Grow Brussels Sprouts
To my mind the humble Brussels Sprout is the Queen of vegetables, full of nutrients and antioxidants, but the main reason I love them is because they taste really good. I know alot ot people complain that they are a 'windy' vegetable, but if they're cooked properly there shouldn't be any gas.
When I was a kid, parents cooked vegetables to a mush. There was the old joke that the Sprouts for Christmas dinner needed to go on the hob around Easter, but then in the 90's things went the other way, and veg became very al dente. The thing is with Sprouts, they do need to be reasonably well cooked. I find if they're al dente they continue to ferment in your belly!
As vegetables go, Brussels Sprouts are robust and easy to grow, but they do have a long growing season, so a bit of patience is needed.
I begin my Sprouts off in my little plastic greenhouse in early March, in either seed trays of potting compost, toilet roll inners filled with compost, or home made paper pots. If using a seed tray, water the compost first, then sprinkle the Sprout seeds thinly over the surface. cover with a fine layer of compost. If using toilet roll inners or paper pots just put a few seeds in each one. Pop these in your greenhouse, or on a sunny windowsill in the house and keep them damp.
Pricking out Brussels Sprouts
Once the seedlings start to grow the trays may need turning around daily to stop the seedlings from growing in one direction towards the sun. This is particularly so if you have them on a windowsill. When they have two true leaves, the seedlings in seed trays will need pricking out into pots (those already in pots should have more space to grow on anyway).
Fill a pot with compost and make a hole in it. close to the edge of the pot. i find an old pencil is an ideal tool. Hold the seedling gently by one of its leaves and lift it from the compost by placing the pencil underneath it. Transplant it into the other pot and gently firm. Repeat this until all seedlings have been pricked out, and water well.
Soil Preparation for Brussels Sprouts
Sprouts like a rich soil as they are greedy feeders, but they also like it firm. In late winter or early spring, I dig in either well rotted home made compost, or organic manure. I tend not to use farmyard muck, as You are never sure what chemicals have been used in the raising of the animals, or what weed seeds it will bring with it.
Covering the soil with black plastic at this time is unsightly, but helps to warm the soil temperature before planting out.
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Planting Brussels Sprouts
When all danger of frosts has passed, remove the black plastic (if used) and firm over the soil. Plant the Brussels Sprouts seedlings around two or three feet apart, as these are big plants. If you have loose soil (as mine tends to be) don't despair, try planting three plants and tie their tops together like a tripod, this stops the wind from flatenning them.
If you want firm, tight sprouts, then plant them deeper and really firm them in well. If you want the sprouts to swell quickly, pinch out the growing tips of the plant, but don't discard them as they make good eating when steamed with a bit of butter.
Cabbage Root Fly
This little pest can be a serious, well, pest at times. The fly lays its eggs on the stem of the brassica plant, just at the surface of the soil. When the maggot hatches out, it burrows into the plant destroying the root system and causing it to keel over. The way to prevent this is to simply cut a collar of cardboard and slip it around the stem of the brassica, on the surface of the soil. By the time the cardboard has rotted, the plant will be too big for the fly to bother with.
Care of brussels Sprouts
I tend to water my plants only if there has been no rain for several days (in other words rarely), as I prefer them to put out roots to find their own water. However, I do feed them regularly with organic fertilizer such as pelletted chicken manure (I just need to find a way to stop my Jack Russles from eating it too!).
The Sprouts will need protection from butterflies in the summer, as their caterpillers can strip a plant in a day. The best method is to stick four poles around the plants and then drape netting over them, leaving no gaps. Once the summer's over the netting can be removed.
Club root can be a problem with all brassicas, such as Brussels Sprouts. It causes the roots to deform and the plant to die and is carried in infected soil and plants. For this reason it's a good idea to raise your brassicas from seed, rather than buying them in, although reputable garden centres should be growing plants in sterile compost. There are numerous good seed suppliers, such as those mentioned on this page. Wallflowers and Stocks can also carry the disease, as can farmyard muck. If you use manure, make sure it has been really well composted, or buy sterile organic muck.
If you have club root in your soil, then liming several times throughout the season will help enourmously.
Harvesting Brussels Sprouts
The Sprouts form where the leaves join the plant stem and are carried up the stem in a spiral. Those lower down will form before those higher up, so harvest the Sprouts as you need them.
OK - Cooking.
Most people peel the outer leaves from the Sprouts and boil them in water until soft but not mushy. They are good this way, but why not experiment. Sprouts are also good shredded finely and added to stir fries. Or how about:
Brussels Sprout Recipe
Dry fry some Pancetta in a pan and add some crushed garlic. Fry for a few minuters until the Pancetta is browning. Add in some finely shredded Brussles Sprouts and a little cream. Fry for a minute or two longer, stirring frequently, then pile into a bowl and eat with some crusty home made Spelt bread and a glass of red wine. You could also turn this into a side dish.
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