Brussel sprouts are still much maligned in some quarters, but for me, they’re as much a festive staple as turkey and Christmas pud. As a kid, I couldn’t stand the little green balls and had an ongoing battle with my mum every time she served them.
I’d devour everything on the plate except the sprouts, every time. This went on for years. Still mum served them. Still, I ignored them.
But when I got my first allotment, things suddenly changed. I grew everything in my first year, even if I didn’t like it, and this included sprouts. This led to a rather haphazard growing approach and a massive seed bill, but one of the positives was an opportunity to reappraise how I felt about veg.
For example, would the taste be better? And would I feel differently about some veg because I’d grown it myself?
A Sweeter Sprout
The humble sprout was just one of these vegetables. Luck would have it that my sprouts grew smaller than you would normally find in the supermarkets, but surfing on the wave of my first growing season, I picked them anyway.
Growing your own gives you the chance to pick fruit and veg when it really is at its very best – before the runners get a string and when the tomatoes are at their juices, for example. Sprouts are just the same, and mini Brussels were a revelation to me and my anti sprout ways.
From Zero to Hero
Baby Brussels were so much sweeter than any sprout I’d tasted before and almost immediately they became one of my favourite harvests.
Now I grow sprouts every year. If you’re really keen, you can stagger varieties so you have a sprout crop that runs from early autumn all the way into mid-spring, but I tend to stick to one winter variety, ready to pick around Christmas. For the past couple of years, I’ve grown Evesham Special, from Mr. Fothergill’s.
For a December harvest, I sow in pots of multipurpose compost in April. Seeds will germinate in conditions above 5oC, so they can be sown much earlier under cover too. I transplant onto the open ground once the seedlings are about 20cm high.
Sprouts are a remarkably hardy vegetable, but they can be susceptible to whitefly so cover with netting at the first sign of trouble.
The stalks will grow tall, so consider taking the plant if your plot is open or particularly strong winds are forecast. You can also try mounding earth up around the base for extra support.
A good frost will sweeten the sprouts further, and don’t forget you can eat the tops of the plant too!