Brussels Sprouts

Brussels Sprouts

Traditionally the Brussels sprout (Brassica oleracea Gemmifera) was a very bland vegetable, suffered only on Christmas Day. However, modern varieties that have been picked young and cooked properly are much sweeter and delicious. Particularly tasty when sautéd with a touch of butter.

How to Cook >> Popular Varieties

Growing Conditions

Soil Type: Deeply-dug, organic rich, non-acid soil.

Conditions: Full sun.

Ease of Cultivation: Easy

Type: Leafy Vegetable.

Hardiness: Hardy in most regions of the UK.

When to Sow: February (indoor) to April (outdoor). Plant out early to mid spring.

Harvest Season: Mid-autumn to early spring.

Planting and Growing Brussels Sprouts

Follow standard crop rotation rules for brassicas. Do not grow in ground that has been used for brassicas in the last three years.

Sow thinly in trays or modules in March and April, under glass. Plant out in May and June giving them plenty of space between plants.

Brussels are heavy croppers. Each plant can produce around 2lb (1kg) or more of sprouts, so limit the number of plants grown to suit your requirements.

Preparation

Prepare the bed well in advance to allow the soil to settle, as sprouts prefer firm ground.

When to Sow

Sow early seeds indoors in pots or modules from February onwards and plant out after the frosts in May. Plant them at 18-30in (45-75cm) intervals, depending on variety.

You can sow outdoors in a prepared seed bed from March to April, under cloches, then transplant to the growing site from May to June. Plant 18-30in (45-75cm) apart. Firm the soil well before planting and site in a sheltered spot to prevent wind rock.

Note: considering that only six or so plants are necessary to feed a family, you may prefer to simply buy mature seedlings from a nursery or garden centre in late spring, rather than go though all the effort of cultivating seeds. A packet of seeds cost from £2 to £4, whereas a tray of young plants (or plug plants) will cost not much more.

Taking Care of Brussels Sprouts

Fit a brassica collar around the young plants to deter cabbage root fly and net the crop to keep birds away.

Keep weed free and water young plants well in dry weather. Give them an extra feed in August and September to bulk them up well. Remove the lower leaves as they turn yellow.

In early autumn, as the sprouts begin to form, draw some earth an inch or so up around the stem and mulch with organic matter. This will help stabilize the plants as they grow taller and reduce wind rock, which can damage the roots. If the site is very windy the plants may also need staking.

Pests and Diseases

As for other brassicas, particularly club root. Downy mildew can also be a problem.

Harvesting & Storing Brussels Sprouts

Early varieties are ready to harvest after about 28 weeks and about 36 weeks for late varieties.

Pick the sprouts while they are still in tight balls, before they start to open. Pick from the bottom of the stem to the top, by simply twisting them off or cutting off with a sharp knife.

The whole stem can be dug up and hung in a cool, frost free place. Or stand the stem in a bucket of water and pick as and when required.

Sprouts left too long on the plant can blow. This is where they start to open up, rather than forming a tight head. Remove any affected sprouts and feed with a high-nitrogen liquid fertilizer to improve the problem.

Note: Modern F1 varieties are less susceptible to blowing.

Freezing Brussels Sprouts

Brussels can be frozen but they will not be as good as when fresh. Pick and freeze on the same day.

Peel, clean and blanch for one to three minutes, depending on size. Drain well and cool. Open freeze on trays before packing into freezer bags or containers. They should keep in the freezer for around 12 months.

Cook from frozen for about 5 to 8 minutes.

How to Cook Brussels Sprouts

Cook and eat sprouts as fresh as possible. Unlike cabbage, they can only be stored in the fridge for 3 to 4 days. Any longer and they will only be fit for the compost heap.

Before cooking, cut off the stalk at the base and peel away any dirty or damage leaves. Discard any that look bad or dark inside. Cut a cross in the base of large sprouts.

Boil in lightly salted water for 8 to 10 minutes. Drain well and serve. Do not overcook or they will become soggy and lose flavour.

If you only want a few, a small bowl of sprouts can be cooked reasonably well in the microwave, with only a small amount of water added. They should be ready in just a few minutes.

They can also be finely shredded and cooked in a stir fry.

Popular Varieties of Brussels Sprouts

With careful variety selection, Brussels sprouts can be enjoyed fresh from September right through to the following February.

Brussels Sprout 'Attwood' is a hardy, British bred variety producing delicious small to medium sized sprouts. Available at Thompson & Morgan.

Brussels Sprout 'Bedford' produces large round sprouts that are firm and sweet-tasting. Heavy cropping variety. Harvest from early autumn to winter. Height: 30in (75cm), spread: 20in (50cm). Available at Van Meuwen.

Brussels Sprout 'Bosworth' (F1 Hybrid) is an early maturing sprout with excellent holding ability, providing firm, dark green, sweet tasting buttons. Good downy mildew tolerance. Harvest: October to December. Available at Thompson & Morgan.

Brussels Sprout 'Brilliant' (F1 Hybrid) produces sweet tasting button sprouts. Harvest during mid-winter. Height: 30in (75cm), spread: 20in (50cm). Available at Van Meuwen. Available at Thompson & Morgan.

Brussels Sprout 'Brodie' (F1 Hybrid) New variety. A tasty, mild flavoured variety with 'no-bitter-after-taste', due to it's reduced mustard oil content. Available at Thompson & Morgan.

Brussels Sprout 'Cascade' is a hardy robust variety with fine tasting solid dark-green sprouts. Good mildew resistance.

Brussels Sprout 'Crispus' (F1 Hybrid) produces smooth, dark green button sprouts. Club root resistant. Excellent standing ability and good vigour. Harvest: September to October. Available at Thompson & Morgan. Available at Marshalls.

Brussels Sprout 'Diablo' produces sweet tasting sprouts of uniform size. A vigorous grower that is wilt resistant. Harvest: autumn to winter.

Brussels Sprout 'Marte' (F1 Hybrid) produces round, well-spaced 'buttons', strong in taste with a hint of sweetness. Harvest October to December. Available at Thompson & Morgan.

Brussels Sprout 'Maximus' is a good heavy cropper of smooth solid, sweet tasting, sprouts that can be harvested over a long period. Good disease resistance.

Brussels Sprout 'Red Bull' is an red-buttoned variety (hybrid of Rubine) with well spaced, medium-sized buttons, with a mild and nutty flavour. Harvest: November to January. Available at Thompson & Morgan.

Brussels Sprout 'Rubine' produces small purple-red sprouts with a good nutty flavour. Early cropping.

Brussels Sprout 'Red Darling' produces a mild tasting, round, red sprout. High yielding variety. Harvest October to November. Available at Marshalls.

Brussels Sprout 'Trafalgar' (F1 Hybrid) a modern hybrid, producing a heavy crop of the sweetest flavoured sprouts. Harvest: December to March. Height: 30in (75cm). Available at Van Meuwen. Available at Thompson & Morgan.

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