Ok, so here’s a confession. In almost ten years of growing I’ve never managed to successfully grow that quintessential Christmas crop, the Brussels sprout. This has been somewhat irksome as I am a fan of sprouts and generally speaking, really in to the idea of vegetables that grow well over winter. But alas they are a slow growing crop, which means you have to be on the ball for a long period of time to grow them successfully. My sprouts this year were sown in April (and planted out in the veg patch end May) which means that I have been tending to them on and off for 8 months now. That’s not ideal when you’ve the attention span of gnat like I do.
It doesn’t help of course that Brussels sprouts are a member of the brassica family, otherwise known as the Pests and Diseases Love Us family. In some years, the little seedlings have been munched by slugs shortly after being planted out in the garden. In other years I’ve managed to fend off the slugs long enough to get a decent plant going, only for the pesky cabbage white butterfly to lay its pesky eggs on the leaves, which turn in to pesky caterpillars that end up eating the whole pesky thing. That’s just pesky.
This year through a combination of grim determination and sheer good luck, I managed to get the plants in to the autumn in fine fettle and have been rewarded finally with a decent crop of sprouts. Timing is everything—you want the plants to form nice firm sprouts by the time the first frosts hit, but not so early that they’ve become overly mature (and loose) by then. With the occasional frosts of the last month, their flavour has continued to improve to a pleasingly sweet and nutty flavour—unlike anything I’ve ever tasted before. They are an incredibly handsome crop in the garden—particularly when the yellowing leaves are removed to expose the sprouts along the stalks, therefore providing an ever present reminder of your awesomeness as a GIYer.
The big question is—with such an appetite for the lovely sprouts, will I have any left for Christmas dinner?
To Do this December
As you clear remaining crops from your veggie patch, dig the beds over and add well rotted compost or manure. Get Educated—book yourself on a course! Start planning what you would like to grow next year and work out what crop rotation system you are going to use. Study seed catalogues carefully before deciding on the best varieties to grow. Start a Compost corner or heap. Keep an eye on your stored veggies and discard anything that’s rotting. Collect and store leaves in bags to make leaf mould or use as cover for bare soil.
If you haven’t already done so plant garlic—it should be in the soil by the shortest day of the year. Bring herbs like mint, chives, lemon balm, parsley, thyme indoors by lifting and potting them up.
Buck the seasonal trend by continuing to harvest winter salad leaves like corn salad, land cress and mizuna. You should still have at least some produce left in the December veggie patch e.g. winter cabbages, Brussels sprouts, leeks, kale, Jerusalem artichokes, carrots, celery, turnips, parsnips, winter cauliflowers, swedes, spinach, chard and celeriac. From your stores you can enjoy pumpkins and squashes, potatoes, onions, apples, beetroot and garlic.
Recipe of the Month—Brussels Sprouts, Apple and Bacon Hash
This cracking seasonal recipe brings together ingredients that work great together—sprouts, apple, bacon and onions. Roasting the veg and apples brings out their sweetness and of course bacon is the ultimate partner for the sprouts.
- 300g Brussels sprouts, halved
- 2 red onions, unpeeled, halved lengthwise
- 1 apple, cored
- ½ tablespoon butter
- 180g streaky bacon, cut into ½-inch pieces
Preheat oven to 190°C. Toss Brussels sprouts and onions with just enough olive oil to coat; season with salt and pepper. Spread vegetables in a single layer on a baking sheet. Fill center of apple with butter, and add to baking sheet. Roast until tender when pierced with a fork, about 30 minutes for the apple, 40 to 45 minutes for the vegetables. Meanwhile, cook bacon in a large, heavy pan over medium heat until fat renders and bacon begins to crisp, about 12 minutes. Pour off most fat, leaving behind enough to coat bottom of pan. When onion and apple are cool enough to handle, cut into pieces about the size of Brussels sprouts. Add onion, apple, and Brussels sprouts to skillet, and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until heated through, about 15 minutes.
Tip of the Month—Winter Protection for Plants
Over the last couple of years we’ve been experiencing some severe winter weather, not usually seen until the New Year. So if you haven’t yet started now is a good time to protect your plants, trees and soil from the more extreme temperatures—ensuring that you’re guaranteed some crops come Spring!
Fleece will protect your crop or soil from frost and cold weather whilst admitting light, air and rain. This is generally bought in large rolls or sheets and can be cut to the specifications of your plant/raised bed. It is also available in varying thickness, including a heavyweight version (30g) for Arctic conditions! Fleece Jackets for larger plants/bushes are available from some garden centres.
If you don’t have a greenhouse or polytunnel, you may want to look at covering young or more delicate plants with cloches. This can range from glass bell jar cloches or ornate Victorian lantern cloches to homemade cloches from glass jars, fizzy drink bottles and sneakily-appropriated Water Cooler bottles from the office!
By joining GIY you help us to continue the work of supporting people just like you to grow food at home, at school, in the workplace and in the community—each year we support over 65,000 people and 1,500 community food growing groups and projects. It costs just €35 to join GIY for a year, and to say thanks we will send you a seasonal copy of our supporter’s magazine GROW and some GIY seeds for you to sow each quarter. We will also send you our weekly tips, news and advice ezine and offer you discounts to GIY events like the annual GROW Fest. Join today at GIYireland.com.
Michael Kelly is a freelance journalist, author and founder of GIY.
© GIY Ireland 2015—all rights reserved.