Growing Brussel Sprouts in Wisconsin

I had never eaten brussel sprouts until I was a teenager and one bite had me gagging. Maybe it was puberty, the fickleness that comes with being a teen, or the fact that to me they tasted bitter beyond anything I had ever ingested. My family always planted a big garden yet those itty bitty cabbages never graced our dining table. And now I know why.  As a mother I do not prepare what I don’t have a pallette for eating (cooked peas) and I clearly inherited that gene from my mother who never cared for brussel sprouts.  Exactly when, where and how my sister developed a taste brussel sprouts remains a mystery, but every so often during our high school years my mother would prepare them for her – and her alone.

Fast forward a few decades and my darling green-thumbed hubby announces the addition of brussel sprouts to our garden, insisting that I will surely like them the way he prepares them. Uh, sure. “You love cabbage more than anyone I know, these are just mini cabbages.” Uh huh.

Growing Brussel Sprouts in Wisconsin

The first year we grew brussel sprouts happened to be an unusually cold summer in Wisconsin.  Hubby harvested our small bounty and prepared a deliciously simply side dish that evening: steamed brussel sprouts lightly sauteed with bacon. Oooh la la I was hooked. Emeril was right when he said that pork fat makes everything taste better, but to be fair I ate plenty of sprouts sans bacon and they were tender and delicious. The next time around the brussels sprouts had a light dijon sauce and once again I was hooked.

Last year, I became unhooked. Our plants didn’t produce well and the brussel sprouts we did harvest had that distinctive bitterness that turned me off to them 30 years ago. It was then that I began to question if growing brussel sprouts in Wisconsin was such a good idea. After consulting cousin Google I come to find that these babies prefer cooler climates. Well, the scorching temps and drought-like conditions we experienced last summer explain the meek yield and awful taste.

Three key points I learned about growing brussel sprouts in Wisconsin:

  • The lower leaf of the plants should be cut off when the sprouts first appear and are about the size of a large pea. We didn’t do this.
  • The sprouts should be picked by twisting them off when an inch or so in diameter. We waited and did one big harvest as shown in the photo above and the sprouts were larger than an inch in diameter. Oops.
  • A number of sources noted that frost improves the flavor of brussel sprouts and harvesting should be delayed until after the first frost, preferably first two frosts. However, sprouts can be harvested throughout the summer if continuously picked when they reach marble size. Double oops.

Having done my due diligence I’m going to convince Hubby to try growing brussel sprouts again. I can’t believe I just typed that. By no means does Wisconsin constitute a “warmer” climate but our summers are usually quite hot and humid. Iam determined to prove that a hobby gardener can successfully grow brussel sprouts in Wisconsin, so we’re going to test the theory of treating the sprouts as a fall crop and sowing in mid to late July.

I’ll let you know what happens.


  1. Sue Schweitzer says:

    Thanks for the infor on the Sprouts. I was just saying to my husband, I thought I should harvest the sprouts before a frost. WE pickle the sprouts. Thanks for the Tip. Good Luck Next year

  2. Pickled sprouts sound delicious! I’ll have to keep that in mind for next year. Thank you!

  3. Mary Collins says:

    I was just thinking of pickling some sprouts myself! Plus, everything you guys did, we did too! Yikes, lesson well learned. We will give a try again! I love Brussels Sprouts!

  4. How do you fertilize your Brussels Sprouts? I am using virgin soil reclaimed from the yard and it’s dark. How did planting them later work for you last year?

    • Hi Lisa, I typically fertilize my garden two weeks after planting and rarely thereafter (for no reason other than it falls off my to-do list). Last year I did not get to test planting Brussels sprouts in late summer though I’m hoping to this year. If/when it happens I will be sure to post the results. If you give it a try, please share your findings!

  5. Well, how did it go?

    • Sorry to say, it didn’t. We bought starter plants and held out planting them for as long as we possibly could…only to discover they were mislabeled. The large green heads of cabbage were delicious. 🙂 Here’s hoping for a better experiment this year.

  6. Laurie Lee says:


    Thanks for your reply–there really are real people still thinking about this subject! I guess people sometimes just drop off, and that’s rather lonely. Anyway, I have been growing brussels sprout plants for 5 years or so, but have yet to harvest even one little sprout. My seed is always good, germinates well, and produces the most lush and healthy plants, which never get above three feet tall and never produce any sprouts. It’s quite discouraging, as far as gardening goes. I am growing these useless plants in northeast Iowa. This year I’m going to try a different tactic and plant them in June for the recommended fall harvest, though our weather is plenty cool here right now. I’m going to direct sow them, like I always do, and see what is in store for me for 2016. By the way, though I am a complete failure with brussels sprouts, I am quite adept at growing broccoli, direct sow. I grew too many last summer, of course, to give myself plenty of room for error, and the whole row-and-a-half produced all summer long and into the fall. We got tired of broccoli, and that seems wrong. Cabbage? Yes, mine did well this past summer, as did the cabbage worms. They are quite adept at camouflage, and it took me quite some time to catch on to their existence. It just made me sick to touch them and smash them on the ground with my foot or between two rocks. They really had a hey day with my leaves, but the cabbage heads themselves were in good shape.

  7. My first attempt at Brussels Sprouts last year in Knoxville TN was not a success. The seeds had been incorrectly labeled, but the Georgia Collard Green leaves were delicious in January. Starting from plants this year … hope they were labeled correctly.

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