Grow Your Own Brussel Sprouts from Seed

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Growing Brussels sprouts from seed is a rewarding journey that intertwines horticultural science with the art of gardening. As we delve into this comprehensive guide, we will explore everything you need to know to cultivate these nutritious gems successfully in Cleveland, Ohio.

Where did the Brussels sprout originate?

The Brussels sprout, classified scientifically as Brassica oleracea var. gemmifera, belongs to the extensive Brassicaceae family. This family encompasses a variety of well-known vegetables, including broccoli, cabbage, and kale. Historical records suggest that the cultivation of Brussels sprouts may date back to ancient Roman times, indicating their longstanding presence in human agriculture. However, it was in the 16th century that these leafy green vegetables began to gain significant recognition, especially in Belgium, specifically around the city of Brussels, from which they eventually took their name. This region played a pivotal role in the cultivation and popularization of Brussels sprouts, setting the stage for their spread across Europe and beyond (Source: “Vegetables” by James Rubatzky and Carlos F. Quiros).

Development through Selective Breeding

The Brussels sprouts we are familiar with today have been shaped over centuries through the practice of selective breeding. Farmers meticulously selected plants that exhibited desirable characteristics, such as larger and more compact sprouts, and bred them to enhance these traits in subsequent generations. This method of artificial selection, or selective breeding, represents an early form of genetic modification. Unlike modern genetic engineering, which involves the direct alteration of an organism’s genetic material in a laboratory, selective breeding is a more traditional approach, relying on natural processes of selection and breeding to gradually influence the genetic makeup of the plant species. Through this method, a diverse array of Brussels sprout varieties has been developed, each tailored to different culinary preferences and agricultural conditions (Source: “Plant Breeding and Biotechnology” by Denis Murphy).

Geographical Expansion and Cultivation

The journey of Brussels sprouts from European gardens to global prominence began earnestly in the 18th century, when French settlers introduced them to North America. By the 19th century, Brussels sprouts had found a foothold in the United States, particularly in regions like California and New York, where the climate was conducive to their cultivation. This period marked the beginning of commercial cultivation in the U.S., and over time, Brussels sprouts became an integral part of American agriculture and cuisine. The adaptability of Brussels sprouts to various climates, coupled with their nutritional value and culinary versatility, facilitated their spread and establishment as a staple vegetable in markets and kitchens around the world (Source: “The New Oxford Book of Food Plants” by John Vaughan and Catherine Geissler).

Integration into the Food Industry

Brussels sprouts entered the mainstream food industry as their nutritional benefits and culinary versatility became more widely recognized. Initially more prevalent in European diets, they gained popularity in the U.S. during the 20th century, facilitated by advancements in transportation and food storage technologies.

As Brussels sprouts gained recognition for their nutritional benefits and culinary versatility, their integration into mainstream food culture evolved significantly. Let’s explore how they are used, their popular preparation methods, and storage practices.

Culinary Uses

If you’re reading this, odds are you already know quite a bit about how to use the Brussels sprouts but I thought it was an important part to mention. Brussel Sprouts are incredibly versatile in the kitchen, used in a variety of dishes ranging from simple side dishes to complex mains. They are a staple in winter meals, often associated with festive dinners, especially during Thanksgiving and Christmas in the United States. Their nutty and slightly bitter flavor complements rich meats like pork, beef, and turkey, while also pairing well with tangy and sweet flavors like cranberries and balsamic vinegar.

Popular Preparation Methods

  1. Roasting: One of the most popular methods, roasting Brussels sprouts brings out their natural sweetness and creates a caramelized, crispy exterior. Often, they are halved and tossed with olive oil, salt, and pepper, then roasted until golden brown.
  2. Steaming: For a healthier option, steaming preserves their nutrients and natural flavors. Steamed Brussels sprouts can be seasoned simply with salt, pepper, and a touch of butter or lemon juice.
  3. Sauteing: Quick and flavorful, sauteing with garlic, onions, or bacon adds depth to their flavor. This method allows them to become tender and absorb the aromatics’ flavors.
  4. Boiling: Less common due to the risk of overcooking and potential bitterness, boiling is sometimes used for softer textures in soups and stews.
  5. Shredding: Raw Brussels sprouts can be shredded and used in salads or slaws, providing a crunchy texture and fresh, earthy taste.

Storage and Preservation

Fresh Brussels sprouts are best kept in the refrigerator, where they can last for several weeks. They should be stored in a plastic bag in the crisper drawer to maintain freshness. Avoid washing them before storage to prevent moisture accumulation, which can lead to spoilage.

