Brussels sprouts are a nutritious, delicious vegetable, and they’re especially tasty when fresh. Winter isn’t known for freshly harvested vegetables in most regions, though, which can put a sour mood on an otherwise sweet season. There are some vegetables that can still be grown during winter, and if you guessed that Brussels sprouts are one of them you’d be correct! You’re in the right place to find out how to get started on your winter Brussels sprout garden, because we’re about to tell you everything you need to know.
When should you start your winter Brussels sprouts?
There are a few factors to consider when deciding when to plant your Brussels sprouts. Firstly, you should consider how long Brussels sprouts take to mature. Faster maturing varieties, such as Tasty Nuggets, take three or four months to mature, while the slower growing varieties, such as Falstaff, can take five or six months. For slower growing varieties, you may want to plant in mid-late spring for a winter harvest. Faster growing varieties can be started in autumn for a late winter or early spring harvest.
Weather is another factor to take into account. Brussels sprouts are naturally cold tolerant plants, and can survive temperatures well below freezing for short periods of time. However, they don’t fare quite as well in the heat. They can grow in a wide range of hardiness zones, from zone 10 to zone 3, but the planting time will vary depending on your zone.
If you live in a region with a hot summer and mild winter, an autumn planting time is ideal. For more northern regions, with a mild summer and a cold winter, you can plant in spring or autumn. In areas with particularly brutal winters, it’s recommended to plant your Brussels sprouts in mid-summer and harvest them in early- to mid-winter, before you have any sustained freezes.
How to get started
Due to how long they take to mature, many gardeners start their Brussels sprout seeds indoors, then transplant them into the garden after four or five weeks. This is a great choice for slower growing varieties, especially if you want to grow them through winter for an early spring harvest. Starting them indoors allows you to protect them from the heat of summer.
Whether indoors or outdoors, plant your Brussels sprouts in soil that’s well-draining and rich in organic matter. Ideally the soil should also be slightly acidic, as this helps to prevent severe cases of clubroot disease. Clubroot disease affects members of the cabbage family, such as broccoli, kale, and Brussels sprouts.
Choose a planting site that gets at least six hours of sun a day. If you’re starting your plants in early autumn, when the weather is still warm, try to give them some shade in the afternoon. Morning sun is ideal, since the temperatures are typically cooler than in the afternoon, when the sunlight is more concentrated.
Caring for your Brussels sprouts
Brussels sprouts need consistent moisture to thrive. They’re not particularly drought tolerant, and need roughly an inch to an inch and a half of water each week. Water them below the leaves to avoid getting the leaves wet as much as possible. A layer of mulch can help with water retention, and can give your Brussels sprouts some protection if you’re expecting a hard freeze.
Brussels sprouts are also heavy feeders and require a lot of nitrogen and phosphorus. Fertilizers can make up the difference if you find your soil lacking. Some gardeners prefer to use a phosphorus heavy fertilizer soon after planting to promote leaf growth, and nitrogen a few months later. Others choose a single application of slow or continuous release fertilizer. Testing your soil’s nutrient balance can help you decide on the right fertilizer.
How and when should you harvest them?
Brussels sprouts should be harvested three to six months after planting, depending on the variety. The Brussels sprouts should be firm, but not hard. Unless the variety you’re growing is unusually large or small, they should be just an inch or two across.
Start from the bottom of the plant, as these sprouts grow first and ripen first. Work your way up the plant, harvesting as they ripen rather than all at once. Gently twist or snap them off of the plant. Harvesting over a period of time also encourages new growth, which results in a larger harvest.
Now you’re ready to grow your own Brussels sprouts for a plentiful and tasty winter harvest. Although it can seem odd to grow vegetables in winter, Brussels sprouts are well suited to it. In fact, winter-grown Brussels sprouts taste sweeter than others, due to the process of chill-sweetening. This occurs when the plant converts starches to sugars, to keep warm, and results in a sweet, tender Brussels sprout you’re sure to enjoy!
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