The Q&A Archives: Head Formation In Brussel Sprouts

Question: I have grown a fall crop for brussel sprouts for several years and have had difficulty in getting large tight heads on the plants. Usually I get a range of responses from tight heads to loose leaf heads within a plant and plant to plant.
The loose leaf heads seem to predominate. How can I get uniform all tight heads? I usualy pinch off the tops around late Aug. and have tried to strip leaves off some plants as the heads form. Nothing seems to work. Is this loose leaf head a bolting phenomena? Is it moisture or heat related?

Answer: The secret to good sprout harvest is a proper planting date. Cool temperatures during sprout development are important for compact, quality buds. Excess nitrogen can cause discolored, loose buds. If you want to harvest over a period weeks, begin at the bottom and remove the sprouts, removing the leaf below the sprout as you harvest. Upper sprouts will continue to mature as the lower ones are harvested. For a one-time harvest, pinch out the growing point at the top of the stem when the lower sprouts are 1/2 to 3/4 inch in diameter. This will force maturity of all sprouts. If you're pinching the tops out of your plants in August, you may be planting too late, or planting a variety that needs a long season in which to mature. Try an early variety and sow seeds in early spring. Or, sow seeds in mid-summer for a late fall harvest. 'Prince Marvel' matures in 76 days, 'Bubbles' tolerates summer heat and matures in about 90 days, and 'Rubine' matures in 85 days. Hope you have a better harvest this season!

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