Bountiful Botanical Blessings on you for recognizing the beauty of the “Sprout.” Brussels Sprouts: grow them for a fun fall harvest, eat them for high levels of Vitamins K and C, and enjoy them for sweet and nutty flavor. Of course, all these amazing benefits depend upon your knowledge of how best to plant, harvest, and prepare these cute “little cabbages.” And we’re here, to help.
Brussels Sprouts thrive in cooler weather and actually increase in natural sweetness after they’ve been kissed by frost. A good rule of thumb (your green thumb, that is) for when to plant Brussels Sprouts plants, is to count back three months from your first potential heavy frost. Check online or contact your local agricultural extension office for the average date of that frost in your area. As a slow-growing, long-bearing crop, it’s wise to make good friends with your Sprouts in order to produce the most satisfying and delicious relationship. (At the end of this post is listed some of the many useful products we carry to help you nurture that mutually beneficial friendship.)
First, give them a good sunny home. Note, however, that if your region has very hot weather in late summer and early fall, the plants will appreciate the respite of light afternoon shade from other taller plants, trees, or shade cloth. They prefer a medium to heavy, firm, fertile, neutral soil with a pH of 6.5 to 7.0. To ensure the soil’s appropriate texture and fertility, be sure to mix in generous amounts of manure or compost and water the garden bed several days before planting, to allow the soil to settle. A soil tester can quickly and simply indicate your soil’s pH level, which you can then adjust with either garden lime, to raise the pH, or aluminum sulfate, to decrease the pH.
Brussels Sprouts are much easier to grow from plants than from seeds. Just set the young plants into your prepared bed about 24 inches apart, gently firming the soil around each one. As the plants grow, you can regularly mound and firm a bit of the soil up around the stalk to support the tall growing plant. If you wish to “start from scratch,” however, sow the seeds indoors, about ½ inch deep and 6 inches apart, allowing 10 to 14 days for germination. Once the first two leaves (seed leaves) appear, you should transplant them to a deeper seed bed or containers, replanting them to a depth just below the seed leaves and watering in well. Once they are strong and tall enough (4 to 6 inches or 4 to 6 weeks,) transplant them once more into their permanent bed. It is important to note that transplanting Brussels Sprouts is always necessary for optimal growth. It encourages a much stronger root system, which funnels essential nutrients to the plant and supports its weight. (If purchasing our plants, we have already done this part, eliminating that necessity for you!)
To ease their transition, apply vegetable fertilizer when transplanting the Brussels Sprouts, then feed them with a nitrogen-rich fertilizer when they are about 12 inches tall. This is especially important if your plants are facing late summer heat, which can stunt them and cause bitter flavor. Of course, water regularly as needed and apply soil conditioners every 6 weeks to further enhance production and ensure a long, flavorful harvest.
Once the Sprouts begin to form, they will grow up the stalk, forming a unique-looking “palm tree.” You harvest them in the same way as they grow, from the bottom of the stalk, up. Something so satisfying about twisting off a mature and succulent little Sprout, bound for your kitchen! When preparing, remember that overcooking is the death of Brussels Sprouts flavor (and nutrition.) They can be steamed, roasted, grilled, baked, sauteed, and nestled into casseroles. The Internet is full of inspiring recipes. Just don’t boil them into mushy submission!
There is just no comparison between the taste and texture of home-grown Brussels Sprouts and those purchased in supermarkets. So go ahead and take the plunge. Brussels Sprouts may just be your family’s favorite fall dish they never knew they were missing!