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Dublin: 15°C Friday 30 October 2020
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Brussels sprouts are either the devil's spawn or a vital part of a healthy winter diet

Is there any vegetable more divisive?

Michael Kelly Grower

FILE THIS ONE under the love ‘em or loathe ‘em category – for some people Brussels sprouts are the devil’s spawn, reluctantly tolerated once a year on Christmas Day. For many GIYers however they are a vital part of the winter veg garden, even though they are relatively difficult to grow, have a very long growing season (8 months) and take up a lot of space.

The reason we persevere with them is that three or four plants will produce a mound of produce in the lean winter months – each healthy plant produces up to 2kg of sprouts. Early sowings of sprouts will be starting to come good around now.

Sowing

Brussels sprouts are best sown in module trays indoors – sow one seed per module 2cm deep. The key with sprouts is to time your sowings so that you have a long harvesting period – if you sow three times between March and May, you will be eating fresh sprouts between November and March. Bear in mind that four or six plants in total is probably enough for most families. Sow your early ones in mid-March, then sow again in mid-April and again in mid-May.

Growing

Sprouts need to be included in your brassica (also known as cruciferous) rotation – do not plant them where you grew any members of the cabbage family the previous year. They need a good rich soil, manured the previous winter. They like a firm soil – plants grow very tall so their roots need good soil support. Seedlings will be ready to transplant about 4-5 weeks after sowing. Space plants at least 60cm apart – it will seem counter-intuitive with such a small plant but don’t be tempted to cram them any tighter. Fit a brassica collar made from felt or carpet around the base of the plant – this will prevent cabbage root fly.

Food KitchenWise Brussels Sprouts Source: AP/Press Association Images

A net cover will also prevent cabbage white butterfly from laying eggs – even still, you will need to check leaves regularly and remove any caterpillars. Water well to start and keep weeds down. Earth up the stems after about a month to give the plant more support. They will benefit from a liquid organic feed (nettle or comfrey) in summer. Remove yellowing/dying leaves regularly.

Harvesting

Harvest sprouts from the bottom of the plant first, as soon as they are ready to eat – snap them off by pulling downwards. The leaves at the top of the stems can be cooked like spring greens – very tasty they are too.

Christmas 2015 Source: PA Archive/PA Images

Recommended Varieties

Brigitte, Rampart, Wellington

Problems

Sprouts are susceptible to the same problems as other brassicas including clubroot and cabbage root fly. As ever, prevention is better than cure. Mealy aphids are a particular issue with sprouts.

GIY Tips

When you remove the plant, smash the stem up with a hammer before composting – otherwise it will take forever to break down. Also, don’t boil the life out of your sprouts when cooking – cut them in half, blanch them for a few minutes in boiling water and then fry them in some butter with a little chopped garlic.

Picky Eating Source: AP/Press Association Images

GROW HQ

The home of the GIY movement and our brand new food education centre, GROW HQ, is finally open in Waterford city. In addition to our 65-seat home-grown food café and shop, we’ve a range of growing and cooking courses happening weekly – for courses happening this month, check out www.growhq.org.

Recipe of the Week – Brussels Sprouts, Apple and Bacon Hash

This cracking recipe brings together ingredients that work great together – sprouts, apple, bacon and onions. Roasting the veg and apples brings out their sweetness and of course bacon is the ultimate partner for the sprouts.

Ingredients:

• 300g Brussels sprouts, halved

• 2 red onions, unpeeled, halved lengthwise

• 1 apple, cored

• 1/2 tablespoon butter

• 180g streaky bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

Preheat oven to 190 degrees Celsius. Toss Brussels sprouts and onions with just enough olive oil to coat; season with salt and pepper. Spread vegetables in a single layer on a baking sheet. Fill center of apple with butter, and add to baking sheet. Roast until tender when pierced with a fork, about 30 minutes for the apple, 40 to 45 minutes for the vegetables.

Meanwhile, cook bacon in a large, heavy pan over medium heat until fat renders and bacon begins to crisp, about 12 minutes. Pour off most fat, leaving behind enough to coat bottom of pan. When onion and apple are cool enough to handle, cut into pieces about the size of Brussels sprouts. Add onion, apple, and Brussels sprouts to skillet, and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until heated through, about 15 minutes.

Michael Kelly is a freelance journalist, author and founder of GIY

More from Michael:

It’s hard to find great quality lettuce in supermarkets – but it’s really easy to grow your own

Pretty much every pest wants to eat it – so here’s how to grow perfect broccoli

About the author:

Michael Kelly  / Grower

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