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Brussels Sprouts


From a chance mutation (genetic modification happening naturally - also known as a 'sport'. A word Chrysanthemum growers are very familiar with), of a cabbage, somewhere near Brussels, about 200 years ago, came the Brussels Sprout. Quickly establishing itself as a garden and kitchen favourite. Breeders have developed this vegetable probably more than any other. The old open pollinated varieties, with their huge variations from one plant to another, have been replaced with a wide range of F1 Hybrid varieties. These F1 varieties are even in growth, the buttons are tight, and the cropping is predictable. Even Amateurs who are reluctant to buy expensive F1 seed for other types of vegetable, will brace themselves and spend the extra. The difference between open pollinated and F1 is vast. F1 Hybrids are definately worth paying the extra for. The belief that F1 plants produce all their buttons at once is nonsense. You start picking at the bottom and gradually work upwards, just the same way. F1's hold in good condition for much longer than open pollinated too.


Cultivation is very much the same as other Brassicas. Prepare a Seed Bed in a Cold Frame in March or open ground in April and sow thinly into shallow drills 15cm apart. Thinning may be required or transplant into Nursery Beds, 10cm apart to allow the plants to develop. Plant out when the plants are about 10cm high. This will be from late May and through June. Approximately 60 x 60cm spacing is required. Water the plants to settle them in. Hopefully they will droop for a few days and then pick up. Brussels Sprouts do better in the long term if they go through this few days of drooping and then recovering. Module grown plants, which are put out into the ground without check, do not seem to produce such good firm sprouts, but instead make more leaf. In the case of Brussels sprouts a check is beneficial. Professional Market Gardeners know this. Few Amateurs nowadays do. Further watering shouldn't be needed. Average rainfall is enough.


The plot chosen for the crop should not have had Brassicas in it for at least 3 years. A 3 to 4 year crop rotation will help prevent the build up of soil pests. The plot should be cultivated well in advance of planting out. Preferably the previous Autumn. Left rough overwinter, then knocked down and levelled before planting out. The firmer the soil is, the better. Manuring should be done in the previous season. A highish pH of 6.7 to 7.0 is ideal. Add lime in Autumn if the ground needs it and leave it to wash in to achieve this pH. Club root shouldn't be a problem at 6.7+.


Ideally a soil test will have been carried out, but if not choose a fertilizer which is high in Nitrogen. The proportions of NPK should be 4:1:2 (parts by percentage, and multiples of, eg 20:5:10 would be ideal). Top dress once a month during the growing season with Nitro Chalk (calcium ammonium nitrate) not often found in Garden Centres but is available by Mail Order. Dried Blood will do, but isn't as good. A better organic high nitrogen fertilizer is Urea. This can be bought also by Mail Order. It is used in liquid feeds for quick release nitrogen. Often called Ureic nitrogen (in plain English, it is Urine).


Spray regularly with a Contact Insecticide to kill Caterpillars. An Insecticide drench around the plants a few times will take care of Cabbage root fly larvae. Hoe regularly, but do not loosen the soil around the plants. Brussels Sprouts often become top heavy and begin falling over. Pull some soil up around the plants with a Draw hoe and firm well, should this happen.


As with all Brassicas, it is wize to protect the plants from Birds. Plastic garden netting or wire netting can be used, and then removed when the plants are about 20cm tall.


There are varieties available that crop as early as August and as late as March. Choose an early mid and late variety if a long cropping period is required. The main cropping period is October to January. When clearing the crop, smash the stems and roots up with a hammer, before putting on the compost heap. The plants by this time are very woody, and would take about 2 years to rot otherwise.







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