The brussels sprout is a petite member of the cabbage family that actually grows along a tall stalk. They’re famously hardy, but as a “long season” vegetable, it’s difficult to know when they’re ready to harvest.
As a general rule, brussels sprouts won’t be ready for picking until 90-180 days after planting. Because they take so long to grow, it’s important to time planting so that your sprouts mature during the right season.
Ideally, brussels sprouts should be ready for harvest after one or two frosts. Depending on your growing region, this is usually somewhere between October and early December. But they’re ready to be harvested at any time after they reach full size, 1-2″.
Worried about frost damage? Don’t be! Like its family members broccoli and cabbage, brussels sprouts can withstand heavy frost and air temperatures below 28F.
Brussels sprouts often appear on the holiday table for a reason; they taste best when picked during cold weather. In fact, their flavor profile notably improves after frost. This is because freezing temperatures cause the sprouts’ sugars to become more concentrated.
When Are Brussel Sprouts Ready To Pick?
Keep in mind it’s always best to pick your brussels sprouts in late fall or early winter. Brussels sprouts are harvested later than other vegetables because of the way cold improves their flavor. If your sprouts mature under hot or dry conditions, they can end up small and bitter.
If you’re wondering whether your sprouts themselves are mature, there are a few signs to watch for. You want to see compact, well-formed sprouts running up the stem of your plant. They should be deep green and firm to the touch, not soft or light for their size. Loosely-formed sprouts are usually the result of hot weather during maturity.
Of course, sprout size is the easiest way to tell whether your plants are ready for picking. Aim to harvest when your brussels sprouts are between 1 and 2 inches in diameter, or a little smaller than a golf ball.
Brussels sprouts mature from the bottom of the stem upward. Once the lower sprouts look ready, you can harvest those only and leave the higher sprouts until they mature. As long as the sprouts’ texture and color is good, they can also be harvested young (provided they’re at least 1 inch big).
How To Pick Brussel Sprouts From the Plant
Brussels sprouts grow upwards along a thick, central plant stalk. To harvest, pinch off the leaf at the sprout’s base, then twist or snap off the sprout close to the stalk. Aim to harvest before the lower leaves start turning yellow.
If your sprouts won’t twist off the stalk easily, they probably aren’t quite ready for harvest. You can also pick brussels sprouts by cutting them from the stalk with garden shears.
As you harvest the stalk over time, remove any leaves below the lowest picked spot. This isn’t required, but it will help speed up growth of the remaining sprouts. Another 2-3 leaves can be removed each week. Commercial growers will often strip away all but the topmost tuft of leaves!
Some gardeners prefer to harvest the stalk whole. Once temperatures dip below 30F, remove all the leaves from your brussels sprouts, including the very top leaves. You can then cut the stalks at the soil surface or uproot the plant entirely (thanks to their shallow roots).
Store whole stalks by hanging or stacking them in a cool place like a cellar. Only gather sprouts as-needed, since they’ll stay fresher longer on the stalk. Store any loose brussels sprouts unwashed in the refrigerator.
How Many Times Can You Harvest Brussel Sprouts?
As long as the central stalk keeps growing, the plant will keep producing sprouts on new top sections of the stalk. You can continue harvesting the plant as long as cold temperatures don’t interrupt growth. However, brussels sprouts won’t regrow at the spots where you’ve trimmed them in the past.
Brussels sprouts are biennial, meaning the plants can survive two years. Despite this, most gardeners replant them annually. Since sprouts can’t regrow along the harvested sections of stalk, your yields would decrease if you held them over to a second year.
For best crop flavor, it’s also recommended to “top” the plant at 2-3 feet high by removing the flower stalk. Topping focuses the plant’s energy into healthy sprouts. Unfortunately, topping also removes the site of vertical growth. If the stalk can’t grow taller, it can’t keep putting out sprouts.
For these reasons, don’t expect more than one growing season’s harvest from your brussels sprouts. One plant will yield about 50-100 sprouts total.
Brussels sprouts’ long growth period and finicky weather preferences take a lot of planning to get right. They’re hardy enough to survive winter temperatures but the second-year yields from a spring harvest will probably disappoint you so consider growing the crop as an annual.
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