For many old gardeners brussels sprouts are considered to be an essential winter crop in the garden. Unlike the old sprout varieties the modern F1 hybrids are sweeter and more tender than ever making them idea for new vegetable gardeners to grow.
Brussels sprouts are tough plants that are fairly easy to grow if you give them good soil, protect them from caterpillars and give them a good start early in the year.
In this article we will discuss how to sow your sprout seeds, tips for planting out, how to grow strong plants and when to harvest.
Sowing Brussels Sprout Seeds
When choosing which variety to grow there are two main options. First of all is the old heritage varieties, these are very reliable varieties that have been grown for years and are proven to be worth growing. Modern hybrid F1 varieties are the second option, although you cannot save seeds from these varieties and they are usually relatively new they have the advantage of being sweeter. This is one case when growing F1 hybrid varieties might be worth considering.
Brussels sprout seeds should be sown in March and April. I always recommend sowing sprout seeds indoors in pots as this gives far stronger plants that will shoot up once they are transplanted out into the garden.
Choose a good quality multi purpose compost for brussels sprouts as they are heavy feeders even when small. Plant two or three seeds per pot and prick out all but the strongest seedling after they are 1 inch (2.5cm) tall.
Sowing a few different varieties gives you the ability to get harvests as early as October right until late February.
Planting & Caring For Your Sprouts
Transplanting begins when the plants have 3-4 good strong leaves. Do not allow the plants to get any larger in pots as they will quickly become root-bound and will then struggle to get established quickly in the ground.
Planting in the right soil is essential for sprouts, they are a long season crop that are heavy feeders and really need to be grown in soil that has recently been manured. An artificial feed like blood, fish and bone can be used but really isn’t a good enough alternative. If there is any crop in the garden that really requires manure it is brussels sprouts.
Space your brussels sprout plants 20 (50cm) inches apart in rows 2 feet (60cm) apart.
When planting be sure to firm the plants around the stem, brussel sprout plants really do enjoy being firm in the ground.
There is only two things you must do after planting:
- Staking your plants is very beneficial as they quickly become top heavy and want to fall over.
- Caterpillars can be a problem for sprouts but covering with butterfly netting will give a clean crop.
Harvesting Brussels Sprouts
Once established in the ground brussels sprout plants quickly grow tall and sturdy, it can take quite a while to get a harvest even at this stage. To encourage an earlier harvest a liquid seaweed seed will encourage the plant to begin growing the sprouts.
From early harvests you can begin harvesting sprouts as early as October but it’s worth remembering that brussels sprouts do taste better after a hard frost. Harvests can continue for many months if the plants were sown successionally, expect harvests as late as February or March.
Harvesting the sprouts is easy, pick individual sprouts from the plant as they grow in size - usually the first sprouts will be at the bottom of the plant. Heritage varieties will usually offer a harvest over a longer period than F1 hybrid varieties that tend to ripen all at the same time.