For longer preservation, Brussels sprouts can be blanched and frozen. Blanching (briefly boiling and then plunging into ice water) helps preserve their color, texture, and nutritional content. Once blanched, they can be dried, placed in freezer bags, and stored in the freezer for up to a year.

Nutritional Benefits

Brussels sprouts are rich in vitamins C and K, dietary fiber, and antioxidants. They are also low in calories, making them an excellent choice for various health-conscious diets. Their high nutrient density and potential health benefits have contributed to their popularity in health and wellness circles, further integrating them into the mainstream culinary world.

The journey of Brussels sprouts from a traditional European vegetable to a staple in American cuisine showcases their adaptability and appeal. With advancements in food technology and transportation, they have become a year-round favorite, celebrated for both their taste and health benefits.

How many different types of Brussels sprouts are there?

I was able to find 20 different varieties, if you know of more be sure to let me know so I can add them to the list! Jade Cross, Long Island Improved, Diablo, and Redarling are the most popular ones available for seed and in stores.

  1. ‘Jade Cross’ – A hybrid variety developed for high yields and disease resistance, producing compact, uniform sprouts ideal for colder climates.
  2. ‘Long Island Improved’ – An heirloom variety known for its reliability and classic taste, favored in traditional Brussels sprout cultivation.
  3. ‘Diablo’ – Noted for its high yield and long harvest period, Diablo produces large, flavorful sprouts that are well-suited for a variety of climates.
  4. ‘Redarling’ – A red Brussels sprout variety that is sweeter than the green types and adds a colorful twist to dishes.
  5. ‘Royal Marvel’ – Known for its early maturation and uniform, firm sprouts, this variety is excellent for mechanical harvesting.
  6. ‘Rubine’ – A unique red Brussels sprout variety, Rubine offers a different aesthetic and slightly sweeter flavor compared to traditional green types.
  7. ‘Churchill’ – An early maturing variety that produces high yields of medium-sized, tightly packed sprouts.
  8. ‘Franklin’ – Known for its fast growth and early harvest, Franklin produces dense, flavorful sprouts.
  9. ‘Tasty Nuggets’ – A variety that lives up to its name with small, compact, and flavorful sprouts, ideal for smaller gardens.
  10. ‘Oliver’ – A reliable, high-yielding variety that produces uniform sprouts with good flavor, suitable for late-season harvesting.
  11. ‘Nautic’ – A late-season variety known for its ability to produce high-quality sprouts during cooler weather periods.
  12. ‘Gusto’ – A variety known for its strong, tall stalks and large sprouts, suitable for late-season harvesting.
  13. ‘Octia’ – An early variety producing high yields of firm, well-flavored sprouts, suitable for early market sales.
  14. ‘Crispus’ – A modern variety with high disease resistance, producing uniform, tasty sprouts that are good for extended harvesting.
  15. ‘Maximus’ – A variety known for its large, dense sprouts and high yield, often used in commercial production.
  16. ‘Brodie’ – A late-season variety that produces high yields of medium-sized sprouts, known for its good standing ability.
  17. ‘Doric’ – Known for its strong growth and good sprout quality, suitable for later harvests in cooler climates.
  18. ‘Boxwood’ – A compact variety ideal for ornamental and edible gardening, with small sprouts perfect for home gardens.
  19. ‘Green Gems’ – A variety favored for its sweet flavor and uniform, medium-sized sprouts, suitable for both fresh market and processing.
  20. ‘Falstaff’ – A red-leaved variety, adding ornamental value as well as a mild, nutty flavor to the sprouts.

Should you direct sow or transplant Brussel Sprouts?

For Brussels sprouts, especially in climates like Cleveland, Ohio, it’s generally best to start with transplanting rather than direct sowing. Here’s why:

Benefits of Transplanting Brussels Sprouts

  1. Extended Growing Season: Starting seeds indoors and transplanting seedlings outside extends the growing season. Brussels sprouts require a long growing period, typically around 26 to 31 weeks from planting to harvest, and they need to mature in cooler temperatures to develop the best flavor.
  2. Better Control Over Germination: Indoor seeding allows for more controlled conditions (like temperature and moisture) during the critical germination phase, leading to higher germination rates and healthier seedlings.
  3. Avoiding Early Pest Pressure: Young Brussels sprout plants can be susceptible to pests. Starting them indoors can help avoid early damage from pests prevalent in garden soil.
  4. Optimized Space Usage: While the seedlings are growing indoors, the garden space can be used for other early-season crops. This is particularly beneficial in regions with shorter growing seasons.

