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Brussels sprouts, scientifically known as Brassica oleracea var. gemmifera, are a cruciferous vegetable that is a part of the Brassicaceae family, along with cabbage, cauliflower, kale, collard greens, broccoli, and turnips. Their name stems from Brussels, Belgium, a place in Europe where their cultivation is believed to have originated. Growing Brussels sprouts has been a long time in the making.
In this article, we will be discussing the origins of this vegetable, how to grow it, and other general facts.
Brussels Sprout Origin
As previously stated, Brussels sprouts get their name from Brussels, Belgium, a place in Europe from which their cultivation as we know the vegetable began. That was said to possibly take place in the 13th century, but it gained further popularity and traction in the 16th century in Southern Netherlands. The French, who ultimately gave the vegetable its name, brought and introduced it to Louisiana.
Some believe that Brussels sprouts are descendants of wild Mediterranean kale. Today New York and California are the top U.S. growers of the cruciferous vegetable.
Brussel Sprout Plant Care
Growing Brussel sprouts can range from easy to moderate in level of difficulty. If you want a large yielding harvest, you will want to follow proper plant care.
Below you will find everything you need to know to grow a Brussel sprout plant, from lighting requirements to the best fertilizer types and feeding schedules.
A soil with a pH of 6 to 7 that retains moisture but still drains is optimal for growing Brussels sprouts. Sandy soils require more water than clay soils; it is best to stick with clay soil for an easy watering schedule.
Consistent watering is pertinent to a healthy harvest. With sandy soils you must water the plant more than once a week. Once a week will suffice for clay-based soils. An inch of water is sufficient at each watering.
The vegetable thrives when grown in full sun for at least six hours out of the day. Although, they also need protection from strong winds. It is crucial to find a space in your garden where they can receive proper lighting but also have protection.
Humidity & Temperature
Brussel sprout seeds thrive when germinating between 45°F and 85°F or 7.2°C and 29.4°C. They can remain growing in the garden if the temperature does not dip below 20°F or -6.7°C. Your brussel sprout plant will continue to thrive in your area’s humidity conditions as long as they receive 1″ of water per week.
An NPK fertilizer added to the soil before planting at a 5-10-10 or 5-10-5 ratio is beneficial. Too much nitrogen can cause splitting and loose sprouts. Although, you can add more nitrogen fertilizer four to eight weeks after planting for lush growth. You can also add well-rotted cow manure to your compost in Spring or autumn to improve soil quality. Do NOT use fresh manure, as it can introduce harmful bacteria to your plant and food source.
Diseases & Pests
There are several pests that can affect Brussels sprouts, including cabbage worms, cabbage maggots, cabbage loopers, diamond moths, aphids, and flea beetles. All of the insects mentioned can damage or kill a Brussels plant.
There are also a few plant diseases that the vegetable plant is susceptible to, including black rot, Alternaria, and clubroot. Black rot causes the plant to have yellow triangles on the edges of its leaves. Alternaria causes the plant’s leaves to have spotted discoloration. And clubroot causes swollen roots and subsequent stunting in plant growth.
The vegetable will thrive when growing in hardiness zones three through nine. These zones offer sufficient to optimal conditions for a Brussel sprout plant to grow.
Days to maturity
The variety of Brussels sprouts will determine how many days it takes for the plant to mature and be ready for harvest. But on average most plants take between 78 to 110 days to reach maturity.
Once the lower sprouts on the stalk reach at least 1″ in diameter, you can remove the top 1″ to 2″ of the plant. That will help the upper spouts become larger.
When the temperature hits around 25°F or 3.89°C, you can cut the stalk down to the soil. After cutting, hang or store the stalk upright in a cellar or basement pantry. You can begin harvesting sprouts off the stalks over the coming weeks. Another option is to immediately remove the sprouts from the stalks after cutting and store them in a bag in the fridge – they will stay fresh for two weeks using this method.
When, Where, & How to Plant Brussels Sprouts
Growing Brussels sprouts simply takes a bit of knowledge to ensure the plant thrives. First and foremost, you need to know when, where, and how to plant the cruciferous vegetable.
When to Plant Brussel Sprouts
Starting from seeds indoors in June is one of the best options.
You can also opt to direct seed outdoors. If you choose direct planting and begin germinating your seeds outdoors, you need to familiarize yourself with the local weather conditions. For areas with below-freezing winters, sow seeds in early to mid-summer. If you live in an area with mild to warmer winter conditions, it is best to sow your Brussel sprout seeds in the middle of summer to the late summer months. We also must note that when you directly plant, it can take upwards of three more weeks for your plants to mature and be ready for harvest.
Where to Plant Brussels Sprouts
Plant your Brussel sprout seeds or plant where there is protection from winds, and they can still receive six hours a day of sun exposure.
How to Plant Brussels Sprouts
To successfully grow Brussels, seed/plant spacing should be 18″ apart and 1/4″ to 1/2″ deep into the soil – followed by watering. And always ensure that the soil stays moist during the initial growth period. After planting seeds and watering soil, you may want to use a row cover to protect the plants from pests and winds during the initial growth stage. Ensure that the cover is securely anchored down. A loose and moving row cover could do more harm than good.
