Friday, April 9, 2010

Brusseles Sprouts.... Do I have to?

Hi Peter

I really enjoyed reading the news letter.
I would like some advise on growing Brussels sprouts, every year I try as yet with no luck. They either look like a stem with leaves at the top or they don't close properly when they do grow up the stems.
I want to plant some soon so if you have any tips I would really like to hear them.

Let's start with a confession. When it comes to Brussels Sprouts I'm a very naughty child. I have tried, but Sprout is a flavour I just can't stand. Kerry loves 'em, says I'd get over it if I just tried them cooked with a little sugar to take away the bitterness. I have been known to raise the subject of lipstick and pigs at this point, which of course just gets me into more trouble. I'm not a fan of honey with carrots either. So I hope you'll understand that my suggestions here are almost entirely theoretical, with very little practical experience. I'd love some feedback and tips if you have any Sprout growing experience.

Brussels Sprouts plant
I'm surprised how difficult it is to find a pic of a full sprout plant.

Many years ago I went hunting for the best home garden vegetable varieties and advice for seedling growing. My chief concerns were downy mildew and grubs, the answer to these problems turned out to be discipline and benches.  Amongst the people I asked however was a technician from Henderson Seeds in Templestowe.  Henderson Seeds was one of the few companies breeding and producing vegetable seeds here in Australia.  They are still located in Lower Templestowe but I think are now owned by a multinational company and I don't know if we still have a local breeding program.  Anyway I think you get the message that this was credible source of information.

What sticks in my mind from this 20 year old conversation is his horror that I wanted to sow Brussels Sprouts in the Autumn.  I wanted to talk about varieties and growing techniques, he just wanted to talk about seasons.  There was no problem with sowing other Brassica vegies (Cabbage, Cauli, Broccoli) in Autumn, just Sprouts.  Now this is where we loop back to my opening statement.  Sprouts weren't an important seller for us and I had hang ups about them anyway so I just went (and still do) with the flow and continued producing all our brassicas through the same season-Autumn/Winter.  To get the best results Brussels Sprouts should be planted January-March, No later.  I admit we continue to sell seedlings beyond this period because there is demand and there are growers who know just what they are doing in there particular environment. For the less experienced gardener this can be a trap because many retail nurserymen and many gardeners assume that if the plants are available they are appropriate to plant.  Usually this is the case but some local knowledge is very important which is why a quality retail nursery is invaluable.

Why is it so important to plant Brussels Sprouts so early?  They have a long, slow growing season, around 140 days.  Broccoli on the other hand can be grown and harvested in only 100 days depending on the season and variety,  that's nearly a month and a half difference.  Broccoli, Cabbage and Cauli also have cultivars that can be harvested pretty much year round but Brussels have their season and that's it.  Grow them in the warmth of Summer and harvest in the cool of late Autumn and Early Winter.  Sorry Maureen, I think you are too late.
Brussels Sprouts axils
I like this pic with the tiny sprouts just forming, it also shows very clearly the leaf axils.

All of that said, Sprouts are said to be the easiest brassicas to grow.  Many of the usual Vegie planting tips apply

  • Plant them deep. We sow Brassica vegie seeds directly into punnets so thewre is usually a good inch (25mm) between the top of the root system and the first leaves. Bury the stem right up to that first leaf axil this will help anchor them particularly once they start getting tall. 
  • Fertilize heavily. Brussels Sprouts like plenty of tucker. 
  • Mulch well and try to keep watering consistent. 
  • Some growers recommend lopping the 'top sprout' off the developing plants. This will encourage development of the sprouts on the stems by stopping the production of additional sprouts. Your choice. I think this is more of a commercial practice to encourage the plants produce a single crop, at home you are more likely to want to continue picking over an extended period. 
I've just read a suggestion that sprouts be stir fried with nuts, now even I might try them cooked like that!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Meet Garden Bloggers