Brussels sprouts are a cool weather crop that can extend your harvest season into the late fall and early winter months. These miniature cabbages produce dozens of small, edible buds along a thick stem. With proper care and timing, it’s easy to grow a bountiful harvest of brussels sprouts in your own backyard.
Brussels sprouts thrive in cool conditions and actually taste better after a light frost. This makes them ideal for fall and early winter growing. By selecting the right varieties, preparing your planting space, and providing consistent moisture and nutrients, you can grow enough brussels sprouts to enjoy fresh all season long. Read on to learn the key tips for successfully raising brussels sprouts.
Selecting the Best Brussels Sprout Varieties
Choosing the right brussels sprout varieties for your climate is key to a successful harvest. There are many cultivars to choose from, with differences in maturity rate, disease resistance, and yield.
Look for an early-maturing cultivar like ‘Long Island Improved’ or ‘Early Dwarf Improved’ if you want to harvest sprouts sooner. These types will mature in 85-100 days. Mid and late-season varieties can take 100 days or more to reach maturity, but may produce higher yields. ‘Prince Marvel’ and ‘Rubine’ are two popular mid-season options.
When comparing brussels sprout varieties, also consider disease resistance. Look for varieties with resistance to black rot, a common disease issue. Hybrid varieties tend to have the best disease resistance. ‘Gustus’ and ‘Prince Marvel’ are two hybrids worth considering.
For maximum sprout production, look for cultivars described as high-yielding. ‘Jade Cross E’, ‘Oliver’, and ‘Royal Marvel’ all tend to produce a bountiful number of sprouts per plant.
No matter which variety you choose, select an Option with a reputation for good flavor. Brussels sprouts should taste mildly nutty and sweet, not bitter. ‘Falstaff’ and ‘Gustus’ have excellent flavor.
Preparing the Planting Site
Brussels sprouts need nutrient-rich soil, full sun, and good drainage to thrive. Prepare your planting beds or containers well before sowing seeds or transplanting seedlings.
Ideally, brussels sprouts should be grown in beds amended with 2-3 inches of aged compost or well-rotted manure mixed into the top 6 inches of soil. You can also add a balanced organic fertilizer at the recommended rate.
The soil pH should be between 6.0-7.5. Have your soil tested to determine if any pH adjustments are needed. Add lime to raise pH or sulfur to lower pH as necessary.
In addition, brussels sprouts are heavy feeders, so incorporating compost annually is ideal. Make sure the planting area gets at least 6-8 hours of sunlight daily.
Direct Sowing vs. Transplanting Brussels Sprout Seedlings
You have two options when it comes to planting your brussels sprouts – direct sowing seeds or starting seeds indoors and transplanting seedlings outside later. Each method has pros and cons.
Direct sowing is simpler, but transplanting seedlings extends the harvesting window. With direct sowing, seeds are planted right into the garden bed. Space seeds 1⁄2-1 inch deep and 2-3 inches apart in rows. Thin to 18-24 inches between plants after sprouting.
The downside to direct sowing is it can take 100 days or longer to begin harvesting. By starting seeds indoors 6-8 weeks before your last spring frost date, you can transplant seedlings outside several weeks earlier than direct sowing.
Transplants mature faster since they get a head start on growth. Look for stocky seedlings with 4-6 true leaves to transplant outdoors. Harden off plants first. Space transplants 18-24 inches apart in rows spaced 2-3 feet apart.
Whether you choose direct sowing or transplanting, consistently monitor soil moisture and don’t let young plants dry out. Use row covers or cloches to protect from cold snaps.
Caring for Developing Brussels Sprout Plants
Once your brussels sprouts are happily growing, proper care is required throughout the season. Pay close attention to watering, fertilizing, staking, and pest control to keep plants healthy and productive.
Brussels sprouts need consistent moisture, about 1-2 inches of water per week from either rain or irrigation. Water at the base of plants and avoid wetting leaves, which can encourage disease.
Fertilize brussels sprouts with a balanced organic fertilizer or compost tea a few weeks after transplanting or thinning. Side dress again when sprouts begin developing. Nitrogen is particularly important once sprouts start forming.
Taller brussels sprout varieties prone to toppling over should be staked. Drive a sturdy stake 2 feet into the ground near each plant and loosely tie the stems to it with soft ties or twine.
Scout plants frequently for signs of pests like aphids, cabbage worms, and flea beetles. Hand pick or use organic sprays like neem oil, insecticidal soap, or Bt-kurstaki for cabbage worms.
Major disease issues to watch for include clubroot, downy mildew, alternaria leaf spot, and black rot. Maintain good garden sanitation and promptly remove diseased plants.
Harvesting Plump Brussels Sprouts
Timing is everything when it comes to harvesting brussels sprouts at peak flavor and texture. Be patient and allow heads to fully mature.
Begin harvesting once the lower sprouts on the stem reach about 1-2 inches in diameter. The lowest buds mature first. Pick them off the stem with a gentle downward twist.