If you wish to start the seeds indoors, place the seeds in a moistened sterile soilless seedling mix 1/4″ to 1/2″ deep. Ensure the soil remains moist but not drenched during the germination period. Once the seeds have developed one true leaf, apply a half-strength starter fertilizer weekly. After the plant(s) have two true leaves, you can apply the fertilizer twice weekly. You can reduce watering frequency after more leaves emerge and soon plant them.
Once the plants reach 4″ to 5″ in height, pruning and thinning are beneficial. Remove the less healthy plants and keep the thriving stalks to reduce the potential for growing problems.
Brussel Sprout Growing Stages
There are four stages to growing Brussels sprouts, planting, early growth, sprout formation, and harvesting. Educating yourself on the four stages can give insight into how the vegetable should grow and when they could be ready for harvesting.
Emergence (0-7 days): Planting seeds is the first stage of Brussels sprouts’ growth and lifecycle. The process occurs in June if starting indoors. When you are growing outdoors in a location with below-freezing winters, the process begins in early to mid-summer. Although, if you live somewhere with more temperate winter conditions and want to directly plant, it begins in the mid to late summer months.
Adolescents (14-50 days): The early growth stage occurs once the plant reaches four to five inches tall. Around this time, you may want to thin the seedlings and remove the less healthy plants, leaving room for the healthiest stalks to grow.
Sprout Formation (50-55 days): The next stage is the formation of sprouts; this typically occurs once the plant reaches full height, which is around 2′ to 3′ tall. The sprouts will appear like miniature cabbages that grow from a leaf’s axil.
Harvesting (78 -110 days): Once they reach maturity, which varies based on variety, the final stage can occur, harvesting. You can harvest Brussels sprouts by cutting the stalk or stalks down to the soil and storing them upright in a cool cellar or pantry, consuming the sprouts over the following weeks. You can also cut the stalk down to the soil, remove the sprouts immediately, and place them in a bag to store in the fridge for up to two weeks.
Growing Brussels Sprouts in Containers
Brussel sprouts are suitable for container and potted gardens – all you need is to ensure that the plant has enough space to grow. A 12″ by 12″ or five to seven-gallon planter will suffice. When growing Brussels sprouts in a container, you will also want to ensure that it provides adequate drainage so as to prevent fungal and other root rot diseases. Otherwise, the care for the plant is the same as directly planting into a garden bed.
Brussels Sprout Companion Plants
Brussels sprouts thrive when grown with companion plants to protect them. Other plants have the power to reduce the pest population and provide valuable amendments to the soil for the vegetable.
- Sage and Thyme
The aromatic herbs can reduce the diamond moth population in a growing Brussel sprout plant.
Alliums, like garlic and onions, have antifungal properties that are beneficial for repelling insects in the soil.
Beets add magnesium to the soil, which is essential for a healthy and bountiful sprout harvest.
Brussels Sprouts Varieties
Within the many species, there are three main types of Brussels sprouts, including open-pollinated, heirloom, and hybrid. Below are some of the best kinds of brussel sprout plants to grow from each type.
Groninger: Groninger sprouts grow 1″ to 2″ around and take 100 days to mature.
Red Bull: Red sprouts have unique dark red coloring, a change from the traditional variation of green we see in Brussels sprouts. They also grow 1″ to 2″ around and take 100 to 110 days to mature.
Long Island Improved: The Long Island improved sprout is 1 1/4″ to 1 1/2″ around with dark green coloring and matures between 80 and 115 days.
Catskill: Catskill Brussels are 2″ around with 2′ stalks, and they mature around 90 days. They are also known for their large yields and medium green coloring.
Tasty Nuggets: Tasty nuggets are 1″ to 1 1/4″ sprouts that mature within 78 days and have strong flavor despite their bite-sized nature.
Jade Cross: Jade crosses are deep green and pack a flavorful punch in 1/4″ to 1″ around sprout that matures around 100 days.
Diablo: Diablo sprouts have a sweet flavor with a tender bite that is 1.5″ around and matures in 110 days.
Brussel Sprout Benefits
Growing Brussels sprouts comes with many benefits. They aren’t just a tasty side dish for meals; they are full of healthy vitamins and nutrients, including vitamin K, vitamin C, carotenoids, fiber, and folates.
Vitamin K helps create proteins within the bones that are needed to prevent weakening. Research shows that vitamin K can increase bone mineral density in individuals with osteoporosis.
There is a possible correlation between Carotenoids and the risk decretion of certain cancers and eye diseases.
Research shows that vitamin C is essential in metabolic function and much more.
Fiber intake can aid in gut health and decrease the chances of cardiovascular disease.
One study shows that folate or folic acid intake may have a role in reducing the risk of colon cancer.
Frequently Asked Questions
The average Brussels sprouts plant grows 2‘ to 3‘ tall, and once they reach their full height, you should start seeing the sprouts form.
If you want a fast harvest, tasty nugget Brussels is the best to grow, and they pack a flavorful punch. But if you want a high-yielding harvest that doesn’t take up much room, jade cross sprouts are ideal.
The variety of brussels sprouts and growing conditions will ultimately determine how many sprouts you receive from a single plant. Some growers report receiving 40 to 60 sprouts per plant, while others measure around one quart of the vegetable.
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