Brussels sprouts

Brussels Sprouts Varieties

We planted two varieties of brussels sprouts this season: Churchill left-over from last season and a new variety Octia which we selected, in part based on a review of brussels sprouts from UNH cooperative extension. As recommended by that review, we topped both varieties to encourage a higher yield.

The mature plants were relatively easy to distinguish because Churchill has a redish tint to the stalks and leaf stems (lower left) while the Octia were pale green (upper right). 

Another difference was the time to maturity.  A few Octia sprouts were large enough to start harvesting in mid-September, while the Churchill sprouts were still very small.  Now, in mid-October, both varieties have some harvestable sprouts, but the Octia has a much larger quantity of mature sprouts ranging from medium sized to very large.  Churchill sprouts are small to medium.  The picture below contrasts the number of Octia (left) versus Churchill (right) sprouts harvested on October 7th.  Octia produced 4-5 times more sprouts than Churchill and some of them were very large. 

One issue that we noticed with Octia at the start of the harvest was that the outer leaves of some sprouts were damaged (dead or possibly mildew?) and stunted growth.  It was a small portion of the sprouts, but those affected by the damage were still edible after removing the outer leaves.

Some of the Churchill sprouts also had an odd elongated pine-cone shape to them instead of a more compact cabbage shape, but they still taste fine and mature to a medium size.

Overall, the Octia seems to be a good variety and is much more productive than Churchill; however, a portion of the sprouts were damaged and remained small.  Another consideration for future brussels sprouts varieties in the garden is that the Churchill variety was not offered by Burpee or Johnny's  Seeds for the 2016 season, so it is not clear whether Churchill will be available for next season.

On another note, we have been very fortunate to have very few aphids on either variety of brussels sprouts this year! Aphids were one of the major challenges we faced with the brussels sprouts in the past two years. 

2013 Brassicas (end of season notes)

Cold spring weather a problem for all early crop. Late crop started in garden and transplanted.
Broccoli: sprouting type was a bust, possibly weather stress. Late crop did better in potato bed
 – try heat tolerant variety next spring?
Brussels Sprouts: starting seedlings indoors produced more viable plants – plant further apart?
Cabbage: early green & red did well. Late green did well, red did not, savoy took a little too long.
Cauliflower: most early season produced tiny heads, a few heads produced normally & a few others took twice the time, late crop all produced well.
Romanesco Cauliflower: started indoors, plants produced tiny heads (like early broccoli & cauliflower) –give up or grow only late season

A Surprise Treasure in our Garden!

While topping the Brussels sprouts* on Wednesday evening, I happened upon an odd, exotic-looking object that was attached to the main stem of one of our plants.  It looked like something that would fit right in on the set of the movie Alien!  However, as I examined it more closely, I realized that it is something that is very good to find in one's garden -- that is, an ootheca, (i.e., egg case), from a mantid!  In our case, (no pun intended!), based on its size and shape, this egg case is from a Chinese mantid (Tenodera aridifolia sinensis). 


Ootheca (egg case) from a Chinese mantid, on a Brussels Sprout Plant

[photo - Susan Doctrow]

The Chinese mantid is the world's largest mantid, often reaching over four inches in length when fully grown.  They are brown, with green or yellow stripes on the sides of their wings, and they are widely sold through garden catalogs and garden centers because they are carnivorous predators that will often feed on other insects and creatures that are garden pests.

See our earlier post for a photo of the adult Chinese mantid that we discovered on our pole bean trellis:

Here's a Chinese mantid creating an egg case:

And here's a mantid egg case actually hatching:


*  We learned, this season, that topping Brussels sprouts and flower sprouts when they are 3-4 weeks from harvest leads to bigger, more-consistently sized sprouts at harvest time.


Flower Sprouts: Kale and Brussels Sprouts Announce a "Love Child"

Chief Gardening Officer Mike Smith recently made us aware of Flower Sprouts, called the first new vegetable in 10 years, a cross between Kale and Brussels Sprouts.  (See Mike's post).  At Mike's suggestion we decided to try them in the Garden this year.  


Flower Sprouts thriving in the Robbins Farm Garden, with proud parents Kale and Brussels Sprouts (not shown) close at hand.


Reportedly, the Flower Sprout was developed by Tozer Seeds, a family-owned business in Surrey, UK and was first introduced in 2010.   Both an owner and a senior plant breeder from Tozer expressed pride to the press over this first new vegetable in a decade.  Apparently, this enthusiasm is not shared by everybody in the UK, with the Daily Mail announcing "A New Vegetable for Your Children to Hate".  Even the BBC Surrey reporter interviewing the Tozer Seeds representatives seemed to be trying to overcome her timidity over veggies to faintly praise the Flower Sprout "... although Dr Frankenstein probably thought the same about his little project, the Flower Sprout is different. Far from being some sort of hybrid monster, it has been developed over the last ten years using traditional breeding techniques........ It has a Brussels sprout-like growing habit with its tall stem and rosettes forming all the way up to a frilly-leaved top. A bit like one of the more imaginative hats you see at Ascot Ladies Day.  And its appeal may go further than just the aesthetic. Brussels Sprout haters around the world could possibly be won over by its milder, sweeter flavour. But for those of you who, like me, are of a nervous disposition and get easily frightened by funny shaped vegetables, be warned!"


"Funny-shaped"?  We would take issue with that description, but, of course, we Robbins Farm Gardeners are particularly enthusiastic and welcoming to our veggies, be they "old standbys" or exotic newcomers.   As the reporter notes, Flower Sprouts grow in a stalk like Brussels Sprout, but the "sprouts" remain open, forming small curly leaves like Kale. And, they're a lovely deep green and purple.  Many of us are excited for them to be ready to harvest but we hope you will come visit them in our Garden first.

November Harvests: Brussels Sprouts and other Cold-Hardy Crops

If it's November, it's time to harvest the Brussels Sprouts. They're one of the slowest crops in the garden -- but worth the wait. They're exceptionally cold hardy. In fact, they were growing so vigorously in late October that the snow didn't even stick to them!


The last of the Scallions, Leeks, Collard Greens and Tatsoi were harvested this week. (Sadly, the Leeks never fully matured.) We're still picking small Broccoli florets (amazingly, from the seedlings we planted in April) and some of the sweetest Kale I've ever tasted. The Arugula and Broccoli Rabe also continue to produce. A few tiny Lettuce and Spinach seedlings remain, along with our marginal late-season Cabbages.  

Alan harvests Brussels sprouts

Mike, Melanie and Sophia prep the sprouts

October weather Surprise

garden before and after snow


After Saturday's work session, the garden was neat and clean and green. The following day, it was white! The fluke October snow was perfectly timed to weigh down the fresh compost of basil, bean, eggplant, okra, pepper, tomato and tomatillo plants.

The cabbage was snug in its white blanket, awaiting more warm weather and the Brussels sprouts were standing tall.

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