Brussel Sprouts are another cultivar of the wild cabbage family, which was found around the North and West coasts of the Mediterranean, before domestication thousands of years ago. It is not certain when Sprouts developed the form that we know and love today, but they were grown in the Brussels area by the mid 18th century. There are purple leaved varieties now available which produce purple sprouts, but the colour changes when cooked.
Brussel Sprouts have sometimes had a bad press in the past, but that was probably due to gross overcooking.
Different varieties of Brussel Sprouts reach maturity for picking at different times of the late Autumn and over the Winter. If you are already growing Broccoli (Calabrese), you will probably have enough greens to eat in the Autumn. For me, Brussels fill in a “hungry” gap from December to February.
After harvesting the individual Brussels, remember to leave the plant to grow and you will be able to harvest Brussel shoots and Brussel tops, in March and April when there is little other greenery to be had. If you need to prepare the ground for another crop, lift the plants with plenty of soil attached and replant them in any available ground.
It is possible to steam the smaller leaves and shoots of “shot” Brussels as well as the top leaves and shoot of the plant, just as you would do for cabbage. If you do not pick the shoots in time and they start to form into buds, you can still pick the buds and cook as if they were sprouting broccoli.
The ground should have been prepared well in advance the previous Autumn to allow it to become quite firm and give the plants some stability to resist the wind. Dig in manure, if available, in the late Autumn.
Sow the seeds in March for Autumn and early Winter “heading” varieties, or April for over wintering types, in individual cells or pots in a cool greenhouse. In the North of the UK, transfer them to a cold frame in May and plant them out in their final positions in early June, or when big enough to handle. They should be spaced about 45 cm apart. In the South of the UK, you can try sowing the seed in April directly in a seed bed, before transplanting into their final positions in May or June. It is best to transplant your Brussels on a dull, cloudy day and water the plants in well. If you try and transplant them on a hot, sunny day, they will loose so much moisture that they will droop through stress from lack of water. If you really have to transplant on a sunny day, try and provide some shading with netting or fleece.
Protect all plants immediately after planting. If you expect to have problems withcabbage root fly, fit collars made from a 15 cm square of old carpet underlay. Cut a slit in the underlay square, halfway through. Then fit it onto the Brassica with the stem in the middle of the underlay square. Sprinkle slug and snail pellets around the plants, or fit plastic tubes to prevent slug attack. Finnish off by erecting medium mesh netting, about 1 cm square, over and around the plants to fend off cabbage white butterflies. Remember that brussels can grow up to 1 m high when fully grown. Using these physical protective measures to protect your plants, will eliminate the need for pesticides.
Regularly inspect the growing plants to make sure that no slugs, snails or cabbage white caterpillars have managed to get into your protective cage. If you spot an infestation of large aphids, either “squish” them or dislodge them with a hose or spray with a suitable pesticide. Water as necessary in hot weather in the evening.
Pests and diseases. Cabbage root fly, slugs, snails, aphids and the cabbage white butterfly have all been discussed above.
Pigeons. These birds can strip the leaves from over wintering brassicas. Therefore defeat them by leaving the netting protecting your valuable crop.
Clubroot can also be a problem in some locations. Clubroot is a fungus that can live in the ground for many years and will immediately infect any new brassicas planted in infected soil. It causes the roots to become swollen and distorted and the brassicas are stunted. There is no cure but measures can be taken to limit the effects and the spread of the disease.
Be very wary of buying-in plants that are not growing in sterile soil, such as peat. You do not want to bring in contaminated soil to your plot. Much better to grow your own plants from seed using sterile soil.
Sprinkle a handful of garden lime round the planting position, if you know that there is a clubroot problem in the soil.
A plant gown in a small pot of sterile compost and then transplanted, will most likely succeed even in contaminated soil.
Always burn the roots of brassicas after cropping. Never put the old roots into a compost heap as this could transfer clubroot to other areas.
Suggested varieties of Brussel Sprouts for early Winter heading.
Cromwell F1. A heavy cropping variety for picking in October and November.
Suggested varieties of Brussel Sprouts for over-Wintering heading.
Clodius F1. Medium sized plants ready for picking from December to February.
Red Bull. Red sprouts for picking in December and January.
Berwick. A late season variety ready for picking from January to March.
Short term storage. Best cooked as soon as possible, but will keep for a few days in a fridge crispator.
Long term storage. Can be cleaned, blanched and frozen. However, when defrosted, the texture is spoilt.