How to grow... Brussels Sprouts
Rocket Growing Guides
Well, we all know how these can be the outcast of the vegetable world, but we rate them very highly indeed – stir fried with a little chopped up bacon and some garlic butter, you just can’t go wrong!
As part of the brassica family, there are a few pests that you need to protect sprouts from, but if you do this you should find that they grow well in the UK climate.
- Growing Tips
- Common Problems
- Chef's Corner
Shelter, firm soil and sun
Choose a sheltered spot for sprouts, out of the wind. They need a fair bit of sunshine, and fertile soil (add plenty of organic matter) that is firmed down well.
Raised beds and traditional plots
Brussels sprouts are tall plants so are best grown in raised beds or a traditional veg patch, rather than in pots.
How far apart
50-60 cm apart
Firm up the soil
When you plant them, firm the soil up by pressing down on it with your foot. This will help the plants to stay standing up properly on windy days.
Protect with a brassica collar
You can make these easily out of cardboard. Cut a 10cm diameter disc, cut into the centre and make a slit so that you can pop it around the base of the plant. This is to prevent cabbage root fly larvae from hatching by the base of the plant and burying under the soil to eat the roots.
Net against pigeons and butterflies
Pigeons love brassica plants and will easily destroy a crop of young plants in a morning. Meanwhile, cabbage white butterflies are attracted to brassicas and lay eggs on the leaves. When the eggs hatch, the caterpillars are quick to nibble away the leaves and strip the plant bare. To protect against both these pests, cover plants with fine netting.
Watch out for slugs & snails
Sprouts seem to be particularly popular with slugs and snails so make sure they are well protected – beer traps work well.
Earth up as plant gets taller
Once the plants get taller, bring a little soil up around the base of the stalk to form a little molehill – pat it down firmly. This will help to keep the plants steady on windy days.
Water well during dry spells
As weather warms up it is important to keep cauliflower cool and to give them enough water. Try to keep the soil consistently moist rather than allowing it to dry out.
When to harvest
It’s easy to see when they’re ready to be picked in late autumn and winter, but you don’t need to rush as they’ll keep well on their stems for a fair while. Harvest a few from each plant at a time, starting at the bottom – cut them off with a knife.
Alternatively you can harvest an entire stalk.
Don’t forget, you can use the top head of leaves as you would a cabbage.
Pigeons will eat the foliage right down to the ribs/veins. Keep plants netted if you have a lot of pigeons around.
Lots of holes appearing in leaves is a sure sign of caterpillars. They soon grow, and the holes grow too. Check the underside of leaves and you may see tiny eggs – wipe them off with kitchen paper – or caterpillars themselves. Keep plants netted against butterflies.
Slugs & Snails
Protect plants well from slugs and snails, especially when they are young and vulnerable. As the plants mature, small snails tend to congregate in between leaves watch out. Slugs will eat the sprouts too – very annoying! Beer traps work well.
Quite a few rodents like to nibble on sprouts… just do your best to keep numbers down by keeping your plot free from other rodent-friendly treats!
Cabbage Root Fly
Cabbage flies lay eggs at the base of brassica plants. When the eggs hatch, the larvae bury into the ground and feed on the roots. The plants eventually wilt and die. Prevention is key – use brassica collars (see growing advice section)
This is a fungal disease that leads to the swelling and distortion of roots, and plants will be stunted. Avoid growing brassicas in the same bed for two years consecutively if this happens. Add plenty of organic matter to the soil.
Sprouts opening up
This can happen when we get warm, dry spells. Try to keep the soil moist and cool with regular watering and apply a mulch.
If harvesting a whole stalk, leave in a cool, dark place and leave the sprouts on their stems until you want to eat them.
If harvesting individual sprouts, they will store in the fridge for several days.
Ways to cook
Don’t over cook them! That’s the golden rule of cooking sprouts. There are hundreds of ways to cook them – stir fry, steam, boil or even roast. And they are extra tasty with bacon or nuts.