Timing and Transplanting Process

  • Start Indoors: Begin 6 to 8 weeks before the last expected frost date in your area. For Cleveland, this usually means starting seeds indoors in late March to early April.
  • Harden Off: Before transplanting, acclimate the seedlings to outdoor conditions over a period of 7 to 10 days to reduce transplant shock.
  • Transplant: Plant the seedlings in the garden when they are about 4 to 6 inches tall and have several true leaves, typically around late April to early May in Cleveland.

Transplanting gives Brussels sprouts a head start, which is crucial for ensuring they mature fully before the onset of very hot weather or the first hard freeze in autumn. This method aligns with their growth needs and seasonal climate changes, facilitating a successful growing season.

Where should I plant my Brussel sprouts?

To ensure the best growth of Brussels sprouts in your garden, it’s crucial to select an optimal location that meets their specific needs. Here’s what to consider:


Brussels sprouts need full sun to develop properly, which means they should receive at least 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight daily. Adequate sunlight is essential for the plants to photosynthesize effectively and produce strong, healthy sprouts.


The ideal soil for Brussels sprouts is rich, well-drained, and fertile, with a pH between 6.0 and 7.5. Before planting, enrich the soil with plenty of organic matter, such as compost or well-rotted manure, to improve soil structure and nutrient content. The soil should retain moisture without becoming waterlogged, as Brussels sprouts need consistent moisture to grow but are susceptible to root diseases in overly wet conditions.

Companion Plants

Companion planting can benefit Brussels sprouts by enhancing growth, attracting beneficial insects, or deterring pests. Good companions include:

  • Herbs and Flowers: Aromatic herbs like thyme, dill, and mint, or flowers like marigolds and nasturtiums, can help repel common pests like aphids and cabbage worms.
  • Alliums: Onions, garlic, and chives can deter pests due to their strong scent and are believed to improve the flavor of brassicas.
  • Root Vegetables: Carrots, beets, and radishes can be good companions as they occupy different soil layers and don’t compete heavily for nutrients.

Plants to Avoid

Some plants can hinder the growth of Brussels sprouts due to competition for nutrients, space, or because they attract pests that also affect Brussels sprouts. Avoid planting them near:

  • Other Brassicas: Including cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli, as they are susceptible to the same diseases and pests, which can spread more easily if they are planted too closely.
  • Strawberries: They can be a poor companion for Brussels sprouts, as they are prone to attract slugs which can also feed on the sprouts.

Common Pests of Brussels Sprouts

  1. Cabbage Worms: These are larvae of white butterflies, often seen fluttering around the plants. The worms chew large, irregular holes in the leaves.
  2. Cabbage Loopers: Similar to cabbage worms, these caterpillars are identified by their looping movement. They also eat the leaves, creating holes.
  3. Aphids: Small, sap-sucking insects that can be green, black, or gray. They cluster on the undersides of leaves, stunting plant growth and spreading diseases.
  4. Flea Beetles: Small, jumping beetles that chew tiny holes in the leaves, especially damaging to young plants.
  5. Cabbage Root Fly: Larvae of these flies attack the roots of Brussels sprouts, causing the plants to wilt and potentially die.
  6. Slugs and Snails: These pests are attracted to the moisture and shelter provided by Brussels sprout plants, especially during wet conditions. They chew on leaves and stems, often at night.

Pest Repellent Strategies

  • Physical Barriers: Use floating row covers to physically block pests from reaching the plants. This method is especially effective against flying insects like cabbage worms and loopers.
  • Cultural Practices: Rotate crops annually to reduce soil-borne pests and diseases. Avoid planting Brussels sprouts in the same spot where other brassicas were grown in the previous year.
  • Biological Control: Encourage or introduce beneficial insects that prey on these pests, such as ladybugs for aphids and parasitic wasps for cabbage worms and loopers.
  • Hand Picking: Regularly inspect plants and manually remove pests like caterpillars, slugs, and snails. This method is time-consuming but effective for small gardens.
  • Organic Pesticides: Neem oil, insecticidal soaps, and Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) are organic options that can help control pest populations without harming beneficial insects.
  • Soil Treatment: For pests like cabbage root fly, consider using nematodes that target the larvae in the soil, or practice soil solarization before planting to reduce pest larvae.
  • Traps: Use pheromone traps or sticky traps to catch and monitor adult pests, helping reduce the breeding population.
  • Mulching: A layer of mulch can deter some soil pests and also create a habitat for predatory insects that feed on pests like aphids and flea beetles.

By implementing a combination of these strategies, you can effectively manage pest populations in your Brussels sprout garden, leading to healthier plants and a more abundant harvest. Regular monitoring and timely intervention are key to preventing pest infestations from becoming severe.

