Brassica oleracea Gemmifera Group or Brussels sprouts are a cool-season vegetable crop grown for its clusters of tight buds produced along the stems. They are known for their distinctive flavor, which has been described as nutty or slightly bitter. They are considered nutritious and high in vitamins and minerals such as vitamins C and K, fiber, and antioxidants.
What are Brussels Sprouts?
- Brussels Sprouts belong to the Brassicaceae or cabbage family, which includes broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, radishes, and horseradish.
- This cruciferous vegetable is native to the coastal regions of Belgium, around the city of Brussels. It was first cultivated in the 13th century and has since become a popular vegetable worldwide.
- Brussels Sprouts grow best in cool weather and tolerate frost.
- They are small, cabbage-like vegetables that grow on a tall stem, reaching 2-3 feet in length (60-90 cm). They are typically round or oval in shape, with a diameter of ½-1 inch (1-2 cm).
- The sprouts are attached to the stem in a spiral pattern and are usually harvested when they are fully mature, which is typically in late autumn or early winter.
- Their flavor is often described as nutty or earthy, with a slightly bitter taste.
Health Benefits of Brussels Sprouts
Brussels sprouts are a nutritious vegetable with several health benefits. Some of the most notable benefits include:
- Rich in vitamins and minerals: Brussels sprouts are a good source of vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C, vitamin K, folate, and potassium.
- High in fiber: These cruciferous vegetables are high in fiber, which can help to regulate digestion and support gut health.
- Low in calories: Brussels sprouts are low in calories, making them a great choice for anyone looking to control their weight.
- Antioxidant properties: They contain antioxidants, which can help to protect cells from damage and reduce the risk of certain diseases, such as cancer.
- Supports heart health: The high levels of potassium in Brussels sprouts can help to support heart health by regulating blood pressure and reducing the risk of heart disease.
Cooking with Brussels Sprouts
Brussels sprouts are a versatile and nutritious vegetable that can be used in various dishes. Here are some common uses:
- Roasting: Roasting in the oven with oil, salt, and pepper is a popular way to prepare them. This method brings out their natural sweetness and nutty flavor and makes a delicious side dish.
- Steaming: Steaming Brussels sprouts is another popular way to prepare them. This method helps to retain the nutrients and flavor of the sprouts and makes a healthy and tasty side dish.
- Sautéing: Sautéing in a pan with oil, garlic, and other seasonings is a quick and easy way to prepare them. This method adds depth of flavor and can make a tasty side dish or main course.
- Salad: Raw or slightly cooked Brussels sprouts can be sliced or shredded and used in salads for a crunchy, nutty flavor.
- Soup: Brussels sprouts can be blended into soups for a creamy and nutritious addition.
- Stir-fry: They can be stir-fried with other vegetables and seasonings for a delicious and healthy main course.
Growing Brussels Sprouts
Growing Brussels sprouts can be a fun and rewarding experience, and the following steps can help you get started:
- Brussels sprouts grow 24-36 inches tall (60-90 cm) and 18-24 inches wide (45-60 cm).
- They perform best in full sun in organically rich, consistently moist, well-drained soils with a pH between 6.0 and 7.
- Prepare the soil in advance by adding well-rotted manure or garden compost.
- Depending on the variety, Brussels Sprouts take 80-100 days on average from planting to harvesting.
- Brussels sprouts are a cool-season crop – they thrive in temperatures between 45-75°F (7-24°C).
- This cruciferous vegetable will tolerate a low temperature of 20°F (-6°C) for short periods of time and grow poorly above 75°F (24°C). A temperature higher than 75°F (24°C) can induce bolting.
- Brussels sprouts are typically started from seed and can be sown directly into the ground or started indoors and then transplanted.
- In regions with below-freezing temperatures in winter, they are best planted in early-mid summer for a fall or early winter harvest.
- In mild and warm winter areas, they are best planted in mid-late summer for a winter harvest.
- Sow the seeds about 1/2 inch deep (1 cm) and 2-3 inches apart (5-7 cm). Water the seeds gently after planting to help settle the soil and encourage germination.
