In the following article – from her wonderful book: Organic Vegetable Gardening - Xanthe shares her hints and tips for growing strong and healthy Brussels sprouts.
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The hardy Brussels sprout thrives in the garden throughout the winter months and its Dr Seuss form makes it a spectacular addition to any garden. It thrives best in a colder garden where a good frost undoubtedly adds to the flavour.
Brussels sprouts are particularly susceptible to pests and diseases, so care should be taken to provide a good free-draining soil to prevent fungal diseases. Too much nitrogen will cause bolting, so apart from some compost dug through the soil at planting, you won’t need to feed them during their growth period.
If you are in an area with extended periods of cold (where frosts may last for 14 days or more), avoid growing during the coldest period. A small handful of lime dug into the soil at planting (if the soil has not yet been limed this season) will assist growth.
Sowing and planting
They are great plants for the potager: the sprouts form vertically on the stems, making them space efficient and excellent for interplanting. Just 3–4 plants will supply a productive crop for the average household.
Brussels sprouts, being top heavy, need to be planted deep and for this reason they do best planted out as seedlings. If you wish to grow from seed, do so in trays and select the strongest plants for your crop. Plant at 50cm spacings in groups of 3, giving the plants needed support.
Brussels sprouts grow well with aromatic plants such as dill, celery, chamomile, sage, peppermint and rosemary, and with vegetables such as potatoes, beets and onions. Avoid strawberries, beans and tomatoes.
Planting with beneficial flowers such as nasturtium, French or African marigolds and pyrethrum will help deter pests.
While they may not need additional nitrogen in the soil, a little Epsom salts will prevent yellowing caused by magnesium deficiency. Mix a couple of tablespoons into a watering can once a month, when watering. A foliage feed of fish or seaweed liquid fertiliser, once or twice during the growing season, will also give the plants an additional boost that assists in disease resistance without risking bolting.
When the plants get to a reasonable height, tie the group together with garden twine or old stockings to provide stability in high winds.
Pests are a problem with Brussels sprouts, so being proactive in using natural measures to deter is important. Regularly laying shell around the base of the plants will help to avoid slug and snail damage. Use a chilli and garlic spray to reduce other insect damage but also make use of companion planting, such as peppermint to deter white butterflies. A copper spray may be required if you see signs of powdery mildew or other fungal diseases.
Chilli and garlic spray
10 medium to large garlic cloves
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
5 chillies, chopped
2 litres boiling water
2 tablespoons grated Sunlight soap
1Ž4 cup warm water
Crush and soak garlic cloves in the vegetable oil for a day or two. Pour the boiling water over the chopped chillies and leave a few days to soak. Combine the mixtures and stir well. Strain repeatedly through a muslin cloth to extract all the goodness. Add grated soap dissolved in warm water (this ensures the spray will stick to plants). Use a hand sprayer to treat plants as required, diluting by half with water when using on young seedlings.
The spray will keep for up to two months but is most effective when fresh. Store in a clearly marked container, away from children.
As is the case with many crops, the young small sprouts are the sweetest, so don’t think bigger is better — and be assured there are plenty more to come. You can harvest two crops from each plant if you remove the sprouts carefully, leaving as much of the stem or spur as possible. In spring after the sprouts have finished, the plants will send out tender shoots which are a gourmet addition to a plentiful season.