Brussels Sprouts - Brassica oleracea
Zones 4-7, and Zone 8 as a winter vegetable
A cool-season crop, generally unsuited to warmer climates
Climate Zones Maps
Rich, well-drained, fertile soil with good calcium levels; pH 5.5 to 6.8
Need steady, even moisture. Hot, dry spells will stunt sprout formation
Plant 18 to 24 inches (45 to 60 cm) apart; 2 to 3 feet (.61 to 1 m) between rows
Harvest the sprouts starting from the bottom of the stem when they reach 1 to 2 inches (2.5 to 5 cm) in diameter
Comments: Most people have never really had good Brussels sprouts. They claim to dislike them, because so often they have been served soggy, overcooked, and bitter sprouts. Home-grown Brussels sprouts however, are a whole other vegetable, and you will love the sweet, nutty taste fresh sprouts have. Just try growing your own, experience the difference, and you'll find that you love them!
Planting Site: Brussels sprouts grow best in full sun. To avoid disease and pest problems, allow three years between plantings of the cabbage-family (cabbage, kale, cauliflower, and broccoli) in the same area. Sprouts grow really well in soil that previously grew legumes like peas and beans. Brussels sprouts grow well in either flat rows or raised beds, and it is very important that the soil is rich and well-prepared because sprouts have such a long growing season.
Planting & Growing Guidelines: Both open-pollinated and hybrid cultivars are available. Hybrids tend to have stronger root systems making them less prone to leaning (a mature plant can reach 2.5 to 3 feet (1 m) tall) and their sprouts mature more evenly. Brussels sprouts require a long growing season and are best when matured in cool weather. For most areas, because this is a cool-loving crop, it's best to plant five-and-a-half months before the first expected fall frost. Where growing seasons are long, you can direct sow fall crops in July; in mild-winter areas, time your crop for winter-to-spring harvest. Gardeners who live in short-season climates can set out transplants in early spring. Soil temperatures must be over 50° F (C) for good germination. If using transplants, lightly feed at planting time.
Plant 18 to 24 inches (45 to 60 cm) apart; 2 to 3 feet (.61 to 1 m) between rows and keep weeded or use mulch to hinder weed development. Pinch off top leaves to encourage side growth. Give Brussels sprouts steady moisture, especially when the air temperatures rise over 80° F (C) because hot, dry spells will stunt sprout formation. Mulching will help keep soil temperatures cool and moisture levels steady, while helping keep weeds under control. As sprouts form in the leaf axils (see picture above), snap off the leaves beneath them. This will help channel the plant's energy into forming the sprouts.
Three to four weeks before harvesting, when the sprouts are 1/2 to 3/4 inch (1.5 to 2 cm) in diameter, you can do one of two things: 1. If you want the sprouts to ripen all at once, pinch off the growing point (the cluster of leaves at the very tops of the main stem). This will help the plant concentrate on sprout formation. 2. You can allow the plant to grow naturally and your sprouts will mature over a longer period of time, extending your harvest.
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Fertilizer: Lightly broadcast some 10-10-10 over the area, till in, and then plant transplants or sow seeds. When the plants start to form sprouts that are marble sized, side-dress with 1 tablespoon (15 ml) per plant of 5-10-10, or one large handful of good compost which generally equals the same. Sprinkle around the base of the plant, but not up against the stem, and water in.
Pest and Disease Prevention: To avoid soilborne fungal and viral diseases, rotate with non cabbage-family (cabbage, kale, cauliflower, and broccoli) crops. Use row covers to help deter flea beetles, cabbageworms, and root maggots, and use insecticidal soap if cabbageworms or aphids are a problem.
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Days to Maturity: 90 to 120 days
Harvest and Storage: Harvest sprouts, starting from the bottom of the stem, when they reach 1 to 2 inches (2.5 to 5 cm) in diameter. If you haven't already done so, break off the leaf below the sprout and then snap off the sprout. Sprouts higher up along the stem will continue to grow. Entire stalks can be harvested, it's up to you. In cold-weather areas, complete your harvest before the ground freezes. Brussels sprouts are best eaten fresh, but you can store them up to three weeks in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. They can also be blanched and frozen.
Special Tips: Brussels sprouts are best after a frost or two. Sprouts keep for several weeks on the stalk, if you need to pull up the entire plant, just keep it in a cold storage area.
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