Two Wests & Elliott's Gardening Guide To Growing Brussel Sprouts
Brussel sprouts appear to divide the British nation – you either love ‘em or hate ‘em – research actually shows that people in the UK eat more brussel sprouts than any other nation in Europe. Eating a whopping 40,000 tonnes a year, sprouts are the 37th most popular vegetable in the UK and in 2022 one in five placed the Brussel sprout top of their list for their Christmas dinner plate.
With this in mind, if you are lucky enough to have an allotment or kitchen garden – and you like sprouts – then it makes sense to grow your own.
Selecting The Seeds
With over 110 different varieties of brussel sprouts available in the UK, here are our recommendations if you are growing sprouts for the first time:
Sprout varieties to try include:
The most popular variety in the UK – ‘Brigitte F1’ - one of the reasons for its popularity is that the sprouts stay closed longer than other varieties, so enabling a longer harvesting period. This traditional green sprout also has excellent disease resistance and has a sweet nutty flavour.
Brodie F1 – another traditional green sprout but this time with a milder flavour – this variety is the choice in many supermarkets
Rubine – if you are looking for a more unusual sprout this richly dark red sprout has a lovely traditional flavour and retains some of its colour when steamed
Falstaff – another heirloom variety, this purple-red sprout has a lovely nutty flavour – many people say these red sprouts are milder than traditional green sprouts.
Preparing The Ground For Brussel Sprouts
Ideally you should be preparing the space where you are to grow your Brussel sprouts in the Autumn prior to planting. The best location for your Brussel sprouts is somewhere they will be sheltered from strong winds – this is because, depending on the variety, they can grow quite tall, possibly up to 3ft. In addition they like a fertile, well-drained, firm soil to succeed. To maximise nutrients in the soil you should dig in some well-rotted manure or garden compost in the Autumn.
Then, about a month prior to planting the following year, make sure the ground is free from weeds and test the pH – you are looking for a soil of at least 6.5pH and should adjust the soil accordingly by applying lime if your soil is too acidic.
The pH meter is the simplest way as it instantly shows you how much acid or alkaline your soil has, and it even comes with a plant care listing which includes the correct pH for 400 plants!
Click here to see full details.
When To Sow Brussel Sprouts
You can start to sow sprouts seeds indoors from around mid February (if you want earlier crops) right through until early May. This means, for a successive harvest, you could sow seeds every couple of weeks and then you won’t have them all ready to harvest at the same time!
We always recommend checking the seed packet for precise details on when to sow – as different varieties may have been developed to be sown earlier or later in the year.
Ideally sow them in modular trays where you can put one seed into each module so they have their own space to grow and their roots don’t become entangled – which can make it harder when it comes time to transplant them. They don’t need high temperatures to germinate, so can be sown in an unheated greenhouse or cold frame and in these conditions, you should have young seedlings ready to transplant into their own pots in around four weeks.
How To Transplant Your Brussel Sprouts Into Their Plot
Earlier in this growing guide we talked about preparing the ground ready for your Brussel sprout crop. So, assuming your plot is ready, the sturdy young sprout plants can be planted in rows approximately 2ft 6in apart, with each plant spaced approx. 2ft apart.
Looking After Brussel Sprouts
So, just like many vegetable crops, there are quite a few things you need to regularly do to ensure the plants remain healthy, grow and produce a bumper crop. For sprouts this can be divided into the following:
Watering - like all brassicas, sprouts prefer a moist soil and require approx. one to 2 inches of water every week - ideally they want to be watered deeply to encourage their roots to grow down rather than remain near the surface of the soil
Feeding - using a nitrogen-rich fertiliser you should feed your plants every two weeks
Weeding - weeds compete for space and nutrients so make sure to keep your sprout rows free of weeds by hoeing regularly
Tidying - general maintenance of your plants as they grow will help to reduce the chance of pests and disease, for example, remove any leaves that start to turn yellow
Providing Support - the height of sprout plants means they need to be protected from strong winds. So although they might be growing in a sheltered spot in your allotment, once Autumn arrives you are best to stake the plants to help them remain upright and earth up around their roots to help them remain stable and prevent them from rocking
Protecting Your Brussel Sprout Crops
There are a few pests and diseases which could cause you problems when growing Brussel sprouts, with the main ones listed below:
Caterpillars – your sprouts will be munched on by the caterpillars of the Cabbage Whites and others, leaving behind their tell tale holes. There are a few methods available which may help you to prevent this type of damage, including nematodes, some pesticides but our recommendation is to use a fine net to cover the plants, to prevent the caterpillars from reaching your crops. Enviromesh is perfect for this task and can be bought by the metre to suit your plot size.
