With the exception of red varieties, Brussels sprouts may all look the same, but there are differences in how fast they grow and their ability to stand through winter. Early varieties can be picked from September and usually last up to the Christmas celebrations. Later varieties may not ripen until late October or November, but will continue to provide a harvest until spring.
If a gardener chooses both early and late varieties it is possible to enjoy sprouts from September to March, but this is a little too many sprouts for my taste! I prefer to grow a few plants to provide sprouts for Christmas. It is said the taste of sprouts improves with cold frosty nights, so December is a perfect time to eat them.
Sprouts do not take up a large amount of space on a vegetable patch as the plants grow vertically, with the sprouts developing as buttons off the central stem. In exposed sites, it is worth staking the plants to prevent the wind blowing them over. The leaves are tasty to birds, and butterflies can lay their eggs on the leaves leading to caterpillars munching through them. Covering the plants with a butterfly net will help to ensure a good harvest.
Sprouts are slow growing, so many gardeners start the plants in a seed bed or cold frame before transplanting them to their final growing positions when they have a few true leaves. Planting the seedlings through biodegradable fabric will keep weeding to a minimum, and help reduce the need to water in a hot summer.
In particularly cold areas, it is worth looking for varieties which have a good reputation for hardiness. Many varieties will stand well over winter allowing you to pick the sprouts as you need them. Picking from the bottom of the plant encourages the sprouts further up the stem to mature. Alternatively, if all the sprouts on a stalk are ready, the whole stalk can be lifted and hung upside down in a cool and dry area (like a shed). Sprouts freeze well too, if prepared by washing, blanching, and drying before putting in the freezer.
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