Brussels sprouts can be one of the toughest vegetables to master, especially for new gardeners. We struggled for years trying to get a consistent Brussels sprout harvest. We'd have a decent harvest one year, but were unable to do it in consecutive years.
We've tried just about every trick in the book when it comes to Brussels sprouts, but we finally think we've cracked the code. This year (2024) was the third year in a row we've had great Brussels sprout production in our backyard garden. This year also gave us the biggest harvest and nicest sprouts we've ever grown.
Brussels Sprout Tips That Didn't Work
Let's start by mentioning the "tricks" we tried that didn't work. The first one would be trimming the leaves on the side of the stalk. You'll find quite a few people online that says this work. You might even find one of our YT videos where we were pretty convinced it worked. But after a detailed side-by-side experiment last year, we can confidently say that trimming the side leaves has little to no effect on sprout production.
Secondly, we found that cutting the tops of the plants doesn't help either. Some gardeners profess that cutting the tops of the Brussels sprout plant forces the plant to devote more energy into the sprouts as opposed to more vertical growth. But we didn't find this to be the case.
Brussels Sprout Tips That Have Worked
Improving Soil Fertility
Our consecutive years of Brussels sprout success has also coincided with building and implementing a chicken tractor into our backyard gardening system. This wonderful, sustainable gardening system involves growing cover crops for our chickens, letting them graze the cover crops, and getting fertilizer plus eggs in return.
Once we started having more fertile soil as a result of the chicken tractor, we noticed our Brussels sprouts were thriving. This was a clear indication that we weren't feeding them enough in past years. We then began to side-dress them with nitrogen as they grew, much like we do cabbage. This also helped a lot!
It is my current opinion that Brussels sprouts are very heavy feeders, much like cabbage and onions. I haven't tested the limits of what they can take, but it seems almost impossible to over fertilize them. We use Coop Gro in the furrow at planting and then side dress them with a nitrogen-based fertilizer several times as they grow.
Brussels sprout leaves should be dark green, much darker than cabbage leaves. If the leaves aren't dark green throughout their growth, you're likely going to get a substandard harvest. I'd recommend incorporating manure into the soil prior to transplanting, and feeding them heavily until the leaves remain dark green.
Choosing the Right Variety
Over the years we've tried many different Brussels sprout varieties, which include Jade Cross, Catskill, Red Bull, Gladius, and Dagan. Of these five, Gladius and Dagan were head and shoulders above the rest. But Dagan, which we've grown the last two years, is by far my favorite.
When it comes to Brussels sprouts, I think choosing a hybrid variety is extremely important. We did a side by side comparison several years ago with an open-pollinated versus a hybrid variety, and it wasn't close. The hybrid variety significantly outperformed the open-pollinated variety.
Hybrid seeds do cost more, but the production you get in the end is well worth that increased initial seed investment. Brussels sprouts are in the ground a long time, which means they require a significant amount of patience and effort to grow. The last thing you want to do is spend all that time and effort on a variety that was never going to impress in the first place.
There are some vegetables for which we love to grow heirlooms. These would include tomatoes, okra, and pumpkins. But there are some vegetables where the hybrids are a no-brainer. Brussels sprouts are one of those.
I'm sure there are other great hybrid varieties besides Dagan, but I would highly recommend trying Dagan if you haven't. This year we have the most beautiful and delicious Brussels sprouts I've ever seen. They'd make the grocery store jealous!