Brussels sprouts, the hardiest crop in the cruciferous family, look like miniature sized cabbages. This nutritious vegetable can survive freezing temperatures, but cannot tolerate extreme heat. The plant resembles a small palm tree and the vegetables grow along the 2 – 3 foot trunk-like stem. This is a long season crop that is planted in spring for a fall harvest, needing approximately 100 days to mature. While green Brussels sprouts are the most commonly grown, there are red varieties as well.
Brussels sprouts like fertile, well-drained soil with a pH of 6.5 or slightly higher. Locate a sunny or partial sunny spot in the garden and add a generous amount of organic matter. This will help the soil maintain moisture during the vegetable's long growth stage. Start your seeds either indoors or directly in the garden. For indoors, the seeds should be sown 1/2 inch deep in seed flats about 6-8 weeks before the last spring frost. Transplant the seedlings in early to mid summer when they are about 3 inches tall and space them 12-24 inches apart. To plant outdoors, sow seeds directly in the garden soil four months before the first fall frost. Plant ½ inch deep and 2-3 inches apart. When they reach 6 inches tall, thin plants to a distance of 12-24 inches. While growing Brussels sprouts, mulch to retain soil moisture, water frequently and fertilize about three weeks after transplanting.
Brussels sprouts are susceptible to the same pests and diseases as other vegetables in the cabbage family. The most common pests are cabbage looper, cabbage worm, cabbage root maggot, aphids and diseases that include blackleg, black rot and clubroot. Fortunately, with a late season crop, you have time to monitor and control problems often before the vegetable develops. Disease can be minimized by rotating the crop annually.
Harvest Brussels sprouts about 3 months after transplanting. If possible, wait until after the first frost because the cold improves the flavor and sweetness. The lower sprouts mature first, so pick from the bottom up when they are firm and about one inch in size. Remove sprouts by twisting them from the stem and gather only as many as you need at one time.
After harvest, remove damaged or discolored outer leaves and store fresh, unwashed sprouts in plastic bags. Store in the refrigerator for up to seven days. Brussels sprouts can be eaten raw or cooked. Most people prepare them by either steaming, boiling or roasting. No matter how you prepare them, do not overcook. They will lose their nutritional value and taste. Brussels sprouts can also be blanched and frozen.