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Brussels Sprouts Advice

By Rick Gush, Urban Farm contributor

Friday, October 21, 2011

Brussels sprouts grown in Italy

Photo by Rick Gush

This year, I'm determined to grow Brussels sprouts 6 feet tall!

So, I’m hoping some of the readers of this blog might give me some advice on growing Brussels sprouts. Does one have to strip the lower leaves off the stalks, and if so, at what stage? Do commercial growers trim the lower leaves off their Brussels sprouts plants? What are some of the locations and various planting and harvest dates for good home-garden sprouts? Any counsel will be appreciated.

The reason I’m asking for help with growing Brussels sprouts is because I’m trying, yet again, to grow some really good sprouts this season. Sprouts are one of the vegetables of which I have never grown particularly good specimens. This is really annoying, not because of my horticultural machismo being dented, but because I really like eating steamed sprouts with mustard.

I used to visit the farmers markets in Half Moon Bay, Calif., near San Francisco, Calif., a lot when I lived up there. I always enjoyed being able to buy whole stalks loaded with attached sprouts. I swear, some of the core stalks were 3 inches in diameter and almost 4 feet tall. The best Brussels sprout plant I ever grew had a stalk that was only 1 1/2 inches across and 2 feet tall. We thought the sprouts we harvested last winter were tasty, but there were only limited quantities of them. So, this year, we’ve planted three dozen different Brussels sprouts plants in three different locations, all in the hopes that this might be the winter we grow some spectacular sprouts.

My basic plan is that I intend to fertilize these Brussels sprouts plants far heavier than usual. In home gardening, it is surprising how often extra fertilizer does the trick. So, I buried a big handful of aged chicken manure 6 inches below each planting hole, and I’m using manure tea once a week on the plants. My plan is to take advantage of the relatively warm fall months to grow the thickest and tallest stalks I can, and then hope the plants decide to make a bunch of the side shoots either during the cool days of early winter or late winter. I have no idea if we’ll get sprouts in 2011, or whether we’ll have to wait for early spring in 2012, but I think the bigger the stalks, the more — and tastier — sprouts will be produced.

Once I am certain that I can, in fact, manage to cultivate some reasonably awesome Brussels sprouts, I’d like to make them a standard crop for our winter planting schedule.

We have broccoli, lettuce, wild arugula, beet greens, edible pod peas and fava beans on the schedule every year now, and it would be nice to be able to add another significant crop. What I’m hoping to do one year is grow some of the red Brussels sprouts I’ve seen in the seed catalogs. Hopefully, I’ll already feel expert enough after this upcoming triumphant sprout season.

Read more of Rick's Favorite Crops »

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Variety is the most important factor in growing Brussels Sprouts for your area. I've been growing them for years , start inside under lights in March in Western Washington and plant out 2 mos later. If your soil is descent, add only bone meal or equivalent or nothing at all. High nitrogen will make the sprouts loose. Long Island, Jade cross, long island improved Do NOT WORK FOR ME EVER! Vancouver, Bubbles, Roodnerf work well. Vessies only has Vancouver, Bubbles you can find at a couple places and there are lots of sources for roodnerf.
John, Duvall, WA
Posted: 12/12/2011 5:22:50 PM
Rick, good luck with your sprouts. I've never tried to grow sprouts which would be a early spring or a fall crop. I will be interested in your success story about the harvest. Have a great Italian garden day.
David, Omaha, NE
Posted: 10/27/2011 5:51:10 AM
Thanks for the advice. You've got to be a pretty good gardener Bruce. I never saw anyone grow good sprouts in LV when I was there. Complimenti!
rick, Rapallo, YT
Posted: 10/25/2011 1:47:29 AM
I love your enthusiasm, even for Brussels sprouts.

My best advice for you is to make sure that when you pick the sprouts, you break off all of the leaves below the sprouts you harvested. This stimulates the silly thing into growing another layer of leaves up top and pushing the remaining sprouts into growing faster.

Don't wait until they get huge, be satisfied with medium to large ones and you'll most likely get a lot of them.

If you have a windy area, staking them can help. I use cages made from concrete re-mesh. It's a welded-wire fabric that stands 5-feet tall with 6-inch openings. I make a tubular cage out of it and plant my sprouts in the center. They won't need a lot of support, but if the wind comes up like it does here in Las Vegas, you'll be glad you gave them some support.

Best of luck!
Bruce, Las Vegas, NV
Posted: 10/21/2011 7:37:28 AM

About the Blogger

Rick Gush

Rick Gush
Rick Gush has long been a staunch organic gardener. While a student at the University of California at Davis he worked at local tomato and sugar beet farms and continued in the agricultural and horticultural industries for many years. A career move in the 1990s led him to design computer games, but no matter how much of a techie he’s become, gardening and farming remain his principal passions.

In 2000, Rick moved to Italy, where he writes to you about his cliff garden and other experiences in Italian urban agriculture.

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