An article by Travis Key from Lazy Dog Farm
Brussels sprouts are one of those veggies that you either love or hate. Most kids hate them. But as they get older and their taste buds mature, they often change their mind about these delicious little veggie nuggets.
We’ve been growing Brussels sprouts for a while on our farm and have learned quite a few things over the years. Initially, we would only get a decent Brussels sprout harvest every couple of years. But the more we tried, the better we got at growing them. Below we’ll share some of our Brussels sprout growing secrets that we’ve learned over the years.
1. Choose a Hybrid Variety
If you search online for Brussels sprout seeds, you’ll find at least 10-20 different varieties that you can grow in your backyard garden. We haven’t tried every single Brussels sprout variety on the market, but we’ve tried many of them. Our experience is that the hybrid varieties always perform better and provide larger harvests than the heirloom varieties.
Heirloom vegetables are popular because the taste is often claimed to better than hybrids, especially with tomatoes. But we haven’t found any differences in flavor between heirloom and hybrid Brussels sprout varieties. Heirloom or open-pollinated varieties are also popular due to the ability to save seeds from these varieties and replant them. But Brussels sprouts are one of those vegetables that you don’t want to go to seed. You’ll want to harvest the plants before that happens.
The main difference we’ve found between the hybrid and heirloom varieties is that hybrids grow much taller and give you significantly more sprouts per stalk. They also tend to be more vigorous and grow faster once the seeds germinate. Our favorite variety currently is called Dagan, but there are many good hybrid offerings on the market.
2. Plant in the Fall (in most places)
Unless you live in the northern states and have a very mild summer, you’ll want to plant Brussels sprouts in the fall and grow them throughout the winter. The plants are relatively cold-tolerant once established in your garden soil. Last year we experienced lows of 17°F for a couple days in December and it didn’t bother our plants at all.
Not only do they not mind the cold, they actually seem to like it. We’ve had our best Brussels sprout harvests in years where we got some really cold weather during the winter months. It seems like a good shot of cold is what the plants need for solid sprout production in late winter or early spring.
Much like their relatives cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower, you’ll want to transplant Brussels sprouts. Start the seeds in your greenhouse or seed starting room 5-6 weeks before your intended in-ground planting date. We like to aim for an early October planting date here in south Georgia. That gives the plants several weeks to establish and start growing before cooler winter temperatures arrive.
We like to place our transplants on a 1’ spacing along the row. We usually plant two rows, so we’ll give ourselves 3-4’ between rows. As the plants grow, they can get large. You’ll want to give yourself plenty of room to work between the plants and keep weeds to a minimum as they grow. Brussels sprouts can take 120-150 days to grow, so patience is a must!
3. Feed Them Well
This is the most valuable tip we can provide for growing Brussels sprouts. We’ve learned in the last few years that they are very heavy feeders, even more than their cabbage relatives. Last year we planted Brussels sprouts in an area that had been previously grazed by our chickens, and we had the best harvest ever. We also fertilized the plants 2-3 times as they grew to give them even more nutrients.
Start with a pre-plant fertilizer at transplanting or a week prior. Mix 4-8 ounces of AgroThrive General Purpose in a 5-gallon bucket and apply it to the soil that will be planted. Once the transplants start growing new leaves, keep feeding them with AgroThrive General Purpose every 2-3 weeks.
Don’t worry too much about over-fertilization with Brussels sprouts. We have yet to find a limit as far as how much they can take. The more we feed them, the better they grow and the more sprouts they produce. Feed them well and they should produce well for you.
4. Don’t Prune Them
There is a significant amount of misinformation online about pruning Brussels sprout plants as they grow. We’ve fallen for it ourselves. You’ll see gardeners that recommend pruning the side leaves to promote more sprout production. You’ll also see gardeners promoting cutting the tops off the plants to promote more even sprout production.
We’ve done several trials with pruning side leaves and pruning the tops of the plants versus not doing anything. The results of our trials showed that no pruning is necessary, and that it makes no significant difference on sprout production. The key is feeding them well. Don’t fall for the pruning tricks. Pick a good variety and feed them.
Thousands of gardeners have been tuning in to The Lazy Dog Farm YouTube channel where Travis covers a variety topics ranging from how to successfully start seedlings to how to make a flavorful hotsauce that packs a punch. Accompanied by his wife Brooklyn and their two boys, the gardens on their 2 acre homestead in southwest Georgia are always filled with a wide variety of vegetables that are enjoyed fresh or preserved for later.