By Julie Martens Forney
Extend the garden season with frost-tolerant edible crops. My cold-tolerant vegetable harvest includes leaf lettuce, kale, arugula, and broccoli. But my favorite cold-weather champ is Brussels sprouts. What other vegetable can you harvest from beneath a covering of snow?
Researchers have documented harvesting marketable Brussels sprouts after temperatures have sunk to 14°F. I picked these frozen sprouts pictured and enjoyed garden-fresh flavor and texture upon cooking.
Frost causes Brussels sprouts plants to convert starches to sugar, and the result is a sweet sprout. Most sprouts sold in stores come from California or Mexico and haven’t endured a frost, which is why they’re often bitter. If you’ve never had homegrown, frost-kissed Brussels sprouts, you have no idea what you’re missing. They’re yummy roasted, stir-fried, or braised.
Brussels sprouts are cabbage cousins and need a long growing season. In the Mid-Atlantic plant seedlings in late March or early April, depending on where you live. Seedlings can withstand late-spring frosts.
I net my seedlings to protect them from rabbits and deer. I also add stakes shortly after planting so I can let plants grow tall for maximum sprout production.
Watch for Worms
Brussels sprouts pests include the cross-striped cabbage worm. When this villain arrives, it produces a caterpillar nightmare with upwards of eight worms per plant.
For outbreaks I spray plants with Bt. That’s short for Bacillus thuringiensis, a bacteria that is nontoxic to people but deadly to caterpillars. Bt also works on another common pest, cabbage loopers (green worms).
Stir Some Conversation
Every person who visits my garden asks about the Brussels sprouts plants without knowing what they are. They’re pretty striking in late summer, when they’re nearly as tall as the red-leaf cannas.
Most people haven’t seen how Brussels sprouts grow. Have you?
The sprouts form above each leaf stem, hugging the main stalk.
If you want to try growing Brussels sprouts, buy a four-pack of seedlings in early spring. You’re on your way to extending your garden season—by months.
See more Mid-Atlantic Gardening Articles.