Due to their nutritional value, brussel sprouts are popular in both commercial and home gardens. Packed with fiber, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, and other minerals and antioxidants, these tiny cabbages have become popular at restaurants and a garden must have.
The crop is considered part of the Brassicas family and is biennial meaning it must complete two growing seasons to complete its life cycle.
It is a frost hardy plant able to grow year round in some environments making the crop a reliable source of food in the garden and a reliable crop for consumer markets.
In this grow trial in Santa Clara County, California, brussel sprout plants were planted in April and harvested from 6 times with the last time being 10 months later in February of the following year. Talk about a long growing season.
Do Brussel Sprouts Grow Above or Underground?
Brussel sprouts grow above ground on thick stalks that stand approximately two to three feet tall and stands on their own like a tower.
The stalks stand erect and the heads of the sprouts grow in batches around the stalk until they are ready to be harvested. These heads appear where the leaf joins the stem and begins developing on the stalk’s lowest leaves.
When the heads are firm and approximately one to two inches in diameter, they are ready to harvest. Any heads larger than two inches have passed peak harvest time. To harvest a brussel sprout head, you just need to snap it off the stalk.
Whether grown commercially or in a home garden, brussel sprouts do best being transplanted instead of direct sown.
This means that first, the crop’s seedlings should be planted six weeks prior to their transplant to the garden space. These seeds can be started indoors or directly in the garden in a protected area, however for home gardening it is recommended to start the seeds indoors as it protect the seedlings completely from wind or other inclement weather.
Brussel sprouts can be planted successively for continuous harvest through the growing season. Some varieties, mostly newer hybrid varieties, do better in the sun than others.
For fall planting, the seeds need to be planted in the beginning of June, then transplanting will take place between Mid-July and August, and harvesting around late November and December and sometimes longer depending on the region.
Due to the long life cycle of this crop, brussel sprout stalks remain in the garden year round. Though they don’t take up much space, the longitude of their lifespan is something to consider when planning out your garden space especially if you live in an area with mild winters where the sprouts will keep producing.
Do Brussel Sprouts Grow on a Trellis?
Though they grow two to three feet tall, brussel sprouts do not need to grow on a trellis. Due to their thick stalks, the crop can stand on its own. This also gives each head equal access to the sunlight.
In addition, brussel sprouts require a high amount of water moisture and soil nutrients. These are transported to each head through the thick stalk.
The crop is built so the heads are small and don’t grow on any sort of branch off the stalk. The location and growth of the brussel sprouts heads is better suited to the nature of nutrient travel through the plant’s stalk.
Brussel sprouts do not spread, because they are not considered a vine crop. Due to the erect stalk, the crop does not spread across garden spaces. Even without a trellis, the crop takes up only a little bit of space in the garden.
The only reason a brussel sprout plant should need a trellis is to prevent the plant from falling over in windy weather or storms. This support, however, does not need to be a trellis and can be whatever you want to use as a stake. Bamboo stakes and garden tie are always useful in the garden.
How Are Brussel Sprouts Grown Commercially?
Commerical brussel sprouts production is highly concentrated in California. East Coast production is based mainly in Long Island, New York.
“Across the entire U.S., 2,541 farms reported harvesting 9,445 acres of Brussels sprouts in 2017, with 9,115acres being harvested for fresh market sales.”Brussel Sprouts – Univeristy of Kentucky College Agriculture, Food, and Environment
Brussel sprouts are a cold weather crop that do best in the fall and winter. For fall commercial production in Kentucky, brussel sprouts are started inside large green houses in the beginning of June. They grow there for 90-100 days, until mid-July, before being transplanted to an outdoor garden.
Though best suited for the cold weather, brussel sprouts do love the sun and require 6-10 hours of direct sunlight after being transplanted. After their transplant, the plant requires another 80-100 days to reach full maturity. For the fall season harvest usually happens in late November or early December.
Check out “How Long Does It Take Brussel Sprouts To Grow?” for more on that.
The fall crop is preferred by markets and consumers because the colder fall weather causes the crop to taste better, more sweet and less bitter.
How is the fall crop colder than the winter? Harvest for the fall crop happens in November or December while the winter crop’s harvest happens in early June.
The season nomenclature for brussel sprout gardening is confusing as the plant is growing and being harvested throughout the year.
The winter season begins with indoor planting in mid-February, transplanting in April, and harvest in mid-June. The crop follows the same growth procedures as the fall crop but is less desirable by market consumers because after developing in hotter conditions, the sprout is looser and “fluffy”, less compact and doesn’t taste as good as the fall harvested sprouts.
Both seasons of planting require lots of sunshine, water, fertilizer, and nutrients. Brussel sprouts are fickle plants and though hardy, need to have their needs met. Brussel sprouts can survive some frost and temperatures as low as 20F, but prefer to grow in 65F to 80F.
Sprouts are ready to be harvested when the heads are firm. Then, the heads can be snapped off and collected for sale.
The sprouts usually mature from the bottom up on the stalk. After a sprout is picked, the two leaf axils it sits between should be removed and discarded.
For commercial farms, brussel sprouts must meet the following qualifications for sale: the heads must be between 1.00 and 2.75 inches in diameter and the head must not have any withering, decay, bug infestation, discoloration. Check out the Brussel Sprouts Grades and Standards produced and enforce by the USDA.