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.

How To Stop Brussels Sprouts Blowing?
How To Stop Brussels Sprouts Blowing?

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.

A field of Brussels - How To Stop Brussels Sprouts Blowing?
A field of Brussels – How To Stop Brussels Sprouts Blowing?

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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Tag: how to stop Brussels sprouts blowing

7 thoughts on “How To Stop Brussels Sprouts Blowing

  1. Phil Gibson says:

    Hi, you say “select a variety that suits your soil and growing conditions”. Our ground is sandy albeit with horse manure added and my sprouts regularly “blow” despite firming the ground as much as possible. I can find no information online or on seed packets to say which varieties would be best suited for me. What would be your suggestions please? Thank you.

    1. Stefan Drew says:

      Sadly, like you I’ve checked online and can find no info from the seed companies. None of the varieties I used to grow are on sale.Several had the word Bedford in their name so were easy to find, but no more. So I think it’ll be down to trial and error. A good starting point however is to see what other people local to you are growing. I’m sorry I can’t be more helpful.

    2. David Jones says:

      Never manure ground that’s going to be used for brassicca! I’ve found that the two main reasons for “blown” sprouts are soil that is too rich and not firming the plants in hard enough. If you are feeling confident, put all your weight on one heel as close to the plant as possible and work your way around it. Taught by my grandfather!

  2. Len McConnell says:

    Isn’t it also true that sprouts are less likely to blow if grown on firm ground? When well established I tramp round the neck of the plant to make sure the ground is firm. No dig also helps with firm ground. Never had a problem with sprouts blowing.

    1. Stefan Drew says:

      In a sense yes. But I always question what people mean by firm ground as most crops prefer firm ground to soft fluffy soil.

  3. Peter Robinson says:

    I have tried to grow sprouts for 3 years now, onece at home in a raised bed, and the last 2 years at my allotment , every time they have blown? The ones this year were given to my by a fellow allotment holder and his where huge, but mine were like peas?? No idea what I am doing wrong.

    1. Stefan Drew says:

      It’s annoying isn’t it Peter.
      I wish I could tell you what went wrong but without seeing the plants and conditions it’s purely guesswork. All I can say is that your growing conditions couldn’t have suited them … but I can’t say why.

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