(Lori Adams, who owns Down-To-Earth U-Pick Garden and is a frequent vendor at the Sitka Farmers Market, will be writing a regular garden column in the Daily Sitka Sentinel this summer. The Sentinel is allowing us to reprint the columns on this site after they first appear in the newspaper. This column appeared on Page 4 of the Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2012, edition of the Daily Sitka Sentinel.)
GARDENING IN SITKA
By Lori Adams
EVERYTHING I’VE LEARNED ABOUT GROWING BRUSSELS SPROUTS
Brussels sprouts grow really well in Sitka. They are a late crop that actually tastes best after the first frost. I have had good Brussels sprouts every year except this year … it just wasn’t warm enough.
Brussels sprouts are heavy feeders so amend your soil this fall with nitrogen (salmon carcasses a foot apart) and potassium (seaweed a foot deep) and lime (an inch of seashell sand). In mid-March start seeds indoors, till up the bed either with a rototiller or by hand, and then transplant the starts mid-April with 18-20 inch spacing. Make a dish-shaped depression in the soil and then dig a hole for the transplant right in the middle of the depression. Bury the starts up to their first set of true leaves.
It’s very helpful to mulch the entire bed with four inches of seaweed that has a small amount of herring eggs on it, but be sure the seaweed does not touch the starts or they could be burnt from the “hot” eggs. Cover the entire bed with floating row cover and for best results suspend the cover with hoops to keep the starts from getting beaten down from the rain. As with all brassicas, you should leave the row cover on until July 15 to protect the crop from the root maggot fly.
In the summer you will start to see little baby cabbages growing at the base of each leaf right on the stem. These are the “sprouts.” The sprouts closest to the ground are the biggest and the ones at the top of the plant are the smallest because they ripen from the bottom up. When the sprouts reach the size of a marble, start cutting or breaking off the leaves (by pulling down or sideways until they snap off). This allows the plant to put more energy into growing sprouts and less energy into growing leaves. The leaves are edible and can be used like kale.
Brussels sprouts are ready to eat at any stage, but it is best to wait until they are about the size the circle your fingers make when using the OK gesture. The sprouts can be harvested from the plants by pulling them sideways until they snap off. If you see a sprout start to open up, it has gone past maturity. It is still good to eat but not as choice as a tight, tender sprout.
To prepare Brussels sprouts, just cut the stump off including the bottom sliver of the sprout. This will allow you to peel off some of the outer leaves which are so hard they feel like you are eating plastic. Some people like to boil or steam their sprouts and others like to roast them in the over drizzled with olive oil and salt and pepper. But I’ve never heard of anyone that likes to eat them raw.
In September, it is a good idea to prune the top of the plants off to encourage them to stop growing new sprouts and to plump up the sprouts already on the stalk. The tops are edible and can be used like kale.
Brussels sprouts are extremely hearty and can be left outside in the snow for a month or two, but keep an eye on them because after prolonged cold weather they start to deteriorate. If you have a good cool storage area it is a good idea to cut the plants off at the ground and stack them inside. Whenever you want sprouts for dinner just go break off the ones you want and leave the rest on the stalk for later.
Brought to you by Down-To-Earth U-Pick Garden
2103 Sawmill Creek Road
Open June-August / Monday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
747-6108 or 738-2241