A row of Brussels sprouts growing in the fall garden looks like green gems strung on upright, hanging necklaces. Brussels sprouts make an elegant border for the garden when their sprouts are filled out.
Brussels sprouts are members of Brassicaceae, the cabbage family. The specific epithet of Brussels Sprouts, Brassica oleracea Gemmifera Group, totally describes the little sprouts that look like green gems, hence the group name Gemmifera. The sprouts grow in nodes of leaves on thick upright stalks. Brussels sprouts look like tiny cabbages, but they are distinctly different from cabbages that form heads from the ground.
Members of the Brassicaceae family are cool season crops that have optimum growth and development when planted in spring and fall gardens. Brussels sprouts are best when grown in the fall garden.
Brussels sprouts are best when grown only in the fall because they are a long-season crop that produces optimum growth when days are cooling in the autumn. Of all the Brassicas, Brussels sprouts are the most cold tolerant and are sweetest when harvested following a frost.
The optimum planting date when growing sprouts is determined by the planting and the planned harvest dates.
Timeline for growing directly from seed: Seed takes 7 to 10 days to germinate and days from seedling stage to maturity take another 110 days. Plan on plants occupying garden space for 120 days. Gardeners planning to harvest sprouts for the December table will count back 120 days to a seed sowing date of Aug. 1.
Timeline for transplanting seedlings: Seed still takes 7 to 10 days to germinate. After seedling emergence, they need another 4 to 6 weeks to reach optimum transplant stage. Once seedlings are transplanted, they need another 80 growing days for sprouts to size up for harvest. Counting days for a December garden to table date, 80 days plus 6 weeks (42 days) plus 10 germination days, count back 132 days for the planting date, which is mid-July. Gardeners that do not start their own transplants can reduce the days in the garden to 80 days.
The advantage of starting plants from seed is that gardeners can select their own variety and not depend upon varieties sold by nurseries. A second advantage of starting a personal supply of Brussels sprouts from seed is that often Brassica seedlings sold in the summer months are of low quality.
To grow Brussels sprouts in the garden, plant in midsummer for a late autumn harvest. Sow seed a half inch deep, 12-15 inches apart with 24-30 inches between rows.
These little gems are packed with Vitamins A, C, B6, and K; high in fiber; minerals copper, calcium, iron, manganese, phosphorus, and potassium. They have a flavor similar to cabbage but more robust.
Trivia: Brussels sprouts originated in Mediterranean regions, gradually migrated north to Belgium with major production mainly near Brussels where it was called Belgian cabbage.
Ellen Peffley taught horticulture at the college level for 28 years, 25 of those at Texas Tech, during which time she developed two onion varieties. She is now the sole proprietor of From the Garden, a market garden farmette. You can email her at [email protected]
This article originally appeared on Lubbock Avalanche-Journal: Gardening for You: Brussels sprouts are gems in the garden