Healthy and versatile in the kitchen, Brussels Sprouts are little cabbages of goodness. Stop paying outrageous grocery store prices and learn to grow your own!
Seed Joy for Seed Nerds
I’ve been sifting through seed packets for a few weeks now as I organize my personal inventory. You know you’re a garden nerd when there’s an indescribable thrill that runs through you as you’re sitting hunched over your seed list. You’re surrounded by seed packets and muttering to yourself as you calculate your estimated last frost date. You say things like, “But if the freeze lasts longer, where on earth will I put all those tomatoes before I can plant them?!”
And then you sort of drift off in your mind thinking about all those tomato plants come August…
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Never Tried Growing Brussels Sprouts Before?
One of the packets I ran across was my Brussels Sprout one. Last year was my first year growing them as an experiment. I only started three plants, just to see how they performed. The variety I grew was Long Island Improved, which is a standard open pollinated variety that matures in 100 days. Open pollinated means it’s not a hybrid and I could save the seed to reliably produce more Brussels sprouts plants the next year.
I wasn’t actually ready to try to their save seeds yet, I just wanted to see if the little buggers were worth growing. May I just say…oh, yeaaahhh!
To Grow Them is to Eat Them
I love Brussels Sprouts. If you don’t love them, don’t grow them. But, if you do, they really aren’t that hard to grow yourself. They’re very similar to growing broccoli, kale or cauliflower since they’re all related, botanically speaking.
Grow, Forage, Cook, Ferment uses hers to make these Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Maple Pecans.
Slow, Roasted Italian roasts his Brussels Sprouts with Garlic!
Start Seed Indoors
I start most everything, especially in my early spring garden, indoors and there are several reasons why.
- For organic gardeners, success often lies in fooling the bad bugs as often as you can. Typically, if you’re putting out a robust seedling, as opposed to planting seed directly in the garden, the bad bugs will be less likely to take it down. A seedling is much stronger than an emerging seed and bad bugs are lazy.
- Starting seeds indoors early gives you a head start on your garden in general. By April, I’ve mentally moved on to tomatoes and peppers. My Brassicas (the family to which Brussels sprouts belong) would be forgotten entirely if it weren’t for the fact that they were already up and growing indoors.
- With a cool-season loving Brassica like Brussels Sprouts that take 100 days to mature, it’s desirable to get as much growth on your plant as you can while it’s cool. Brassicas grow and fruit much better in cool weather. Once the summer matures and it gets really hot, Brussels sprouts development can be stunted. The fruit can turn bitter, too. So, you may need some shade cloth to protect the plant if it gets too hot.
When to Start the Seeds
You can start Brussels Sprouts indoor anywhere between 8 and 4 weeks before your last spring frost.
The real question to ask yourself is: “How long do I want to have to maintain this thing indoors, watering by hand every day and keeping it under lights while trying to find space for it?”
Some years the intense cold just keeps going and I have to find a place to stash the spring garden items as I’m starting my warm weather plants. It’s just too cold to plant until later. It’s a toss up every year and there’s no perfect model for figuring it out. Just do what you can do and no more, or you’ll end up with flats of dead plants because you got fed up!
To take good notes and learn more, be sure to check out The Gardening Notebook below:
How to Grow Brussels Sprouts
Brussels sprouts need:
- 6-8 hours of sunlight per day
- Moist, well-drained soil – cover with mulch to retain moisture
- Put plants about two feet apart
- Lots of organic matter in the soil, including compost and manure to feed it
- May need to provide support in taller varieties
- Possible shade covering in high temps, though sprouts that develop in the heat of summer will most likely be bitter regardless
As intrepid reader, Alicia, notes:
This is one crop I have never been successful with. For whatever reason, I never get good sprouts.
Sprouts can be tricky if you live in areas with really pronounced summers. However, Alicia also provides the solution when she notes:
I think it’s a growing season issue. I always try to plant them in the spring, but I think that they would do better in the fall. So, I think that’s what I’m going to try this year.
If you struggle to get sprouts to mature and/or not be bitter, try them in the fall garden. As long as your seed stock is good – in other words, don’t by cheap seed for Brussels sprouts – fall is a great time to plant them. Remember that Brussels sprouts take 100 days to mature – roughly three months.
I suggest you start them indoors and transplant them out once the true, intense heat of summer and early fall have passed. They can take some heat, but real scorchers retard the plant’s growth. Brassicas can take some frost and you can extend your Brussels sprouts season by providing frost protection in the form of horticultural cloth or plastic.
Yes, this is a bit of work, but you’re reading an article on growing Brussels sprouts so I’m guessing this isn’t your first garden rodeo? You know how to work to grow your own food. You’ll enjoy sweet rewards when your munching away at your sprouts.
When Life Happens
So, my Brussels Sprouts got started last year at the end of March, and were put out with some other Brassicas as soon as they had two sets of true leaves. We had to cover that batch of plant starts that got planted as spring began. We covered the baby plants to prevent severe frost damage. Ironically, after that our spring warmed up so fast it set records.
Since I was surprisingly newly pregnant, I spent all of the following summer indoors turning green and wishing I was dead. Needless to say, I ignored the garden altogether. We “enjoyed” an incredibly hot, dry summer. I just figured, Oh well, we’ll experiment with Brussels Sprouts next season. To my total surprise, the Brussels Sprouts did just fine.
They endured both cold and heat and never required staking. The trunk that developed on the plant was so thick that I had to cut it with a limb saw. I harvested several pounds of Brussels sprouts from each stalk.
Sturdy Brussels Sprouts Story
The stalks of the Brussels sprouts formed strong and straight, and little sprouts began to appear in the late spring/summer. Growth slowed significantly in our early and sustained heat of spring, but the plants thrived clear through until fall.
Brussels sprouts develop from the bottom up and you’re supposed to remove the bottom leaves to encourage robust growth at upper levels of sprouts. As you pick the lower sprouts, more grow up the stalk. Did I do that? Yeah, no. I was too busy developing from the bottom up myself (being 37 and pregnant ain’t for sissies).
When I finally noticed the plant in the early fall, I saw a stalk covered in sprouts that were holding their own against a significant aphid population. I grabbed the hose and sprayed off all the aphids and marveled at my little Brussels Sprout plants. Although, I was still telling myself that those sprouts were probably nasty and bitter by now.
I ignored the plant again until about November when I needed a veggie for dinner and wandered outside. There it was, resembling a three foot, green alien in the dark, waving me down in the breeze like I was a taxi driver. I figured, what the hay, and brought it in.
Ok, so Brussels Sprouts take awhile to prepare, I’ll give you that. But the pleasure of eating them was so worth it. It tickled me. Something I usually bought from a store had, in fact, grown in my very own garden. It’s like the day I discovered I could make my own powdered sugar from raw sugar instead of buying C&H. It was just cool.
Harvest in the Cool of Fall or Early Winter
You can begin picking Brussels sprouts as soon as they’re 1-2 inches in diameter, firm and green. The best tasting sprouts will be those that develop on sunny days with cools nights. Fall is perfect for Brussels sprouts harvesting. However, as mentioned before, you can also harvest them in early winter if you’ve planted in the fall garden.
To harvest them, simply twist them off the stalk. You can continue to harvest up until you have a hard frost. If you see a hard frost coming as winter begins, you can cut off the top growth of the plant. This will encourage the plant to finish maturing those sprouts already on the plant over the next few weeks. After they’ve plumped up, bring them all in at once to beat the freeze.
What about you? Any experienced Sprouts growers out there?
Grateful attribution for the cover photo goes to this Wikipedia Commons user.