I think Brussels sprouts are one of the most underrated brassicas, because of their incredible flexibility, their winter hardiness and their health giving properties.
They have a unique property that makes them so flexible, they don't easily go to seed in spring, when planted late in the year and over-wintered. While most varieties of the flowering brassicas, calabrese, broccoli and cauliflower, kales and cabbages all naturally start to flower in spring when sown in autumn and grown over winter. But Brussels, for reasons I don't understand, rarely do, or at least Fillbasket doesn't which is the one I grow (I'm testing more this year). This makes them an ideal leaf crop in the Hungry Gap, from early May through to June.
- Sow Feb - April
- Time to maturity 8 months
- Module sow 1 seedling
- Space plants 80 cm apart but interplant
- Frost tolerant, but protect early seedlings from high wind
- Water well when planting, then 1" every 2 weeks in drought
- Plant in sun or partial shade
When reading this guide please forget everything you know about Brussels from your supermarket experience, or most gardening books and seed suppliers! They are so much better than they would have you believe!
Why grow Brussels Sprouts
I use a rating system to help me decide what to grow and it considers lots of factors, but the main ones are: how tasty it is, how healthy it is to eat, how expensive it is to buy, how big its harvest is, when its harvest period is and whether I can buy it organically and if not how much pesticide commercial growers use.
Brussels are not quite as good as Kalettes, but they score high on almost every category and they do well overall, when everything's considered:
- Lots of people really like the taste, of those that don't we've found that most of them really like the leaves and the top
- They are extremely healthy, not as healthy as kalettes, but as good as kale and cabbage
- The sprouts are cheap in the shops, but the leaves and tops are rarely available and these are wonderful
- When grown the way I describe in this guide the harvest is exceptional and at a time of year when it's most welcome. The leaves are brilliant in the hungry gap, the tops are like perfect little loose leaf cabbages in early summer, the early button sprouts are a mid summer treat. Then the whole process repeats for the second succession, the leaves are great from late summer until winter, then the sprouts tops come available, followed by the sprouts themselves all the way through to March. Finally leave a few sprouts to 'blow' in spring and you get a profusion of tender baby leaves. Amazing!
- I suspect - just like kale - they are sprayed a lot to control caterpillars, cabbage aphid and white fly
When to sow Brussels
To get the best from Brussels you need to sow two and maybe even three successions. You can think of these as:
- First earlies (sow mid autumn to harvest leaves in May)
- Second earlies (sow January to leaves in June, sprouts in late July)
- Main crop (sow mid March to harvest in late Autumn onwards)
- The early sowings will go to seed in late spring/summer depending on the weather conditions, pull them out and re-plant with autumn/winter veggies.
Here are some more details
- If you don't have grow lights sow about 24 plants in late September, you might also sow in early October. The timing is tricky because growing conditions in winter are hard to predict and a few weeks makes a big difference. However seeds are cheap and greenhouse space is plentiful at this time of year, so it's worth the effort. Germinate indoors and then grow on in a cold greenhouse/polytunnel