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Gardening with Laurie: Plant Brussels sprouts in your fall garden

By By Laurie Garretson
Sept. 20, 2012 at 4:20 a.m.

Laurie Garretson

The past couple of weeks, I've written about specific vegetables that are grown in the fall garden.

I'd hoped to encourage gardeners to grow more vegetables.

This week, I feel that I have my work cut out for me, since this week's topic is Brussels sprouts.

If I had to pick one of my least favorite grown fall vegetable crops, it would be Brussels sprouts. I happen to really like these little cabbages.

Just for the record, Brussels sprouts are not cabbages, but they are in the same family (Brassica oleracea) that includes broccoli, kale, kohlrabi, collards, cauliflower and cabbage.

I wonder if people who think they don't like Brussels sprouts have ever eaten them fresh from the garden? Or do they not like them because when they grew them they found them to be bitter tasting?

Bitterness can be caused when they are left on the plant for too long and when grown during hot, dry periods.

Over-cooking can also spoil their taste. Cooking in salted water can take some of the bitterness away.

If you would like to try your hand at growing them, here's a few Brussels sprouts growing tips.

Brussels sprouts do take a long time to mature, 80 to 95 days. Their long maturing time makes them a good crop for our fall gardens. The cooler or cold weather will bring out the sugars in the plant.

It's a good thing to wait about three years between plantings of Brussels sprouts, or any of the other plants in the Brassica family, in the same area of the garden. This practice will help prevent diseases and pests problems.

Plant in rich, well-drained soil in full sun. Fertilize the plants at planting and then about every three weeks until harvest.

Plant transplants about two to three feet apart. The mature plant will get about 3 feet tall and 2 feet wide.

As with most vegetables, Brussels sprouts don't only grow in vegetable gardens. Most vegetable plants are actually very nice looking plants and can also be planted in flowerbeds or large containers with annuals or perennials.

The sprouts will start forming at the bottom of the plants stalk. Sprouts are produced in the leaf axils. The axil is where the stem of each leaf attaches to the main stalk.

As each sprout forms, snap off the leaf beneath it. This will help to put more of the plants energy into forming better sprouts. The leaves can then be eaten just as you would eat cabbage.

Pests to watch for on Brussels sprouts will be worms, flea beetles and aphids.

Keep in mind the benefits of always rotating crops to avoid viral diseases and fungal problems.

Start harvesting the sprouts from the bottom of the main stem when those sprouts are about one to two inches in diameter.

Brussels sprouts are best when eaten fresh off the plant and can be kept in the refrigerator up to three weeks.

For long-term storage, they can be blanched and then frozen.

I have yet to find anyone who does not like my quick fried Brussels sprouts. I simply add chopped or shredded Brussels sprouts to a few tablespoons of coconut oil in my cast iron skillet. I like to fry them until they are just turning brown. This is so easy and so delicious.

Until next time, let's try to garden with nature, not against it, and maybe all our weeds will become wildflowers.

Laurie Garretson is a Victoria gardener and nursery owner. Send your gardening questions to laurie@vicad.com or in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77902.

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