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Garden in the City: Brussels Sprouts Are Psyched for Sweater Weather

By Patty Wetli | October 14, 2013 9:34am | Updated on October 15, 2013 11:52am
 Brussels sprouts are one cool customer, growing best when there's a chill in the air.
Garden in the City: Brussels Sprouts
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LINCOLN SQUARE — You know you're a gardener when you look at the weather forecast and cross your fingers hoping for rain and frost.

Brussels sprouts, one of the last summer crops still maturing in many gardens, are big fans of chilly or even downright cold temperatures, better equipped to handle a freeze than a heat wave. For the past three or four months they've been biding their time waiting for sweater weather, playing tortoise to the strawberry's hare.

So as much as I would personally prefer for the mercury to hold steady at a perpetual 72 degrees, I'm rooting for nippy overnight lows.

I know what you're thinking. Brussels sprouts: Blech! Good riddance if the suckers don't reach their full potential. And you wouldn't be alone in that opinion.

Americans are not, as a rule, huge fans of Brussels sprouts. We dutifully trot them out at Thanksgiving and then spend the rest of the year trying to get their taste out of our mouths.

But we shouldn't judge a vegetable by its store-bought variety, according to the folks at Vermont's Cedar Circle Farm. The sprouts are almost always bitter and tough because they've been picked too early — so they can be rushed to supermarkets for us to complain about how nasty they are.

When harvested at their peak, the sprouts have a far more delicate flavor, I'm told. They're also rich in Vitamins A and C and pack a powerful protein punch, especially when combined with grains.

You know who appreciates the benefits of Brussels sprouts? The Dutch.

The Belgians might have been the first to cultivate Brussels sprouts in a big way — as the name would suggest — but today the Netherlands claims bragging rights as the top producer of this member of the cabbage family. Coincidence that the Dutch are crazy tall? I think not.

They also must be crazy patient, because growing Brussels sprouts is an exercise in perseverance.  I spent half the summer convinced I'd made any number of mistakes when my plants failed to demonstrate any appreciable progress.

To be sure I placed them too close together, cramming three seedlings into a space that would have sufficed for one. (And I would have shoehorned more if a neighboring gardener hadn't said, "I'm concerned that you're planting four Brussels sprouts in a single square.") There's also the distinct possibility I didn't water enough.

I took to circling the garden looking for other plots with Brussels sprouts and was relieved to see they weren't making much headway either. Clearly, Brussels sprouts will not be rushed — either that or my fellow gardeners are a uniformly hapless bunch.

To give my plants the best possible chance for success late in the game, I've snipped off lower-level leaves, which may or may not redirect more energy to the sprouts. I also pulled the runt of my litter to give the other two plants more breathing room and sunlight.

And now I wait.