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.