Growing Brussels sprouts is very similar to growing cabbage, as they both share a common ancestry originating from wild cabbage. Other members of the brassica family include kale and broccoli.
The whole family is very nutritious, with Brussels sprouts having high quantities of vitamins C and A, as well as dietary fibre and folic acid. Eating Brussels sprouts regularly is thought to provide a degree of protection against colon cancer.
Although the vegetable is named after the capital of Belgium, the Netherlands is actually the world’s biggest grower of Brussels sprouts.
- March – April
- Planting depth: 1.5 cm
- Planting spacing: 60 cm between plants, 75 cm between rows
- Late September to February
- Leave on plot till early spring; blanch and freeze
To ensure you eat the crops, and not the birds, I recommend using a net for the duration of the growing cycle. Insect netting helps to prevent tiny flies that can affect the crop (these are easily washed off by soaking the sprouts in water after picking).
If you have a cold frame, or growhouse, you can sow sprouts in seed trays during early spring weather. Early sprouts should be started this way for a harvest from September onwards. I prefer to wait until warmer weather in April and grow sprouts to be ready for mid winter, and especially for Christmas dinner.
Brussels sprouts are slow growing, so I recommend transplanting your seedlings through weedguard fabric. From personal experience, it is no fun crawling under a net around Brussels sprout plants removing weeds.
It is a good idea to grow all your brassicas together and rotate their position each year. This helps to prevent the build up of diseases that attack the brassica family. It is also recommended to dig up the whole plant at the end of the growing season and, rather than throw on the compost heap, burn or dispose of the whole plant.
When harvesting Brussels sprouts the most important thing to remember is to pick the sprouts from the bottom of the plant upwards. That way the more immature sprouts higher up have a chance to fully develop.
Many people choose to store their sprouts over the winter simply by leaving them where they grow. An alternative method, suited to areas with very cold winters, is to dig the whole plant up and suspend from a ceiling upside down in a cool and dry place.
There are three main types of Brussels sprouts according to their harvesting time: early, mid, and late varieties.
This makes it possible to have a continous supply of sprouts from late summer to early spring. The iconic colour of sprouts is green, but there are also red and purple varieties.