IN THE YARD: Brussels sprouts can be grown in Dan River Region gardens (if anyone really wants to) –


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IN THE YARD: Brussels sprouts can be grown in Dan River Region gardens (if anyone really wants to)

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Once harvested, Brussels sprouts will last up to two weeks in a refrigerator. After that, they will need to be frozen.

Brussels sprouts are ready to harvest when they are 1 ½ to 2 inches in diameter.

Contributing columnist
As the Medieval Era came to a close, the historic methods of torturing people in dungeons began to fade away.Either the methods had been declared illegal or it was just something that was no longer done in polite society.Rulers of the time needed to find a more civil method to force confessions and get information from their victims. Possibly as early as the 13th century, they had what they needed.The victims were forced to eat Brussels sprouts until they did or said what was required.Brussels sprouts were known as far back as the ancient Roman times, but they were not utilized much as anything edible. But there are records in the 1200s that they were around.The first reliable written record of the cultivation of Brussels sprouts is dated 1557. They were first grown as a crop in Belgium near the present-day city of Brussels. They first appeared in North America in the 1800s when French settlers brought them to Louisiana, and they have been distressing children ever since.I have confirmed the dates of this horticultural oddity, but I have never fact-checked the actual use as a torture implement, but it seems plausible to me.Their use for torture and punishment is still popular today, but is usually directed toward young children. I remember when I would sit down for supper and there would be a supply of the sprouts on my plate. I always assumed I had somehow, unknowingly, offended my mother or broken a serious, but obscure, household rule. I figured actually eating all of those things was my expected punishment and atonement for whatever that infraction had been.OK, OK, OK. I know there are some people who actually like to eat these things. In fact, I have some friends who are Brussels sprout eaters.There seems to be no middle ground here. People either love Brussels sprouts or they hate them. I have been approached about finding out if these sprouts can be grown in local gardens. The answer is yes, they can. If you want to know how, read on.It is believed the Brussels sprouts originated from Spanish kale growing in the Mediterranean area. Its botanical name, Brassica oleraceae ‘gemmifera,’ places it firmly in the same family as other “cole” crops such as cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower. Therefore, it is not something that will be happy in our hot summers. It will grow in July, but the fruits will be butter tasting.This plant is best grown in the spring and fall. People who actually consume them say they taste much better after they have been exposed to frost a couple times or more. Even then, they seldom survive temperatures of 20 degrees or lower, so planning is the key to growing these “little gems.”They thrive in temperatures between 45 and 75 degrees. They like a rich, organic and well-drained soil with a pH around 6.8. If your soil tests out between 6 and 7 pH, that will be fine. You will need to be selective about the varieties of Brussels sprouts you plant. Depending on which ones you choose, it can take from 80 to 130 days from planting to harvest. You can start the seeds indoors or sow them directly into the ground.Most gardeners prefer to use seedlings that are about 3 inches tall for their gardens. If you start your plants indoors, it will take three to four weeks before they are ready to transplant.So, you will need to estimate when you will need to harvest your sprouts: Before it gets too hot in the spring (above 75 degrees) or before it gets too cold in the fall (below 20 degrees). Then count backward on your calendar the number of days to harvest to determine when to plant.Be sure to give these plants room to grow; 18 inches between plants and 24 to 36 inches between rows to allow room for harvesting. Brussels sprouts require full sunlight for a minimum of six hours a day. Their water needs are similar to most garden plants, so keep the soil evenly moist, but not wet. Apply a light application of a complete fertilizer at planting and then side-dress with a little more about four weeks later. A third application can be made four weeks after that, but then no more.The sprouts will ripen from the bottom of the stalk going up. It may take several “pullings” before you get them all. As the leaves begin to yellow from the bottom up, they should be pulled as well to encourage more growth on the stem. Or you can pick the leaves while they are green to add to a salad.The stalks are edible as well, but they are tough. Brussels sprouts are ready to harvest when they are 1 ½ to 2 inches in diameter. Try to let them get frost-bit at least twice before you pick them. If you need to speed things up, cutting the top of the plant back will help ripen the sprouts faster. You can also cut the whole stalk with the sprouts attached.Once harvested, the sprouts will last up to two weeks in a refrigerator. After that, they will need to be frozen. The most common recipe I kept seeing was to spritz them with olive oil, add salt and pepper and roast them in the oven.Enjoy your garden, and Bon Appetit.For questions or to suggest a topic for this column, email to [email protected]

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