Brussel sprouts

If ever there was a spotlight and prime-time stage for a vegetable, it’s now for Brussels sprouts. Oh, not the soggy butter-flavored balls of years gone by – I’m talking about thin sliced, browned-in-the-skillet deliciousness.

I have learned to love Brussels sprouts at the dinner table, but I have never grown them in my garden.

Although Brussels sprouts are harvested in the winter, due to their long growing season, seeds should be sown about 4 months before harvesting. That timeframe requires planning.

If growing from seed, start them indoors first. By starting early inside, you will have strong, healthy plants to move outdoors.  

Brussel sprouts need full sun, and because of their shallow root, plenty of water. They will thrive in nitrogen-rich, well-draining soil. Consider adding mulch to cover the roots as the summer temperature heats up. This will keep the soil cool and retain moisture.

You guessed it, Brussels sprouts got their name from their 16th-century home of Brussels, Belgium. They are part of the cabbage family and are related to broccoli, cauliflower, and kale. Because of this, try to avoid planting them near each other. They want similar nutrients from the ground and don’t need to compete against each other for nourishment.

Good companion plants for Brussels sprouts are carrots, lettuce, and onions. Avoid planting them near tomatoes. The sprouts release a chemical inhibiting tomato growth—another note about planting. Try to rotate the cabbage family plants to new locations. New plants will use the soil in other ways – giving the soil time to rebuild between crops.

Brussel sprout plants will reach 2 to 3 feet tall and may need to be staked as they grow. Go ahead and remove any yellow leaves that appear. They are using plant resources and, once removed, will let the sun easily reach the stalk giving the plant energy.

No room for a crop to occupy 100 days in your garden? Try planting them in a container, but choose a big one. A 5-gallon bucket is the size for one plant. The same rules apply – lots of sun and well-draining soil. Remember, containers can dry out quickly, so they will need consistent watering.

Sprouts mature along the stalk from the bottom up, so plan to harvest this way when the sprouts are about 1 inch in diameter. Store them in a dry, cool spot, and don’t wash them until you are ready to use them.

A light frost or two will enrich their flavor, so don’t rush to harvest.

If you still have sprouts and a severe frost is forecasted, you can pull the entire plant from the ground. Remove any leaves, then hang the stalk upside down. This will let you continue to harvest sprouts for a few more weeks.

Brussels sprouts are having a moment in the culinary world. It may be time to introduce them into your garden. With patience and continued care, when the temperature drops next year, you could be serving your homegrown, just-harvested sprouts – impressive and something to be thankful for all winter long.