The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Topping Brussels sprouts

Baby brussels

Last year, we didn't top our Brussels sprouts because it was our first year growing and we wanted to try the simplest method.  But Throwback at Trapper Creek reminded me of the possibility, and even though it's really much later than you should top the plants, I decided to try lopping the tips off a few.

Topping brussels sproutsThe theory behind topping Brussels sprouts is that if you cut off the growing tip, the plant stops elongating (and making new Brussels sprouts) and puts that energy into plumping up the sprouts that have already started.  This is a bit like the way you might top tomatoes at a certain point so they ripen fruits faster rather than setting lots of little tomatoes that won't have time to fully form before the frost.

In the case of Brussels sprouts, all of the sprouts will keep enlarging until extremely cold weather sets in, and it's true that the plants will also make sprouts in the early spring if they over-winter.  However, we found last year that the over-wintered sprouts were pretty damaged and only moderately worth eating, while the fall and early winter sprouts were delectable.  So even though topping Brussels sprouts reduces yields by about 30%, I figured it was worth a try if the 70% we get are much higher quality.

I wasn't entirely sure it was worth topping so late, though, so I only hit plants sporadically.  The tops came into the kitchen where I sauteed them in a bit of oil with salt and pepper and relished the first taste of Brussels sprouts in months.  A forecast of delicacies to come!

Our chicken waterer is the POOP-free treat for pampered backyard birds.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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This is my first year growing brussel sprouts. I just topped mine too, only on the theory it might make the side sprouts get bigger. They are still only marble sized, and I wonder if we will get any harvest from them at all.... Seems they havent really grown in months. The top buds were pretty much devastated by aphids anyway, but at least our steady cold weather ( low 20's at night up to maybe low 50's durong the day) has killed off the damaging insects. So, what do you think, will the side buds still grow? Or should I relegate them to compost?
Comment by Deb Mon Oct 28 02:46:04 2013
Deb --- It sounds like you must live somewhere colder than we do? My brussels sprouts are still pretty tiny too, but that's okay because for us the prime harvest period is in November and December. But once it starts hitting the low 20s every night, they tend to get nipped, so I'm not positive whether that will be the case in your climate. I guess you'll have to wait and see, and plant earlier next year maybe. (I always mean to plant earlier...)
Comment by anna Mon Oct 28 13:07:19 2013

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