If you love Brussels sprouts you will find that home grown ones taste far better than those from the supermarkets, especially when harvested after a first frost. Brussels sprouts are particularly suited to our cool climate and provide lovely fresh vegetables throughout the winter months when not much else is available. Brussels sprouts like a firm, free draining, non-acidic and fertile soil and are suitable for growing in sun or partial shade but need a sheltered spot and protection from strong winds.
Start preparing your site in the autumn or winter months before sowing by digging the soil well, removing any large stones and adding lots of garden compost or well-rotted manure. If you are able to grow your Brussels sprouts in an area that had peas or beans growing on it previously, so much the better as this site will have lots of nutrients in the soil left behind by the peas and beans which they produce in their roots.
All vegetables from the brassica family need a soil PH of around 6.5 to 7.5, so about a month before planting test you soils PH levels and if it is below 6.5 you will need to add lime to it. Do not dig the lime into the soil but just sprinkle on the surface and any rain will wash it down into the soil.
HOW TO SOW BRUSSELS SPROUT SEEDS
The best time of the year for sowing Brussels sprout seeds is late March to the middle of April provided the soil is not too wet and has had a chance to warm up and it is also best to sow Brussels sprouts in a seedbed before finally transplanting them to their permanent spot in the vegetable garden.
Rake over your chosen area for the seedbed, removing any stones to make a level surface then make drills in the surface using a rake handle or garden cane. The drills need to be roughly 1cm in depth and about 15cm between each drill. Sow the Brussels sprout seeds thinly to prevent overcrowding and to save thinning them out later, cover with soil and then using a watering can fitted with a rose, water the drills.
HOW TO GROW YOUR BRUSSELS SPROUTS
About ten days after sowing your seeds the seedlings should start to appear and you will now need to keep the seedbed moist. When your seedlings reach 2cm tall, thin them out to leave a spacing of about 5-7cm between each plant and as soon as they reach about 10-15cm in height they will be ready for transplanting to their permanent site. A few days before transplanting, give their permanent site a feed with a sprinkling of general purpose fertiliser.
Water the plants well before transplanting and to minimise the amount of disturbance to the young plants, try and keep as much of the soil around the root system as possible when transplanting them. Using a dibber make holes in the new bed at intervals of 60cm between where each plant will be placed and 75cm between each row, then very carefully replant the individual seedlings, firming into position with your hands and water in well. Do make sure that each seedling is firmly in place and cannot easily be lifted up. You can test this by holding a leaf and pulling upwards, the leaf should come off and the plant should remain firmly in place.
HOW TO CARE FOR YOUR BRUSSELS SPROUTS
Keep your plants well watered, roughly every ten to fourteen days, during any spells of dry weather and keep the beds free of weeds, removing them by hand so as not to damage the Brussels sprouts shallow roots.
By August to early September the sprouts should be beginning to swell and at about this time the soil will also be getting low in nitrogen levels. To remedy this a couple of teaspoons of a nitrogen rich fertiliser should be sprinkled around the individual plants.
To avoid providing a source of infection, remove any leaves that start turning yellow, which usually happens when the Brussels sprouts start to mature.
HOW TO HARVEST YOUR BRUSSELS SPROUTS
Brussels sprouts can be ready for harvesting from September through to March depending on whether you have chosen to grow an early or late variety.
Start to harvest your Brussels sprouts when they reach 2cm in width as this is when they are at their sweetest and the vegetables will still be tight and firm. Remove a few of the lowest sprouts from each individual plant as these will be ready first, gradually working your way up the stems of each plant as the sprouts mature, rather than removing all the sprouts from one plant at a time.
To remove the sprouts without causing damage to the plant, snap each one downwards with a firm action.