Nope, you're not looking at some wacky palm tree — that's how Brussels sprouts actually grow. We're blowing your mind a little bit right now, aren't we?
For the last few years, Brussels sprouts have been, um, sprouting up on menus everywhere. While most of our 12-year-old selves hated sprouts (as people sometimes affectionally call them), as adults we now gobble them up served with bacon, covered in buffalo sauce, shredded into a slaw ... the list goes on.
If we're all gonna be so obsessed with these tiny veggies, we may as well know a little bit about where they come from and how they grow.
Brussels sprouts are tiny, knob-shaped members of the cole crop family, which includes other veggies like cabbage, broccoli, kohlrabi, turnips, and kale. They grow in the ground and ripen on thick stalks with large, leafy green leaves.
Timing, air temperature, and soil all play a large part in yielding a successful harvest.
Here are some of the specific growing conditions that should be met to produce a tasty crop.
The Best Climate for Brussels Sprouts
Brussels sprouts are best cultivated in cool-weathered regions like the "fog belt" in the Pacific Northwest, but they can be grown just about anywhere. Sprouts thrive best when the air temperature is between 45°F and 75°F. If the air is too cold, too dry, or too hot, the sprouts won't mature properly and will be flimsy or bitter.
The Best Planting Season for Brussels Sprouts
Some farms in cooler climates are able to plant crops in early spring, but most Brussels sprout crops are planted in late August so they'll be ready for cultivation as soon as the temperature dips in the fall.
The Best Soil for Sprouts
The soil should be nitrogen-rich and very moist. Because the plants require lots of vitamins and minerals to grow, it's best not to plant them in the same place two years in a row, as that will deplete the soil. If the soil's too dry, crops will become stressed and you'll have an unsuccessful harvest.
How to Start: Stalks vs. Seeds
If you're starting a garden at home, consider starting with transplanted stalks (instead of planting seeds) because they're usually easier to grow. They'll also have a better chance of withstanding potentially warmer temperatures outside.
The Best Time to Harvest
Brussels sprouts are best harvested in cold weather, right after the first frost, as the drop in temperature aids their natural sugar production. Once the sprouts are about one to two inches wide and are firm when squeezed, they're ready for consumption. Cultivate the sprouts lowest on the stalk first, as they ripen before the rest.
Smaller buds tend to taste sweeter than the larger ones, which can be more bitter and cabbage-like. They last longer if left on the stalk, but the loose ones are fine as long as you consume them sooner rather than later.