The Last Harvest of 2014: Brussels Sprouts

2014 might go down as the Year of the Brussels Sprout here at Ye Olde Port Potager. Although we didn't end up with a big crop, we managed enough for one dinner, which is far better than the abject failures of the past.

Brussels sprouts are challenging because they are gardening's longest game. We planted the seeds way back in the middle of April, and that was even a couple weeks late thanks to last winter's unrelenting polar vortex. They are slow growers, and it wasn't until September that we had buds:


Those tiny buds form just above each leaf, and on September 1st we broke the leaves off of half of our  plants to encourage the buds to develop. For the other half, we topped them:


Both methods perform the same function: get the plant to grow some new leaves. It's just that the new leaves we want are shaped like tiny cabbages. 

Five or six weeks later, the ones that we topped had some nice development of sprouts near the top, but not so much growth farther down the stem:


The ones that still had their top leaves were developing, but were far too tiny to consider eating:


By mid-November, some of the sprouts, though still tiny, had started to open:


I'm assuming this was courtesy of our strangely warm autumn. We didn't have a frost until closer to the end of November, which is strange indeed. Some still looked promising, though: 


I don't think they got too much bigger, since there's just not enough sun for any new growth after Thanksgiving. We kept them outside anyway to get them a good hit of frost. Frost sweetens up Brussels sprouts because the plants produce more sugar to protect their leaves from freezing. 

When we finally picked them last Sunday, we ended up with just enough for a side dish: 


There was a fair amount of size variation, though:


Still, they tasted great, and it felt like a victory to finally eat them up.

Next year, I think we will plant them in a spot farther from the house. By the fall, when the angle of the sun is lower, they were in a lot of shade from the house, and I think that kept the sprouts from getting bigger in September and October. If they are in a bed that still gets full sun in the autumn, we might have a better or shot at more consistent sprouts.

Clearly, there's still some experimenting to be done, but I am happy to close the 2014 garden on a positive note!

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