Water and Fertilization

Brussels sprouts require consistent watering, about 1 to 1.5 inches per week, depending on rainfall and soil conditions. Mulching around the plants can help retain soil moisture and regulate temperature. They also benefit from regular feeding with a balanced fertilizer to ensure they get all the necessary nutrients for optimal growth.

Selecting the right spot in your garden that meets these criteria will provide the best environment for your Brussels sprouts to thrive, resulting in a bountiful harvest of nutritious and tasty sprouts.

Growth Stages and Harvesting

Weeks 1-4: Establishment

To successfully germinate Brussels sprouts seeds and care for the seedlings in the first few weeks, gardeners will need to gather the following materials and supplies:

For Germination

  1. Brussels Sprouts Seeds: Select a variety suitable for your climate and growing conditions.
  2. Seed Starting Trays or Pots: Small containers or trays with drainage holes to sow seeds individually.
  3. Seed Starting Mix: A fine, sterile, nutrient-rich soil mix designed for seed germination.
  4. Watering Can or Spray Bottle: For gently watering the seeds without displacing them.
  5. Heat Mat (Optional): To maintain a consistent soil temperature, which can improve germination rates, especially in cooler environments.
  6. Labels and Marker: To label trays or pots with the variety name and planting date.

For Seedling Care

  1. Grow Lights: If sufficient natural sunlight is not available, grow lights will ensure seedlings receive enough light to grow strong.
  2. Humidity Dome or Plastic Wrap: To maintain humidity around the seedlings until they germinate.
  3. Fan: For air circulation, which helps prevent fungal diseases and strengthens seedling stems.
  4. Fertilizer: A balanced, water-soluble fertilizer for the initial weeks of growth, diluted to a strength suitable for seedlings.
  5. Larger Pots or Modules: For transplanting seedlings when they outgrow their initial trays or pots.
  6. Potting Soil: A high-quality potting mix for transplanting seedlings into larger containers.

General Supplies

  1. Thermometer and Hygrometer: To monitor the temperature and humidity of the growing area.
  2. Watering System: Depending on the scale, this could be a simple watering can, a drip irrigation system, or self-watering trays for consistent moisture.
  3. Gardening Tools: Including scissors or a sharp knife for thinning seedlings, and a small trowel for transplanting.

Gathering these materials and supplies before starting the germination process will ensure that you have everything needed to support the growth of Brussels sprouts from seed to young plants, setting the stage for a successful growing season.

During this initial stage, the seedlings concentrate on developing their root systems and establishing a strong base for future growth. You will observe a steady increase in leaf growth as the plants begin to photosynthesize more actively. It’s crucial to ensure consistent watering and protect the young plants from extreme weather and pests.

Weeks 5-10: Vegetative Growth

In this phase, the plants experience rapid vertical growth and an increase in leaf size and number. This vegetative growth is essential for creating a robust framework to support the sprouts later. Proper nutrition is vital during this stage, so a balanced, slow-release fertilizer can be beneficial to ensure steady growth.

Weeks 11-16: Sprout Development

Small sprouts will start to appear along the stalk, usually beginning at the lower nodes and progressing upward. This is when the actual Brussels sprouts form and gradually enlarge. Given their increasing weight, the plants may need staking or support to prevent them from toppling over or bending, which could stress the stalk and affect sprout development.

Weeks 17-20: Maturation

The sprouts mature from the bottom of the stalk upwards, becoming firm and taking on a vivid green hue. They are typically harvested when they reach about 1 to 1.5 inches in diameter, which is the ideal size for optimal flavor and texture. It’s best to harvest sprouts when they are compact and before they become overgrown and potentially bitter.

Weeks 21-26: Continuous Harvest

Brussels sprouts have the unique advantage of providing a continuous harvest. As each sprout reaches the desired size, it can be picked, allowing the upper sprouts more space and energy to grow. The flavor of Brussels sprouts often improves after exposure to light frosts, which can increase the sugar content and reduce bitterness.

Aftercare and Rotation

Post-harvest, it’s important to clean up plant debris to prevent the overwintering of diseases and pests. Crop rotation is critical; avoid planting Brussels sprouts or other brassicas in the same location for at least two to three years to minimize the risk of soil-borne diseases and pest accumulation.


Cultivating Brussels sprouts in Cleveland, or similar climates, is a journey through the seasons, demanding diligence, patience, and care. The reward of harvesting home-grown sprouts is not just in the eating but also in the deep satisfaction of sustainable living and gardening success. This detailed roadmap to growing Brussels sprouts will hopefully lead to a bountiful and flavorful harvest, enhancing both your garden and your dining table.

These additions and details should enhance the understanding and appeal of the growth and harvesting stages of Brussels sprouts, making the information more comprehensive and engaging for readers.

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