Cabbage Root Fly –attacking any brassicas which you grow, these flies use scent to seek out your plants and then tests the plants by needing to land on four leaves consecutively to confirm they are all the same type. It will then lay its eggs in the soil near the plants and it is at the maggot stage that they cause damage by tunnelling into the edible parts of the roots – in some occasions you will even find maggots tunnelling into individual sprout buttons. Popular ways to prevent this pest is to use ‘collars’ around the base of the stem (these can be bought or made using carpet underlay, roofing felt, cardboard etc.) or to use an insect proof netting, like enviromesh.
Clubroot – a fungal disease that will thrive in acid soils (remember that at the start of the guide we talked about using a pH metre to check the soil) and results in stunted growth. You can try to prevent the spread of clubroot by adding ground limestone or calcified seaweed into the soil. However, this dreaded disease can remain in the soil for many years and will re-infect newly transplanted plants. So if you do find clubroot in your soil then ideally you need to avoid growing brassicas in that area for up to nine years!
Blown Sprouts – if you start to see sprouts on your plants which appear 'open', rather than them being tightly closed leaves, then these are 'blown' sprouts and are an indication there has been a problem with the soil - remember, sprouts like firm soil and nutrient rich soil, poor, infirm soil could cause this incorrect formation.
Depending on when your sprouts were sown and the type of variety they are, you could be picking sprouts any time from September through to the following March.
Sprout buttons are ready to harvest when they are almost ¾in in diameter. At this size the sprouts should be nice and tight and will taste their sweetest.
As you can see in the photograph opposite, sprout buttons are attached all the way up the length of the stem, with the lowest sprouts being the largest and ready to harvest before the ones at the top. This means that ideally you would pick a few buttons from each plant, rather than stripping one plant at a time.
To remove the sprouts from the stem / stalk cleanly and without damage, simply snap each button downwards with your hand - you shouldn't need a knife to remove the sprouts.
Towards the end of harvesting, you can encourage the sprouts to ripen near the top of the stem by removing the top of each plant. This doesn't have to be wasted - it can be cooked and eaten just like you would cabbage.
Once all your sprouts have been harvested, the empty plants - as long as they are disease free - can be added to your compost heap. However, because they will be very 'woody' you should cut them up before adding them into your compost bin.
Why Grow Brussel Sprouts?
For most of us eating Brussel sprouts is a healthy option – in fact if you eat about 90g of Brussel sprouts then you will have met your daily intake of vitamin C and vitamin K.
However, those people who have thyroid issues are usually advised to minimise their daily intake of brassicas as they can interfere with the absorption of iodine, needed to produce thyroid hormones.
Low in calories – 43 per 100g
High in nutrients – rich in vitamins C, K & A, together with smaller amounts of vitamin B6, potassium, iron, thiamine, magnesium, and phosphorus.
Good source of fibre – just under 4g dietary fibre in 100g of sprouts.
Low in fat – sprouts have virtually negligible amounts of fat, with most being unsaturated rather than saturated fats.
High water content – approx. 86% water when raw.
Our growing guides are created from our personal knowledge, information gathered by speaking to other gardeners or manufacturers in the gardening industry, by reading gardening magazines and devouring information from books and the internet. We aim to be as accurate as we can, so if you find a mistake, please remember, we’re only human. if you have any queries you can contact us today!