Love them or hate them, Brussels sprouts are a great winter vegetable, high in vitamin C and which can help to lower cholesterol.
Brussels sprouts are part of the cabbage family, if you don’t like them, it may well be because they’ve been overcooked or worst still, grown in poor soil in bad sprout conditions. A badly grown sprout is not a thing of pleasure but with the firm, fertile soil and a bit of love, you can grow delicious, crispy sprouts to be proud of and there really is no better tasting Brussels sprouts than the homegrown!
Preparing the soil & sowing your sprouts
If this year’s supermarket Brussels sprouts have left you feeling a little cold, then start planning your own crop for next year.
- Sprouts like a firm, neutral or alkaline soil so the first thing to do if you’re planning to grow sprouts is to prepare your bed well in advance. Dig over and dig in plenty of well-rotted compost or manure to give your soil maximum time to settle in and make sure your beds are well-drained.
- A month or so before you want to plant, remember to check the pH of your soil. You want to aim for a pH of 7 or more and if it is lower than 6 you’ll need to add lime.
- Next prepare your bed for sowing. Sprinkle with compost and firm it down. It's best to plant brussels sprouts as seeds from early March to April, sowing your sprouts in a cold frame or under a fleece, 13mm deep in rows 15cm apart. Cover the seeds with soil, lightly firming them in.
Make sure you keep the seedbed moist, not saturated and when the Brussels sprout plants are about 2.5cm tall, thin the seedlings to roughly 7.5cm apart.
Planting out & growing your sprouts on
- From mid-May to early June, when the Brussels sprouts are about 10-15cm high you can transplant them outdoors. They like a sheltered, sunny spot, protected from winds and you’ll probably need to add more well-rotted manure or other general-purpose fertiliser. When planting out, leave about 60cm between plants and 75cm between rows (depending on the variety ~ you should find all the information on the seed packet), because they need the space to thrive. And remember they need firm planting in, in order to grow well.
- Before and after planting, don’t forget to water your sprouts and if you have a period of dry weather, then make sure you water them again.
- Another good tip is to mulch around the base of the plants with well-rotted compost occasionally and as they grow you may need to support the plants by staking them.
Just when you thought you were done, your sprouts need a little extra care. Weed carefully by hand around the plants to avoid disturbing the roots. And you may be surprised to learn that birds love Brussels sprouts so protect them with netting or fleece and watch out for caterpillars!
Harvesting Brussels Sprouts
- Your Brussels will be ready to harvest from mid-October to early November.
- When picking, start with the lowest sprouts and make sure they are tightly closed and about 2 cm wide.
- Tug them down and then snap, off they come but the lowest will mature first so avoid picking them all at once.
- Some varieties, particularly the older ones, benefit and gain flavour from exposure to the frost and to encourage the final sprouts to open, remove the sprout tops.
Brussels sprouts for Christmas day?
You can freeze your sprouts but if you want to harvest your Brussels sprouts so they are as fresh as they possibly can be for Christmas day, you can sow late varieties outdoors in April and transplant out in June. These will then be ready to harvest between December and March. And don’t forget you can eat the sprout tops too.
Why are they called Brussels Sprouts?
Well, it would appear they were first cultivated in Brussels in Belgium as long ago as the 1760s.