Thursday, 23 October 2014 21:48

How do Brussels sprouts grow?

How do Brussels sprouts grow?

  • Latin Name:

    Brassica oleracea var. gemmifera

  • Growth:

    USDA hardiness zone: 4 - 10

    Click here to view the USDA Hardiness Zone Map

    Brussels sprouts are a member of the cabbage family grown for their edible buds. They are cruciferous vegetables, along with broccoli, collard greens, kale and kohlrabi. The leafy, green Brussels sprout closely resembles a miniature cabbage, measuring approximately 1 to 1.5 inches in diameter.

    The plant’s edible sprouts grow in helical patterns along the side of long, thick stalks that are approximately 24 to 48 inches in height. The sprouts form in the stalk’s leaf axils, the point where the leaf meets the stem. Sprouts mature over the course of several weeks, starting at the bottom of the stalk and ripening upward. Each stalk produces approximately 2.5 to 3 lbs of sprouts.

    Brussels sprouts are a slow-bearing, long-growing, cool weather plant. Harvest takes place from 90 to 180 days after planting. In most regions, Brussels sprouts are most successful when planted for a fall harvest, as their ideal growing temperature is between 50 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. 

  • Propagation:

    To produce a successful yield, Brussels sprouts are propagated from seed. They can be direct-seeded in USDA hardiness zones 8 and higher.  In zones with more severe frosts, seedlings should be started indoors and transplanted to outdoor beds after the danger of frost has passed.

    Note: Although heavy frosts will damage young plants, exposure to a few light frosts helps Brussels sprouts to develop a sweeter flavor. 


  • Harvest:

    Brussels sprouts mature from the base and have the sweetest flavor when they are still tightly closed and small. 

    Sprouts are cut from the stalk when they reach 1 to 1.5 inches in diameter. Most sprouts reach harvestable maturation starting around 90 days (three months) after planting. Because they are a slow-growing plant and the sprouts are not ready to pick all at once, they are harvested periodically throughout the season, in some cases up to 180 days after planting.

    Alternatively, the entire stalk can be harvested at once by cutting a few inches below the bottom-most bud when the plant’s leaves begin to yellow. 

    Tip: To encourage the development of upper sprouts, pinch off the growing tip of the stalk during late summer. 


  • Storage:

    Stored properly, fresh Brussels sprouts keep for several weeks after picking.

    If they are harvested on the stalk, they stay fresh longer than those picked individually. To store, place the freshly-cut stalk in water in the refrigerator, and break off sprouts as needed.

    Another way to store freshly-harvested Brussels sprouts is to remove the sprouts from the stalk but leave all outer leaves intact, putting them in an open container in the refrigerator. The outer leaves will wilt in open air, but the inner sprout will remain protected. Remove outer leaves before cooking.

    Brussels sprouts that have been removed from the stalk and stripped of their outer leaves can be stored in a plastic bag in the refrigerator’s vegetable crisper, where they will keep for approximately one week.

    To freeze Brussels sprouts, first wash by soaking in a mixture of three tablespoons of vinegar or salt per gallon of water and rinse thoroughly. This will eliminate any unseen insects that may be hiding in the leaves’ outer layers. Sort the sprouts by size and blanche accordingly: three minutes for small sprouts, four minutes for medium-sized sprouts and five minutes for large sprouts. Quick-freeze sprouts by placing on a cookie sheet in the freezer, and then transfer into tightly-packed plastic bags. Frozen sprouts will keep for up to 12 to 14 months.

  • History:

    Although the first written record of Brussels sprouts dates as recently as 1,587 CE, they have a much longer history. The plant’s cabbage-like ancestors are thought to have been first cultivated by ancient Romans, and the Brussels sprouts we know today were likely cultivated as early as the 13th century in what is now Belgium - hence the name, the city of Brussels. 

    The modern-day Brussels sprouts are thought to be a genetic mutation of Savoy cabbage. 

    Some sources say that Founding Father, Thomas Jefferson, introduced Brussels sprouts to the United States colonies, but it is more likely that they arrived in North America via 18th century French settlers in Louisiana.

  • Top Producers:

    The world’s top producers of Brussels sprouts include the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Germany, and the United States. According to FAOSTAT data from 2010, the Republic of China leads the world in production of cabbage and other brassicas, including Chinese, mustard cabbage, bok choi, white, red, and Savoy cabbage, Brussels sprouts, collards, kale and kohlrabi.

