Ashleigh Smith + photo

Ashleigh Smith

Nov 22
7 min read
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brussels sprouts
Chelsea Hafer Written By Chelsea Hafer

Brussels sprouts, deriving their name from the city of Brussels where they were first cultivated in the 16th century, prove to be a nutritious and flavorful addition to any home garden. Despite being a bit challenging to grow, these miniature cabbage-like vegetables, belonging to the Brassica oleracea family, are well worth the effort. Growing as buds along the main stem, just above each leaf axil, Brussels sprouts offer a unique taste that enhances after a few light frosts. Let's explore the essential steps involved in planting, growing, and harvesting Brussels sprouts to ensure a successful gardening experience.

About Brussels Sprouts

Brussels sprouts, a cultivar of wild cabbage, share their roots with other versatile plant species like cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and kohlrabi. These miniature veggies form as buds along the main stem, making for a visually interesting and delicious addition to your garden.

Beyond their delightful taste, Brussels sprouts offer numerous health benefits. Rich in antioxidants, they provide over 70 milligrams of vitamin C, reducing the risk of cancer and heart disease. Their anti-inflammatory properties, attributed to phytonutrients, further protect against chronic diseases. Cruciferous vegetables like Brussels sprouts are associated with a decreased risk of diabetes, thanks to their antioxidant power. With over 3 grams of fiber per cup, Brussels sprouts regulate blood sugar levels and support digestive health. Additionally, their high vitamin K content, with 177 micrograms per cup, contributes to blood clotting and bone health.

Planting Brussels Sprouts

1. Choosing the Right Site: Select a planting site that receives full sun, ideally 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight per day. Raised beds are highly recommended for cool-season vegetables, especially in the spring and fall when temperatures are inconsistent. Ensure the soil is well-draining and moderately fertile. Improve soil fertility and texture by working several inches of aged manure and/or compost into the soil.

2. Timing: Brussels sprouts have a relatively long growing season (80–100 days to harvest) and thrive as a cool-season crop. The best results are achieved when they mature during the cool days of fall or early winter. To determine the optimum planting time, count backward from your first fall frost date, using the "days to maturity" information on the seed packet. Plant Brussels sprout seeds approximately 4 months before your first fall frost date. In colder regions, start seeds in early to mid-summer for a mid-fall or early winter harvest. In milder climates, start seeds in mid- to late summer for a mid- to late winter harvest.

3. Indoor or Outdoor Sowing: Brussels sprouts can be started from seed indoors or sown directly into the garden. Starting seeds indoors gives seedlings a headstart and protects them from summer heat and pests. If sowing seeds outdoors, plant them about 2 to 3 inches apart. Once seedlings reach around 6 inches tall, thin them to a spacing of 12 to 24 inches. Plant seedlings at the same spacing to ensure proper growth.

4. Planting Depth and Care: Sow Brussels sprout seeds about ½ inch deep. Water well at the time of sowing or transplanting. If growing in regions with cold winters, where temperatures often drop below freezing, start seeds in early to mid-summer. For milder or warmer climates, start seeds in mid- to late summer. Consistent moisture is crucial, especially during hot weather. Water Brussels sprouts to provide about 1 to 1½ inches of water per square foot per week.

Growing Brussels Sprouts

Brussels sprouts, a nutritious cool-season crop, demand a bit of attention and care to reach their full potential in the garden. Here's a comprehensive guide on how to grow, care for, and maintain thriving Brussels sprout plants.

1. Soil and Water Requirements: Maintain consistently moist soil, especially during hot weather, as inadequate moisture can hinder sprout development. Provide about 1 to 1½ inches of water per square foot per week. Mulch around the plants to retain moisture and regulate soil temperature. Ensure well-draining soil to prevent waterlogged conditions, which can lead to root rot.

2. Fertilization: Brussels sprouts benefit from regular fertilization, particularly with a nitrogen-rich product. Begin fertilizing after thinning and repeat every 3 to 4 weeks to support robust growth. Consider supplementing with additional nutrients if soil tests indicate deficiencies. Well-fed plants are more resilient against pests and diseases.

3. Leaf Management: Maintain the overall health of Brussels sprout plants by removing yellowing leaves at the bottom. This practice encourages sunlight exposure to the stalk and directs the plant's energy toward productive growth. Prune top leaves 3 to 4 weeks before harvest to accelerate sprout maturity.

4. Pest Management: Protect Brussels sprouts from common pests, such as aphids, cabbage worms, and flea beetles, by using row covers. These covers act as a barrier, preventing pests from reaching young plants. Inspect plants regularly for signs of infestation, and manually remove pests when possible. Companion planting with aromatic herbs like thyme and rosemary can deter certain pests.

5. Support and Staking: As Brussels sprout plants grow, they can reach heights of 2 to 3 feet. Provide support or staking to prevent bending or breaking under the weight of developing sprouts. A sturdy stake placed alongside each plant or using a supportive framework can ensure the plants remain upright throughout their growth.

Harvesting and Storing Brussels Sprouts

Harvesting Brussels sprouts is a rewarding culmination of your gardening efforts, and knowing the right time and method is crucial for optimal flavor and texture. Here's a comprehensive guide on when and how to harvest Brussels sprouts for the best results.

1. Timing Is Key: Brussels sprouts mature gradually, starting from the bottom of the stalk and progressing upward. The ideal time to begin harvesting is when the sprouts are about 1 inch in diameter. Harvesting can extend from late fall into winter, especially if you've left the top leaves intact to shield the plants from snow.

2. Continuous Harvest: Rather than harvesting the entire crop at once, adopt a continuous harvesting approach. Pick the lower, larger sprouts first, allowing the smaller ones on top to continue developing. This ensures a more extended harvesting period and a consistent supply of fresh Brussels sprouts for your kitchen.

3. Harvestign Technique: To harvest Brussels sprouts, use a sharp knife or pruning shears to cut the sprouts from the stem. Begin with the lower sprouts, cutting them at the base where they attach to the stem. Work your way up the stalk, leaving the topmost, smaller sprouts for later harvests.

4. Post-Frost Harvest: Brussels sprouts' flavor actually improves after exposure to light frost, making them sweeter and more palatable. If you're experiencing a frosty spell, consider harvesting a batch after a moderate frost. However, don't delay the harvest for too long, as prolonged exposure to severe frost can negatively impact the sprouts' quality.

5. Stalk Removal: If you prefer convenience and have a frost-free storage space, consider pulling up the entire Brussels sprout stalk, roots and all, after the main harvesting period. Remove the leaves first and hang the stalk upside down in a cool, dry place. This method simplifies storage and allows you to pluck sprouts as needed.

6. Proper Storage: After harvesting, refrain from washing the sprouts until just before use. Keep fresh-picked Brussels sprouts in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to five days. For longer storage, store the stalks without roots in a root cellar or basement for about a month.

Chelsea Hafer, True Leaf Market Writer

Chelsea is a passionate advocate for sustainable agriculture and loves getting her hands dirty and watching things grow! She graduated from Georgetown University in 2022 with a degree in Environmental Justice and now resides in Park City, Utah, where she works as a ski instructor. Her love for nature extends to gardening and hiking, and she has gained valuable insights from working on farms in Italy, Hawaii, and Mexico, learning various sustainable agriculture techniques like permaculture and Korean Natural Farming.

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