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Brussels Sprouts

UK Garden Centre - Information about Brussels Sprouts

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You must face the fact that if your brussels sprouts disappoint the family mealtime then you are to blame. Loose, open sprouts have little flavour but they are not caused by poor weather – the usual reason is loose soil or incorrect planting. Even if the sprouts are picked in peak condition – firm, fresh and tightly packed, they can be ruined by overcooking – the traditional ‘landlady’ sprout which has lost most of its colour and all of its crispness. Sprouts should never disappoint if you choose one of the modern F1 hybrids and the instructions here are followed. You can begin picking in September and finish in March if you grow both early and late varieties, each plant remaining productive for about eight weeks. According to the books (if not the tasting tests) sprouts are at their best when they have frost on them. The books will also tell you to plant them about 2 ½ ft (75cm) apart – if your plot is a small one forget these instructions – plant Peer Gynt at 18in (45cm) intervals for an early crop of small but delicious sprouts.

Seed facts
Expected germination time: 7-12 days
Approximate number per ounce: 8000
Expected yield per plant: 2lb (1kg)
Life expectancy of stored seed: 4 years.
Approximate time between sowing and picking: 28 weeks (early varieties); 36 weeks (late varieties)
Ease of cultivation: Not difficult, but you must follow the basic cultural rules and watch out for a variety of pests.

Soil facts
· The main cause of failure is planting in loose, infertile soil. The ground must be firm and adequately supplied with humus.
· Pick a reasonably sunny spot with shelter from high winds for the place where the plants grow to maturity. Dig in autumn – work in plenty of well-rotted manure or compost if the soil is poor. The ground must not be acid – lime, if necessary, in winter.
· In spring apply Growmore fertilizer – rake in Bromophos if cabbage root fly is usually a problem. Do not fork over the surface before planting the seedlings – tread down gently, rake lightly and remove surface rubbish.

Sowing and Planting
Sow very thinly ½ in (1cm) deep in rows that are 6in (15in) apart. Cover with soil.
· Thin the seedlings to prevent them from becoming weak and spindly. They should be about 3in (7cm) apart in the rows.
· The seedlings are ready for transplanting when they are 4-6in (10-15cm) high. Water the rows the day before moving the transplants to their permanent quarters. Plant firmly, setting the seedlings with their lowest leaves just above the soil surface. Leave 2 ½ ft (75cm) between the plants and water after planting.

Calendar
· Sow an early variety outdoors in mid March and plant out in mid May to provide sprouts during October and November. To obtain September sprouts, sow the seeds under cloches in early March and plant out in early May.
· For a later crop which will produce sprouts between December and March, sow a late variety in April and plant out in June.

Looking after the crop
· Birds are a problem – protect the seedlings from sparrows and the mature crop from pigeons.
· Hoe regularly and water the young plants in dry weather. The mature crop rarely needs watering if the soil has been properly prepared. Brussels sprouts respond remarkably well to foliar feeding in early summer. Both caterpillars and aphids can be a menace – spray with Crop Saver.
· As autumn approaches earth-up around the stems and stake tall varieties before the high winds of winter arrive. The old practice of removing the tops of the plants hasten maturity is no longer recommended.

Harvesting
· Begin picking when the sprouts (‘buttons’) at the base of the stem have reached the size of a walnut and are still tightly closed. Snap them off with a sharp downward tug or cut them off with a sharp knife.
· Work steadily up the stem at each cropping session, removing yellowed leaves and any open (‘blown’) sprouts as you go. Remember to remove only a few sprouts at any one time from each individual stem.
· When all the sprouts have gone, cut off the stem tops and cook as cabbage. Dig up and dispose of the woody stems.

Varieties
F1 hybrid varieties
The modern F1 hybrids are becoming increasingly popular. This popularity is due to the compact growth habit of most of them and the large number of uniform buttons which crowd the stems. The sprouts tend to mature all at the same time, which is an advantage if you intend to freeze them, but is often quoted as a disadvantage if you wish to pick over a protracted period. This disadvantage is overrated – the F1 hybrids generally hold their mature buttons for many weeks without ‘blowing’.
Peer Gynt: The favourite brussels sprout which you will find in all the catalogues. The medium-sized buttons appear early September-December with November as the peak month.
Citadel: A better choice than Peer Gynt if you want a later variety which will be reaching its peak on Christmas Day. The dark green sprouts are not large but they are highly recommended for freezing.
Widgeon: A new variety which crops at about the same time as Citadel but is claimed to have better disease resistance and a better flavour.
Welland: Like Citadel and Widgeon, this variety is at its most productive stage in December and January. It has a single claim to fame – the sprouts are bigger than any other listed F1 hybrid.
Perfect Line: Another mid-season variety which fills the gap between the earlier ones like Peer Gynt and the really late ones like Achilles and Fortress. Perfect Line is recommended by the experts as an extremely reliable variety.
Achilles: The catalogues will tell you that this late (December to March) variety holds its sprouts for an extremely long period and is a heavy cropper. They may not tell you about its annoying habit of falling over if not properly earthed-up and staked.
Rampart: Another late variety which holds its sprouts for a long period without blowing. Tall-growing – the sprouts are quite large and noted for their flavour.
Fortress: You can’t do much better than Fortress if you want a late variety for picking between January and March. The dark green buttons are very firm and the tall plants are unaffected by abnormally cold weather.
Zid Fasolt: A late variety which is rather more compact than Rampart and Fortress, and with smaller sprouts. A good variety for freezing.

Standard varieties
The old favourites, sometimes called ordinary or open-pollinated varieties, have now been largely overshadowed by the F1 hybrids. Their sprouts have none of the uniformity or high quality of the modern hybrids and they quite quickly blow if not picked off the stem once they have matured. Though no longer recommended by some experts they still retain one or two advantages. Here you will find the largest sprouts and perhaps the best flavours, and the pleasure of picking each sprout as it comes to perfection.
Early Half Tall: An alternative choice to the F1 hybrid Peer Gynt if you want a compact plant which will crop between September and Christmas.
Bedford: The market gardeners of Bedfordshire originated this variety, noted for its large sprouts on tall stems. There is Bedford-Fillbasket if you want the heaviest yields and the largest sprouts, and Bedford-Asmer Monitor if you want a compact plant for a small garden.
Noisette: The gourmet’s sprout – small buttons with a pronounced nutty flavour. A French favourite – they say it should be braised in white wine.
Rubine: The red sprout – serve raw in salad or boil it like any other variety. Not just a novelty – the flavour is claimed to be unexcelled by any other type.
Cambridge No. 5: A late variety producing large sprouts. Once popular but now disappearing from the catalogues.
Roodnerf: A group of varieties – Roodnerf-Seven Hills, Roodnerf-Early Button, etc., which keep their sprouts without blowing for a longer period than other standard sprouts.

Troubles
See Brassicas.


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