- When the seedlings are 2-3 inches tall (5-7 cm), thin them so that the final spacing is 18-24 inches apart with 36 inches (90 cm) between rows.
- Some leaf removal is often done as the sprouts begin to develop.
- Feed with a nitrogen-rich fertilizer after thinning. Repeat every 3 to 4 weeks.
- Mulch to retain moisture, keep the soil temperature cool, and control weeds.
- Provide support: As the plants grow, they may need staking or caging to keep them upright and prevent damage from wind or heavy rain.
Crop rotation: Brussels sprouts are a member of the Brassica family, including other vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage. It’s recommended to plant them in a different part of the garden each year and to avoid planting other Brassica crops in the same area for at least 2-3 years. This can help to reduce the build-up of pests and diseases that are specific to the Brassica family and can also help to maintain soil fertility.
Harvesting and Storing
Harvesting Brussels sprouts is a simple process and can be done as follows:
- Timing: Brussels sprouts are ready to harvest when they are about 1 inch (2.5 cm) in diameter. The lower sprouts will usually mature first, so start by harvesting these and then continue to harvest the upper sprouts as they mature.
- Method: To harvest them, simply twist them off the stem, taking care not to damage the remaining sprouts.
- Continued production: After you have harvested the lower sprouts, the plant will continue to produce sprouts on the upper part of the stem. You can continue to harvest sprouts until the plant stops producing or until the first hard frost.
- Storage: Freshly harvested Brussels sprouts will keep for about a week in the refrigerator. To extend their shelf life, you can store them in a plastic bag in the refrigerator or blanch them and freeze them for later use.
Pest and Diseases
Like many vegetable crops, Brussels sprouts can be susceptible to pests and diseases. Some of the most common problems include:
- Aphids: These small, soft-bodied insects feed on the sap of the plants and can cause yellowing, stunted growth, and reduced yields.
- Black rot: It is caused by the bacterium Xanthomonas campestris and is most active in warm and humid conditions. Symptoms include yellowing of the lower leaves, followed by wilting and death of the plant.
- Cabbage loopers: These green caterpillars feed on the plant’s leaves and can cause significant damage.
- Cabbage maggots: The larvae of the cabbage root maggot feed on the roots of the plants, causing stunted growth, wilting, and death.
- Cabbageworms: They are the larvae of the large white butterfly (Pieris rapae). They feed on the leaves of the plants, causing significant damage and reducing yields.
- Clubroot: This soil-borne disease causes stunted growth and wilting and can render the soil unsuitable for growing Brassica crops for several years.
- Downy mildew: This fungal disease causes yellow spots on the leaves, which can eventually turn brown and cause the leaves to wilt and die.
- Flea beetles: These small, black beetles feed on the leaves of the plant and can cause holes in the leaves and reduced growth.
- Stink bugs: The bugs feed on the leaves and stems of the plants, causing holes and discoloration. In severe cases, stink bug damage can lead to reduced yields and plant death.
- White mold: This is a fungal disease caused by the growth of fungal spores (sclerotia) in the soil, which can infect the stems and leaves of the plants, causing wilting, stunted growth, and plant death.
Brussels Sprouts: Companion Planting
Brussels sprouts can be paired with a variety of companion plants to help improve growth, reduce pest and disease pressure, and maximize yields. Some of the best companion plants include:
- Herbs: Planting herbs such as rosemary, sage, thyme, mint, and dill near Brussels sprouts can help to deter pests and improve flavor.
- Flowers: Interplanting flowers such as sweet alyssum, calendula, chamomile, and nasturtium can help to attract beneficial insects that prey on pests. They also could be used as trap crops.
- Root vegetables: Growing root vegetables such as carrots, beets, and radishes near Brussels sprouts can help to improve soil structure and nutrient availability.
- Alliums: Planting alliums such as onions can help to deter pests and improve flavor.
- Legumes: Planting legumes such as beans, peas, and clover near Brussels sprouts can help to improve soil fertility by fixing nitrogen in the soil.
While every effort has been made to describe these plants accurately, please keep in mind that height, bloom time, and color may differ in various climates. The description of these plants has been written based on numerous outside resources.