouts mature from the bottom of the stem upward, so start from the bottom and remove the leaves and sprouts as the season progresses. Harvesting can continue until all the sprouts are gone. The leaves can be cooked like collards or cabbage.
Storing and preserving
If you have sprouts still on the stem in late fall, remove all the leaves from the plant, and hang the plant in a cool dry place; it will give you a late harvest. The plant can be kept up to one month in a cold, moist place. Sprouts will keep for about a week in the refrigerator. Remove loose or discolored outer leaves before you store them, but dont wash them until youre ready to use them. You can also freeze or dry sprouts.
Sprouts are traditionally served with turkey at an English Christmas dinner. Theyre also good lightly steamed and served with a lemon-butter sauce. Dont overcook them; young sprouts should be slightly crunchy, and light cooking preserves their delicate flavor. Older sprouts have a stronger taste. Brussels sprouts can also befrench fried, baked, or pureed. When you trim them for cooking, cut an X in each stem so thatthe sprouts cook evenly; be careful not to trim the stem ends too closely or the outer leaves will fall off when you cook them. A walnut in the pot when you cook Brussels sprouts should cut down on the cabbagey smell.