If brussels sprouts remind you of cold weather and holiday get-togethers, there’s a good reason! Fall is the best season for this hardy vegetable.
In the past, you had to live in a warm area to find fresh brussels sprouts past winter into the spring. Today fresh brussels sprouts are more widely available than ever.
Can You Buy Brussel Sprouts All Year Round?
Brussel sprouts have become more popular recently and crop growers have created new varieties that have been developed to grow faster, tolerate heat, and yield multiple harvests.
This includes the game-changing “Jade” hybrids, the first sprouts that could be harvested by machine. Brussels sprouts were suddenly much more appealing to commercial growers without the labor costs of hand-picking!
The vast majority of U.S. brussels sprouts are grown along California’s central coast. This region’s average frost pattern also allows for year-round vegetable cultivation. Freezes here are mild, usually occurring in mid-December if at all.
The area around Monterey Bay is especially suited for brussels sprouts. This bay area gets coastal fogs that keep temperatures cool, while the region’s light frosts are ideal for brussels sprouts permaculture.
Lastly, although brussels sprouts are at your grocery store all year, you may find the summer selection isn’t as flavorful. Give frozen brussels sprouts a chance! You might be surprised at their freshness..
Are Brussel Sprouts a Winter Vegetable?
Winter vegetables can be defined two ways: any vegetable that’s harvested during late fall or winter, or one that can survive through winter to produce a crop in the spring. Brussels sprouts are a great example of a winter vegetable, because they actually meet both definitions!
Brussels sprouts are in the cole crop family which also includes cabbage and broccoli. These vegetables are some of the hardiest in your garden. Temperatures between 26-31F won’t kill most cole crops, and brussels sprouts are known to survive even colder temperatures.
Most cold-season vegetables are sown early enough to be harvested before freezing weather. However, because brussels sprouts are so cold-hardy, and because the cold improves their quality, they’re usually planted for a late fall or winter harvest.
Brussels sprouts aren’t just hardy to winter weather; they love it! Hot weather causes loosely-formed sprouts with a strong flavor, while cold weather will help your sprouts develop a mild, sugary taste (https://www.canr.msu.edu/resources/how_to_grow_brussels_sprout).
In warm regions, you can also leave brussels sprouts to overwinter in the ground for a spring crop (https://extension.oregonstate.edu/sites/default/files/documents/12281/growingwintervegetables.pdf). This hardiness makes them a great addition to winter gardens, which are often a gamble. If you get forecasts for a heavy freeze, row covers or mulch can help your brussels sprouts survive to spring.
When Is the Best Time To Buy Brussel Sprouts?
As a cold-loving vegetable, fresh brussels sprouts taste the best when bought during fall and early winter. The second-best time to buy them is early spring.
The highest quality brussels sprouts are harvested during the window between light and heavy frosts. Depending on your hardiness region, this will be sometime between September and December.
If you’re getting brussels sprouts from a local source, such as a co-op or farmer’s market, buy them during these months. Hold off until your area has had two or more light freezes. This increases the chance you’ll buy from plants that got some frost, and these sprouts will be the sweetest.
Why does fall weather yield the most delicious brussels sprouts? For one, this vegetable is very temperature-sensitive. They’ll produce the best yield when average temperatures are 65F or lower during the day.
Day length in the fall is also ideal for brussels sprouts. If they’re planted when the days are growing hotter and longer, the plants will bolt (send up a flower stalk) too early and hurt yields. Days get shorter and cooler through the fall, making it a perfect time to grow brussels sprouts.
Besides fall, early spring sprouts are your best alternative. If your region either has mild winters or gets deep snow cover, you may be able to grow or buy brussels sprouts from an overwintered plant. Generally, sprout growth should pick up once your average day temperatures rise above 52F.
How To Choose Brussel Sprouts
Whether you plan to steam or roast your brussels sprouts, freshness means flavor! That’s why it’s important to know how to choose the highest-quality sprouts for your next side dish.
First, bigger isn’t necessarily better. Small brussels sprouts will be more tender and have a sweeter taste. Most of all, try to select ones that are roughly the same size. This way all your sprouts will cook evenly.
You want firm, compact brussels sprouts. They should feel heavy for their size. Don’t choose sprouts that are lightweight or loosely-formed. “Fluffy” sprouts are caused by hot weather during maturity, meaning these brussels sprouts will be bitter.
Choose brussels sprouts with a bright green color. Avoid dull sprouts or ones with yellow leaves, which both indicate a lack of freshness. Blemished outer leaves can also be a tell-tale sign of inner insect damage.
Although only green sprouts are grown commercially, you might be able to track down red or purple varieties in your area. Check for these exotic colors online, with local growers, or at the farmer’s market.
If you can find them sprouts on the stalk are great to have. Growers often sell whole stalks of brussels sprouts to reduce labor, but this also benefits you; sprouts will stay fresh for longer attached to their stalk. It’s a win-win!
Please comment below with your own thoughts and experiences on getting fresh brussel sprouts.