By Les Harrison
Wakulla County Extension Director
The beginning of winter is under two weeks away. Overnight temperatures are forecast to nosedive into the subfreezing range in short order which will bring many of Wakulla County’s vegetable gardening efforts to a screeching halt.
It might seem strange, but there will be successful vegetable gardening ongoing during this chilly weather. One of those cold weather crops is Brussels sprouts, and it will handle the frigid temperature readings with barely a notice.
Brussels sprouts require cool weather for best growth with an ideal average temperature is around 58 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Warm weather causes individual sprouts to be soft and open rather than solid and tightly packed.
The Brussels sprout is in the same plant family as collards, kale and broccoli. This hardy vegetable is a cultivar in the Gemmifera group of cabbages, Brassica oleracea, which are grown for their edible buds.
The mature Brussels sprout look like miniature cabbages and are about the size of a half-dollar coin. The edible buds grow on the plants main stalk and are composed of layers of tightly wrapped leaves.
Plants will grow up to three feet tall with large, pale green leaves which protect the tender buds from exposure to sun and other threats. The crop matures and is ready for harvest in about 90 days.
As the name implies, Brussels sprouts historically have been a popular and dependable crop in Belgium for hundreds of years. The country’s location in the northern latitudes of western Europe near the North Sea has required this food staple to be tolerant of cold and icy weather.
Likely spread by Roman traders a millennium ago, this delicacy is widely cultivated in much of northern Europe where menu options were few during winter in the days before high speed trade. Each locale had its own special recipe with seasoning.
French colonial settlers brought the Brussels sprouts to the new world when they settled Louisiana in the early 18th century. They also took it to the Canadian province of Quebec, where it proved a dependable cool season crop.
Today most domestic Brussels sprout production occurs in California, with pockets of production in Washington and New York. A common site in the frozen food section of super markets, about 15 percent of the total crop is sold as fresh, unprocessed produce.
Much like other brassica crops, Brussels sprouts can be cultivated from tiny seed, or from transplants. Transplants will shorten the time to harvest, but will be more expensive.
Brussels sprout seed is planted about 1/8 inch below the surface in garden soil high in organic matter. A key to success is to keep the garden moist, but not saturated.
This vegetable is an ideal food nutritionally since it is low in fat with no saturated fat. It is also very low in sodium, cholesterol free, low calorie and a good source of dietary fiber, vitamin C and folate.
In modern America the important nutritional value is compromised, in some opinions, by the taste. Plant breeders and seed companies are developing a Brussels sprout cultivar which satisfies the contemporary palate.
As the weather warms in the spring, cabbage loopers and aphids are only too happy to dine on these vegetables. It seems they remain happy with the tradition taste of this ancient crop.
For more information on Brussels sprout production, view http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/mv034 or call the UF/IFAS Wakulla County Extension Office at 850-926-3931.