Brussels Sprouts

The hardiest of the cabbage family crops.

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Brassicaceae family
Brassica oleracea, Gemmifera group

Brussels sprout plants take up a fair amount of space, but the reward is a bountiful harvest of tasty sprouts. The sprouts, which look like mini cabbages, form along the 2- to 3-foot stems under umbrella-like foliage, and need up to 100 days to mature.

Planting: The hardiest cabbage-family crop, Brussels sprouts survive freezing temperatures better than hot spells. Time your plantings so that overnight fall frosts will bring out the sprouts' sweetness. You'll find that you'll plant this crop quite late, after you've set out warm-season crops like peppers and squash. To determine the timing of planting, count back the number of days to maturity from your first fall frost—that's the date to set transplants in the garden. In mild-winter areas, time the crop for a winter-to-spring harvest.

To start your Brussels sprout plants from seeds (indoors or out), sow seeds 1/2 inch deep. When seedlings are 5 to 7 inches tall, space or thin them to 2 feet apart. Set transplants deeper than they grew originally, with the lowest leaves just above the soil. Firm the ground around the plants, and water well.

Growing guidelines: Mulch to retain soil moisture, and hand pull any weeds to avoid damaging the shallow roots of the sprout plants. Foliar feed lightly once or twice a month with compost tea or seaweed extract. Stake in areas with strong winds. The leaves will turn yellow as sprouts mature; remove these leaves as they fade to give sprouts room to develop.

Harvesting: Small sprouts (about 1-inch diameter) are the most tender. Harvest them as they mature from the bottom of the stalk upward. Remove sprouts by twisting them from the stem. Pinching off the plant tops forces sprouts to mature faster. Just before a severe freeze, uproot the plants, remove any remaining leaves, and hang the "logs" upside down in a cool place for a few more weeks of harvesting.

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