Sunday, December 06, 2009


It seems silly to be talking about winter when summer hardly seems to have started, but for those of us who are keen vegetable gardeners, the seasons tend to blend into each other.
In winter we are starting off the seeds we want to plant in spring, and in early spring we start sowing the early summer vegetables. Now that summer is almost here, it is time to keep planting some of the winter garden staples, in particular Brussels Sprouts and leeks.
Each year I am appalled to see these seedlings for sale in garden centres in April and May. I guess there must be a few people each year who are tricked into buying these vegetables long past the time they could possibly grow effectively, but I am sure they do not come back the following year. Brussels Sprouts and leeks are both slow growing and need to be planted before the year turns over.
That makes for a slight problem as far as the Brussels Sprouts go. If you share my reluctance to spray vegetables you will possibly have come to the same conclusion that I have regarding growing brassicas over summer – it is just not worth it. If you use the less deadly insecticides like Derris Dust, you have to spray or dust so regularly and assiduously to keep the bugs away that you will almost certainly miss a day or two and end up with decimated crops. I have given up on planting broccoli and cauliflower after the start of December, and we eat so little cabbage that it is not worth worrying about.
But I do love Brussels Sprouts and try to grow a row or two of these each year.
They need to same sort of soil as most brassicas – humus-rich, well drained soil with high pH suits them best. I like to dig in some compost a week or two before planting, liming the soil at the same time. It is important to think about applying lime almost every time you add compost to your soil, as most composts are likely to be low in pH. The lime will also help protect against that curse of the brassicas tribe – club root. For further protection, make sure you do not grow brassicas in the same place year after year – even two years in a row is not a good idea. Soil that has been prepared for brassicas will be well suited for growing either a root crop or something like beans the following year, so make sure to rotate your crops, even if your vegetable patch is quite small.
If you are going to grow your own from seed you will have to get a move on as it is already getting late for sowing. If you can find an F1 hybrid variety I think that is the best option to go for. The increased vigour of the new hybrids makes them worth looking for, but do not be surprised at the increased price you will have to pay.
If you are like me and content to just buy a bunch of seedlings from your local nurseryman that will do just fine too. You might not be able to get hybrid plants though, as most prefer to work with open pollinated seed – it is so much cheaper.
However you got your plants, once it is time to plant them, space them about 40-50 cm apart, in rows of a similar distance. Make sure you water them in well, perhaps using a weak liquid fertiliser as well.
I was taught that Brussels Sprouts should always be planted into very firm soil, and should be planted very deeply. Some books insist that you should stamp the ground where you are going to plant your sprouts before planting, and then plant them as deep as the first leaves.
These ideas come from the length of time Sprouts are in the soil. They need to be well anchored and they also need to be regularly fed. I find it pays to stake them as they get larger, as a good blow can topple them as they get mature, especially if they are wet and heavy at the time.