I would like to grow Brussels sprouts this year. Is it too warm to grow them in the spring here? Will they overwinter like collards and kale? Any varieties you would recommend for our climate?
Katherine in Marshall
Yes, you can grow Brussels sprouts here in the spring. They are usually planted with other cool weather crops for a spring harvest, and again in late summer for fall harvest. Plant Brussels sprouts as early as you can, so they have time to produce nice, firm heads before hot weather arrives.
Meredith McKissick, of Crooked Creek Farm in Old Fort, NC, is able to overwinter Brussels sprouts very successfully in low tunnels. She plants in late August or September (they need to be well-established before the onset of winter), side-dresses with compost, and pulls the bottom leaves all fall (and winter if needed) to expose the forming sprouts. She harvests great sprouts in February and early March. However, Old Fort is slightly milder than Asheville. I don’t think they would overwinter reliably in the Asheville area, as the severity of our winters in unpredictable. On a small scale, you may be able to get them through the winter under tunnels covered with floating row cover.
Harvest fall crops of Brussels sprouts after frost and into December. To store them, harvest before the ground freezes in fall. Pull them up by the roots and store Them in the refrigerator or in a cool cellar. Old timers used to pull cabbage up by the roots in the fall, dig a generous hole and bury the cabbages – cabbage down / roots up – in a mix of loose soil and straw. They would pull them out of the hole by the roots as needed. I have not tested this, but I have a feeling this may work for Brussels sprouts as well, since they seem more akin to cabbage than to kale. Tom Elmore, of Thatchmore Farm, thinks burying them is questionable, since Brussels sprouts are so small that they can’t afford to loose any of their outside leaves.
Starting at the bottom of the stalk, harvest Brussels sprouts when the sprouts are firm and round; additional upper sprouts will continue forming. Break off the leaf just below the sprout and then cut or pop the sprout off the stalk. The nursery where I work grows ‘Bubbles’, ‘Royal Marble’, and ‘Long Island’ (new this year). Meredith plants ‘Bubbles’ and ‘Oliver’. Brussels sprouts require plenty of fertility, a soil pH above 6.0, and water on a regular basis (you may need to irrigate).
Please keep us updated on the outcome, Katherine.
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Ruth Gonzalez is a former market farmer, gardener, and local food advocate who wants to see organic farms proliferate and organic gardens in every yard. She serves on the Organic Growers School Board of Directors, and in her job at Reems Creek Nursery, Ruth offers advice on all sorts of gardening questions, and benefits daily from the wisdom of local gardeners.