If you object to having brussels sprouts on the menu, perhaps you haven’t sampled those sweetened by frost and picked at the peak of freshness. For best flavor, timing is everything. Listen to learn how to grow a delectable harvest of these unusual vegetables.
This segment of The Old Farmer’s Almanac Garden Musings podcast series was written by George and Becky Lohmiller and is read by Heidi Stonehill, an Almanac editor.
If you really don’t like the taste of Brussels Sprouts, you may want to grow some in your garden this season. This may seem some what of a contradiction but if you’ve formed your opinion about these miniature cabbages by eating sprouts bought at the supermarket, you may do an about face once you’ve sampled fresh Brussels Sprouts harvested at their peak of freshness.
The fact is that Brussels Sprouts must experience a stiff frost or two before they develop their sweet mild flavor and are absolutely at their best when served up the same day that they are harvested.
This unique plant that often grows to three feet tall is almost indistinguishable from cabbage in its seedling stage, but as it matures buds or sprouts form in the joints where the leaves meet the stem. As many as a hundred of these 1”-2” tiny gems may grow on one plant.
With Brussels Sprouts, timing is everything; depending on the variety that you choose, seeds are sown 90-120 days before the expected date of the first fall frost. In most climates, seeds must be started indoors four to five weeks before they are set out in the spring. Space the plants at 18” intervals in rows 24”-30” apart. Slip a paper or aluminum foil collar around each plant to discourage cutworms. Fertilize two to three times during the growing season with a band of 10-10-10 garden fertilizer starting when the plants are 6”-8” tall. Occasional weeding and a mulch to conserve soil moisture is just about all of the care the plants will require.
Brussels Sprouts are the hardiest member of the cabbage clan and may be harvested up until the ground freezes. When the sprouts at the bottom of the plant are pea-sized, remove the lower leaves; this makes the sprouts grow faster and facilitates picking. Start picking at the bottom of the stem and work upward as the sprouts mature. If you are freezing your crop, you may want all of the sprouts to mature at once. To make this happen, pinch out the leafy growing tip of each plant in early fall about six weeks before harvest.
In cold areas, you can extend the harvest season by digging up the entire plant leaving some soil on the roots, place it in a cold frame or unheated garage and the sprouts will continue to develop well in to the winter.