Harvest sprouts progressively up the stalk over the season as each bud fattens up, leaving smaller upper sprouts to continue growing. Use scissors or pruners for a clean cut if bud stems are thick.
Aim to harvest sprouts while they are still tight, compact, and firm for best quality. Soft, puffy sprouts tend to be overripe with poorer flavor. The interior leaves should be tightly layered.
Pick sprouts as close to eating them as possible for maximum freshness. Refrigerate sprouts promptly after harvesting and aim to use within 5-7 days.
For many varieties, the harvest window extends up to 3 months as you work your way up each plant’s stem. Taste tends to improve after a light frost brings out Brussels sprouts’ sweetness.
Enjoying the Brussels Sprout Bounty
Once you’ve grown your own brussels sprouts harvest, it’s time to enjoy these nutritious and tasty gems. Here are some serving ideas:
- Roast brussels sprouts drizzled with olive oil, salt, and pepper for a simple side dish
- Shred raw brussels sprouts for a slaw with nuts, dried cranberries, and a tangy dressing
- Sauté brussels sprouts with garlic, bacon, and onions for a warm and hearty side
- Brussels sprouts and kale make excellent ingredients for a nutrient packed winter soup
- Brussels sprouts halves lend themselves perfectly to sheet pan meals alongside chicken, sausage, and potatoes
- For a simple Thanksgiving side, toss brussels sprouts with maple syrup, balsamic vinegar, cranberries, and pecans
The entire brussels sprout plant is edible – don’t discard the leaves and stem! Sauté the leaves as you would kale or collards. The sprout stalks can be pickled for a crunchy, tangy snack food.
My Thoughts on Growing Delicious Brussels Sprouts
I’ve grown a few different brussels sprout varieties, and these are my favorites:
|Oliver||Very high||Mild, sweet||Low|
|Gustus||Moderate||Super sweet||Very high|
For me, Falstaff and Gustus have the tastiest sprouts. Oliver produces tons of sprouts but they are milder in flavor. Gustus has almost no disease problems thanks to its hybrid vigor.
Sowing and Spacing Observations
I’ve tried direct sowing seeds and transplanting seedlings. Transplants are definitely the way to go! The harvest comes much sooner.
For spacing, the closer I plant, the smaller the sprouts. I aim for 18-24″ between plants in rows 2′ apart. This lets sprouts grow nice and big.
Based on my experience, these are my top tips for growing great brussels sprouts:
- Start with rich soil amended with compost
- Don’t let sprouts dry out, water 1-2″ per week
- Side dress with nitrogen fertilizer when sprouts start forming
- Look out for aphids and yellowed leaves as signs plants need more nitrogen
- Stake taller varieties like Oliver to prevent toppling
- Begin harvesting sprouts from the bottom up when they are 1-2″ diameter
Harvest and Storage
I try to use brussels sprouts within a week of harvesting. The flavor is best when they are freshly picked! Sprouts will keep in the fridge for 10-14 days max.
To prep sprouts, I remove any yellowed outer leaves, then slice the base and let them separate into individual leaves. Then I wash and pat dry before cooking.
Brussels sprouts are so rewarding to grow yourself. With proper soil prep, watering, and pest management, you can get pounds of sprouts from just a few plants. I love roasting them simply with olive oil, salt and pepper for an amazing fall vegetable side dish. They are also great shredded raw in slaws and stir fries. For any gardener in a cooler climate, brussels sprouts are a must!
Frequently Asked Questions
What’s the best way to cook brussels sprouts?
I love roasting halved or quartered brussels sprouts tossed with olive oil, salt, and pepper in a hot oven until browned and tender. They also taste great steamed, sautéed, or stir-fried.
When should I start brussels sprouts from seed?
Start seeds indoors 4-6 weeks before your last expected spring frost. Harden off and transplant seedlings when they have 4-6 true leaves.
How much space do brussels sprouts need?
Allow 18-24″ between plants in rows spaced 2-3′ apart. Give sprouts plenty of room so they don’t compete for light and nutrients.
What causes brussels sprouts to be bitter?
Hot weather and drought stress can make sprouts bitter. Make sure plants get consistent water and grow sprouts for fall harvest when temperatures cool.
Why are my brussels sprouts so small?
Small sprouts are often due to inadequate soil nutrition. Make sure to amend soil with compost and side dress with nitrogen fertilizer when sprouts start forming.
Can I grow brussels sprouts in containers?
Yes! Choose a large container (15 gallons or more) and use a quality potting mix. Water regularly and feed with a liquid fertilizer since container plants have a limited soil nutrient supply.
Let me know if you need any other brussels sprout growing tips! I’m happy to share what I’ve learned through experience. They are such a rewarding and tasty crop.
I’m Michael Barnes and I love what I do. Every day, I get to work with the land and help create something that is essential for life. But it’s not always easy. Every day brings new challenges or unexpected natural disasters in order to produce what we need every day: meat; fruit, juice, and healthy dairy products!