Blown Brussels: The Christmas Curse. Here’s How To Stop Brussels Sprouts Blowing. Plus Why They Burst or Blow.
Before answering How To Stop Brussels Sprouts Blowing it might be best to think about what Brussels actually are. Brussels Sprouts are a brassica family plant. In other words they are a modified cabbage. The actual sprout itself is a bud that grows between their stem and a leaf. I.e. it grows in the leaf axil in exactly the same way as a side shoot grows on a tomato. But whereas tomatoes side shoots aren’t harvested for eating the sprout is.
We’ve come to expect our sprouts to form tight little heads. But there is no reason they should, or will, except we have selectively bred them to do this. We could have decided to selectively breed them to form loose leafy growths. It was a choice.
So the tight little sprout is totally down to breeding. It’s not natural for a good reason, Brussels Sprouts aren’t natural, they don’t exist in nature. They are there simply because breeders repeatedly selected them for this characteristic.
Most sprouts, grown in ideal conditions, will form tight sprouts. But leave them long enough and, like all buds, they will keep growing to the next stage. In this case that is a loose bunch of leaves.
How To Stop Sprouts Blowing
Firstly select a variety that suits your soil and growing conditions. There are lots of varieties and this might mean a bit of trail and error. As a commercial sprout grower I knew what varieties grew best in my area as farmers and growers had been growing thousands of acres of sprouts in Bedfordshire, where I lived, for generations. I choose the varieties that worked for them. They worked for me as well.
One thing to consider was the size of the plant for the field they were growing in. Some fields are exposed and suffer strong winds. It would be unwise to grow a very tall variety in them. Remember some varieties are a metre or more in height. They can catch the winds and gales.
On exposed sites grow shorter varieties.
Farmers and market gardeners grow Brussels by the thousand. They NEVER stake Brussel sprouts. It wouldn’t be feasible to do so on such a huge scale. So why would gardeners do it? The reason they might need to is because they choose the wrong variety for their site.
Also consider the harvest period. There are early autumn, autumn and winter maturing sprouts. Try to keep an early maturing variety until Christmas and they will blow. It’s inevitable.
Secondly, Consider Growth Checks
Secondly, they need growing well. That means without undue growth checks once established.
Crops that are growing well rarely blow if grown for harvesting in their prescribed season.
Checks due to drought, poor nutrition, pest or disease, can lead to blowing. Understand what the plants need and give it to them.
Having said that I’ve never irrigated Brussels. When planted as bare root plants they were left to fight for water. 99.9% made it and then went through the whole season without irrigation.
Maintain Your Plants
Thirdly the plants need tending and harvesting over a long period of time.
Some varieties are selected for a single harvest by machine. They all mature at the same time and the crop is transported by the trailer load to packhouse grading machines that sort them by size and quality.
Gardeners are better off selecting varieties that mature over a longer period and give a long harvest period. They can be picked several times to get the best quality tight sprouts. Start pickling at the bottom of the stem and pick upwards until you get to sprouts that need to mature a bit more. Come back a few weeks later and pick again. You might get 3-4 harvests from each plant this way and the quality will be much better.
Remove the Brussel Tops
In the same way we can pinch out the top of a tomato plant you can “pinch out” the top of a Brussel plant. The tops are edible and we used to harvest them by the net and sell in local and London markets. By removing the top the plants then focus on producing sprouts. It advances harvest a little and can be used to ensure crops are ready when wanted. Timing the quality harvest is essential if you want to stop blowing.
Spread The Season
To be sure of getting sprouts at the time of year you want try growing 2-3 varieties that will spread your season. This will give you more certainty.
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