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.
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.
· 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.
· 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
· 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.
· 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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.