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Growing Brussels Sprouts – A Cool Weather Crop

I live in zone 7b so I am able to start vegetable gardening fairly early.  I did not get a crop of brussels sprouts last year but I am hopeful that my plants will be full of sprouts this year.

Brussels sprouts are a healthy cold weather vegetable that even has its own National Day. January 31 is celebrated each year as Eat Brussels Sprouts Day. Before we can eat them, let’s find out how to grow them!

How to grow brussels sprouts

Image adapted from one found on Wikipedia Free Media Repository. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0

Growing Brussels Sprouts – Easy and Hardy but They Don’t Like the Heat.

I spent most of today hand tilling my garden bed.  It was tilled with a rototiller last fall, but winter weeds have taken over the area where I had my garden. Oddly enough, the front part which was tilled into lawn to enlarge the vegetable garden is relatively full of weeks.

I planted broccoli, brussels sprouts and head lettuce today.  They were seedlings since I did not get my seeds until last week.  Those will have to wait until fall to be planted again.

Brussels sprouts are easy to grow as long as you pay attention to the fact that they really do not like heat.  If you get them in too late in the spring and your summers are hot, they will bolt and the sprouts will end up bitter.

How to grow Fabulous Brussel sprouts.

  • Soil:  They will tolerate most soil conditions, but prefer  a sweet or slightly alkaline soil.  The soil PH should be at least 6.5 for best results.  Adding a lot of organic matter to the soil will help them to maintain the moisture they need for best growth.
  • Sunlight:  Like most vegetables, brussels sprouts like full sun. 6 – 8 hours a day or more is preferable. In the hottest climates, they will appreciate partial shade in the afternoon.
  • Watering: They need even moisture. Dry soil will make the sprouts bitter.
  • Timing:  Timing is everything with brussels sprouts especially if you live in zones where the summers are very hot.   They take about 85-90 days to mature, so it depends on your zone as to when to plant.   The main factor it to remember that the sprouts will ripen in the temperatures are higher than 75 degrees Fahrenheit.  They love 60 – to 70 degrees and will have best flavor if they are allowed to grow during several periods of frost. This is because the frost converts the starches in the plant to sugar and makes the sprouts sweeter.
  • Spacing:  18″ – 24″ is best if you have a long growing season that is not too hot (northern climates)  I planted mine about 14″ apart since I doubt this spring batch will give me many sprouts. In the fall, I will space them wider, since I can over winter them in NC.
  • Harvesting:  The sprouts form at the axil or leaf joint.  (you can see how the grow in the first photo above.)  They look like tiny cabbages. They mature from the bottom upwards, so you should start harvesting when the lower sprouts start to get to the size of large marbles.  Also trim the bottom leaves as the plant grows.  Be sure to leave several leaves at the top though. Doing this will tell the plant to put its energy into making sprouts rather than making big leaves.  The leaves are edible and lovely sauteed with garlic and spices.  At the end of the season, or before it gets too hot, you can cut the top leaves off, and it will speed up the development of the remaining sprouts.
  • (Recipe to use the removed leaves):  Sauteed Brussel Sprout Leaves
  • Storage: Brussels sprouts will keep 2-3 days in the refrigerator. After this they will begin losing flavor.  For long term storage, blanch for a few minutes in boiling water and plunge into ice water.  Freeze on cookie sheets and then transfer to freezer bags.

This photo is a picture of brussels sprouts which were harvested by my sister Judy, in Maine, in October.  I drooled when I saw them.  I can never get mine to this stage.  I do have hope for some that overwintered for me this year.  I planted them in late summer as seedlings. They produced mainly leaves but I am going to start trimming them from the bottom to see if I can get them to sprout early this spring.  If they do they should be wonderful, since they went through the whole winter and several frosts.


What has your experience been like for Brussels Sprouts? Did they grow well for you?  Where do you live?  Please leave your comments below.

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