  • Varieties:

    There are several varieties and hybrids of Brussels sprouts that range in size, flavor and grow time. Some of the most popular varieties include:  Diablo, Rupine, Long Island, Dmitri, Tasty Nuggets, Jade Cross, Oliver, Seven Hills and Bubbles, and Churchill.

  • Products:

    Brussels sprouts have historically gotten a bad rap on the dinner table, but their health benefits have, in recent years, sparked a Brussels sprouts revolution. No longer are they boiled to bland mushiness and left uneaten on dinner plates.Today, there are a variety of delicious recipes for roasting, sauteing and steaming the sprouts.

  • Top Health Benefits:

    Brussels sprouts are a member of the nutritious cruciferous family, along with broccoli, cauliflower, kale, collard greens, cabbage and kohlrabi. Vegetables belonging to this family are known for their high concentrations of vitamins, fiber, and disease-fighting phytochemicals.

    Brussels sprouts contain an antioxidant powerhouse hybrid of vitamins, offering 243% of the recommended daily intake of vitamin K and 129% the recommended daily intake of vitamin C in just one cup. They also offer good levels of vitamins A,  B1 and B6, as well as minerals such as folate, manganese, copper and potassium. 

    The high levels of vitamin C and A (in the form of beta carotene) and the mineral manganese provide an excellent line of antioxidant defense. Flavonoid antioxidants such as isorhamnetin, quercetin and kaempferol and antioxidants caffeic acid and ferulic acid are also present. Some studies suggest that due to their unique combination of antioxidants, Brussels sprouts have the greatest antioxidant powers of the entire cruciferous vegetable group. 

    Brussels sprouts also have strong anti-inflammatory agents. They are high in glucosinolates, which help regulate the body’s anti-inflammatory system. Their high vitamin K content also adds to their anti-inflammatory qualities, as the vitamin is a direct regulator of inflammatory responses. 

    1.5 cups of Brussels sprouts amounts to just 100 calories, but provides approximately 480 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acids, more than ⅓ the daily recommended daily intake. Omega-3 fatty acids also play a vital role in managing the body’s inflammatory response system.

    Irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s Disease, type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance, rheumatoid arthritis, obesity, and ulcerative colitis are some of the inflammation-related conditions that Brussels sprouts can help prevent. 

    The high fiber content found in Brussels sprouts is vital to the digestive system. One cup contains four grams of fiber, or about ¼ the Recommended Daily Value. Fiber aids the digestive system, reduces constipation, and reduces cholesterol levels, and may lower risk of heart disease and stroke.

    Brussels sprouts' healthy relationship with the body’s anti-inflammatory system, its antioxidant system, and its detox system make them one of the most important known cancer-preventative vegetables.

    Studies link Brussels sprouts to the prevention of bladder, breast, colon, lung, ovarian and prostate cancer.

  • Grow it yourself:

    1.  Start seeds indoors 6 to 8 weeks before the last spring frost. In warm regions, Brussels sprouts may also be direct-seeded four months before the first fall harvest.


    2.  Plant seeds ½ inch deep and in a sunny area, or near a window if starting indoors. If direct-seeding outdoors, sow seeds once daytime temperatures stay above 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Seeds begin to germinate in 2 to 5 days.


    3.  Prepare an outdoor bed 2 to 3 weeks before sowing. Brussels sprouts prefer loose soil rich in organic matter that holds moisture well, with a pH level of 6.0 - 6.5. They grow best in full sun, but will tolerate partial shade.


    4.  Transplant seedlings when they are 4 to 6 weeks old and approximately 6 inches tall. To plant, remove seedlings gently from their pots and soak the root balls in a general plant fertilizer mixed with water. Space plants 24 to 30 inches apart in rows. Bury weak, crooked or spindly plants in the ground up to the first set of leaves to prevent them from becoming top-heavy.


    During their early growth, Brussels sprouts are heavy feeders of nitrogen-rich fertilizer applied every few weeks. When adding fertilizer or organic compost, be careful not to disturb the topsoil, as Brussels sprouts have shallow roots.


    5.  Water regularly throughout the summer growing season to prevent plants from drying out, but do not water to excess - no standing water. As harvest time approaches, begin to reduce waterings.

     6.  Cut the top of the plant off approximately one month prior to harvesting to divert the plant’s energy from making new leaves to developing sprouts, resulting in better and greater yields.

  • Recipe: