File this one under the “love ‘em or loathe ‘em” category – for some people Brussels Sprouts are the devil’s spawn, reluctantly tolerated once a year on Christmas day. For many GIYers however they are a vital part of the winter veg garden, even though they are relatively difficult to grow, have a very long growing season (8 months) and take up a lot of space. The reason we persevere with them is that three or four plants will produce a mound of produce in the lean winter months – each healthy plant produces up to 2kg of sprouts.
Best sown in module trays indoors – sow one seed per module 2cm deep. The key with sprouts is to time your sowings so that you have a long harvesting period – if you sow three times between March and May you will be eating fresh sprouts between December and March. Bear in mind that four or six plants in total is probably enough for most families. Sow your earlies in mid March, then sow again in mid April and again in mid May.
Sprouts need to be included in your brassica rotation – do not plant them where you grew any members of the cabbage family the previous year. They need a good rich soil, manured the previous winter. They like a firm soil – plants grow very tall so their roots need good soil support. Seedlings will be ready to transplant about 4-5 weeks after sowing. Space plants at least 60cm apart – it will seem counter-intuitive with such a small plant but don’t be tempted to cram them any tighter. Fit a brassica collar made from felt or carpet around the base of the plant – this will prevent cabbage root fly. A net cover will also prevent cabbage white butterfly from laying eggs – even still, you will need to check leaves regularly and remove any caterpillars. Water well to start and keep weeds down. Earth up the stems after about a month to give the plant more support. They will benefit from a liquid organic feed (nettle or comfrey) in summer. Remove yellowing/dying leaves regularly.
Harvest sprouts from the bottom of the plant first, as soon as they are ready to eat – snap them off by pulling downwards. The leaves at the top of the stems can be cooked like spring greens – very tasty they are too.
Sprouts are susceptible to the same problems as other brassicas including clubroot and cabbage root fly. As ever, prevention is better than cure. Mealy aphids are a particular issue with sprouts.