While Brussels sprouts aren't loved by everyone, many people appreciate the goodness of the little green buds. Tossed in olive oil and properly seasoned, this vegetable can become a staple side dish for many meals. They're also great raw; when sliced thinly or shaved in a salad, Brussels sprouts add a delightful crunchy texture, as well as plenty of health benefits.
If you have learned to love Brussels sprouts, take the next step by growing your own at home. Brussels sprouts are a type of cabbage and one of many popular Brassica cultivars. Luckily, this type of plant grows well throughout North America when planted and cared for properly.
Compared to other popular homegrown vegetables, Brussels sprouts need a long growing season. It takes around 80 days from planting to harvest. Consequently, most gardeners aim for a late fall or early winter harvest. This works well for Brussels sprouts since a light frost can improve their flavor. Determine when your earliest frost usually is, count backward about 4 months from that date, and plan to have your seeds or seedlings in the ground by then.
To counteract the long growing time, gardeners in regions with cold winters should consider starting seeds indoors two or three weeks before the last day of spring. This allows an early fall harvest before temperatures start dipping down below freezing regularly. Start seeds by planting them 1/4 to 1/2-inch deep in small containers and keep them in a warm, well-lit spot.
When the seedlings are about 3 inches tall, they are ready to transplant. Brussels sprouts are large plants when mature, so plant the seedlings about 12-24 inches apart to give them lots of room to grow.
Gardeners in a warmer climate may choose to sow their seeds directly in their garden. For this method, plant seeds about 1/2-inch deep and about 2-3 inches apart. When the plants are about 6 inches tall, thin them to give them 12-24 inches of growing space.
When growing Brussels sprouts, fertilizer is recommended since they need more nitrogen and boron than other veggies. Be careful of going overboard with the nitrogen, however, since it can encourage the plant to make more leaves and fewer buds, leaving you with fewer edible sprouts to enjoy. Once seedlings are around 6 inches tall, fertilize with rich compost or balanced product containing nitrogen. Reapply every month thereafter for better results.
Get your sprouts off to a good start by choosing the right planting location. Brussels sprouts prefer well-draining, loamy soil. If you're into composting, sprouts will love this since they do best in soil with lots of organic matter and a neutral pH. Since Brussels sprouts love cooler temperatures, applying a layer of mulch is a great idea since it will lower the soil temperature and help these water-loving vegetables retain moisture.
Brussels sprouts prefer full sun, so whenever possible, gardeners should plant them where they will receive at least 6-8 hours of sunlight daily. If that's not possible, sprouts will tolerate light shade, but it may slow down their growth. Since Brussels sprouts already have a long maturity time, a lack of light can throw off your harvest plans if you aren't careful.
Brussels sprouts require regular watering to keep the plants happy. In general, cruciferous veggies prefer lots of water, but since Brussels sprouts have shallow root systems, they can't delve down deep enough to seek out moisture. Help them out by keeping the soil moist, but not saturated. Adding mulch on top of the soil helps prevent the water from evaporating and drying out the soil on warmer days.
Like other cruciferous veggies, Brussels sprouts are plagued by a variety of creatures who want to eat your crops before you can. Aphids, cabbage worms, flea beetles, and cutworms are some of the main offenders. Introducing ladybugs to your garden is a great way to prevent aphid infestations. Insecticidal soap will help keep away the cabbage worms and flea beetles. Cutworms, however, are best removed by hand.
When harvest time finally arrives, take a minute to appreciate the odd beauty of your mature plant. At this point, the stalk should be covered with rows of hard, dark green buds topped by broad leaves. Begin harvesting the sprouts lowest on the stalk first, when they have grown to about one inch in diameter. To remove, simply twist and snap each sprout. Cutting them off with garden shears also works.
Since Brussels sprouts are related to other cool-season plants like cabbages, broccoli, cauliflower, and kale, you can plant some of them together. For variety and to deter pests, consider adding in herbs like basil or mint or aromatics like garlic and onion. If you prefer flowers, marigolds and nasturtiums are great choices since they also repel pests like nematodes and squash bugs.
Brussels sprouts don't get along with all other garden plants, however. Avoid planting strawberries, pole beans, peppers, or tomatoes nearby.