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Welbaum, G.E. 1993. Brussels sprouts as an alternative crop for southwest Virginia. p. 573-576. In: J. Janick and J.E. Simon (eds.), New crops. Wiley, New York.

Brussels Sprouts as an Alternative Crop for Southwest Virginia

Gregory E. Welbaum

  5. Table 1

Although over 750 ha of summer cabbage are produced annually in Southwest Virginia (Vavrina 1988), the cabbage industry in this region often suffers from low market prices due to excess production and inadequate marketing strategies. Replacing cabbage hectareage with another high value crop, such as Brussels sprouts, could raise cabbage prices by limiting production and provide additional income from a second crop. Brussels sprouts have much greater cold hardiness than cabbage and other alternative vegetable crops being considered for the region. The introduction of Brussels sprouts would allow growers to produce a vegetable crop in the fall and early winter when labor is more readily available and other vegetables are out of season. Since cabbage and Brussels sprouts require similar cultural practices, Brussels sprouts production would require only a modest investment in new harvesting equipment and minimal retraining of growers and farm laborers.


Nine Brussels sprouts (Brassica oleracea L., Gemmifera group) cultivars were evaluated for growth and yield for the first time in Southwest Virginia: 'Rider', 'Golfer', and 'Boxer' (Seed Way Inc., P.O. 250, Hall, NY 14463); 'Pilar', 'Lunet', 'RS88032', and 'Dolmic' (Royal Sluis, 1293 Harkins Road, Salinas, CA 93901);'Royal Marvel' and 'Prince Marvel' (Sakata Seeds America Inc., P.O. Box 880, 18095 Serene Drive, Morgan Hill, CA 95038).

Plants were grown in Speedling polystyrene trays in a greenhouse for six weeks and transplanted to a field at the Virginia Tech Horticulture Farm near Christiansburg on July, 25 1990. About 15 g of fertilizer (10N-4.3P-8.3K) were placed beneath each plant during transplanting, and a soil drench consisting of 9N-19.4P-12.5K fertilizer (4 g/liter) plus the insecticide, Diazinon (0.7 g/liter), was applied at a rate of 250 ml per plant after transplanting. Plants were set in double rows 30 cm apart with an in-row spacing of 60 centimeters. Each cultivar was transplanted into double rows 15 m long in an unreplicated block. Overhead irrigation was applied as required and fungicide and insecticide treatments were applied in accordance with recommended procedures (Anon. 1990). On Nov. 30, 127 days after transplanting, 10 to 12 plants of each cultivar were randomly harvested. The unharvested plants were evaluated periodically throughout the winter to assess holding ability and freeze tolerance.


Results of the trial are summarized in Table 1. All cultivars grew slowly during August and early September due to the high temperatures. Brussels sprouts that mature during warm weather in the summer and early fall often have a strong, disagreeable flavor, while plants that mature under cooler fall conditions, particularly after frost, have a milder flavor. In this study, even the early maturing cultivars such as 'Dolmic' and 'Prince Marvel' had experienced temperatures of -5°C before maturation in early November, and none of the sprouts sampled from any of the cultivars had a strong flavor.

'Dolmic', 'Golfer', and 'Rider' produced a significant percentage of large, loose sprouts. Large sprout size may be a characteristic of these cultivars or an indication of excessive nitrogen fertilization. 'Boxer', 'Lunet', 'Royal Marvel', and 'RS88032' exhibited excellent sprout quality. However, 'Royal Marvel' was the only high-yielding cultivar with excellent sprout quality. 'Royal Marvel' yielded 17.9 t/ha, about 14% greater than the average yield for Brussels sprouts in the United States (Lorenz and Maynard 1988).

Brussels sprouts are slow to mature and are known to be susceptible to a wide range of insect pests. An early season infestation of diamondback moth (Plutella xylostella L.) did considerable damage and required the application of insecticides. However, after the first killing frost in October, insects were no longer a problem and many of the later maturing cultivars, such as 'Lunet' and 'RS88032', matured in near perfect condition without further use of insecticides. The cultivar 'RS88032' matured in late December, after the harvest data in Table 1 had been collected. The optimal harvest date for 'RS88032' should have been on January 1.

Brussels sprouts characteristically have a long storage life if maintained under optimum conditions. In this study, Brussels sprouts were stored at 3°C and greater than 90% relative humidity for two weeks with no reduction in quality.

Plants remaining in the field throughout the winter were assessed for cold hardiness. As of Jan. 1, an estimated 90% of the sprouts for all cultivars were still marketable. During the month of January, the percentage of unmarketable sprouts for 'Prince Marvel', 'Dolmic', and 'Royal Marvel' increased as the outer leaves began to yellow. On two occasions in mid-January, temperatures dropped below -10°C. This resulted in freeze damage to exposed sprouts near the bottom of all plants that had dropped their lower leaves. Sprouts protected by foliage near the top of the plant were not damaged. In early February, plants were exposed to -12°C. The exposed sprouts received more damage, but surprisingly, many of the sprouts protected by foliage sustained only minor damage. In mid-February, most plants began to decline, and few marketable sprouts remained after this date. The winter of 1990-91 was uncharacteristically mild, and the Brussels sprout harvest period could be significantly reduced in other years with colder winters.

The sprouts of some cultivars are very difficult to remove from the plant by hand. Large scale production is extremely tedious and time consuming without mechanical harvesting equipment. Intact stalks can be cut at soil level and fed through a sprout stripper which removes the sprout from the stalk. Multitrade Inc. (P.O. Box 58, 1610 AB Bovenkarspel, the Netherlands) markets a sprout stripper that attaches to a tractor's three-point hitch and runs off power takeoff. The Multitrade Brussels sprout stripper sells for $4,352, including shipping charges from the Netherlands. More sophisticated and expensive harvesters are made by Mali-Ploeger B.V. of the Netherlands and are distributed in the United States by Agro Gold Inc. (Route 1, P.O. Box 299 B, Homer, IL 62849).


Brussels sprouts are more cold hardy than the other alternative vegetable crops being considered for Virginia, thus permitting commercial vegetable production to continue into December. In this study, 'Royal Marvel' was particularly impressive, because it combined good sprout quality with high yields. More information is needed on the market potential of Brussels sprouts before this crop can be recommended to growers. A suitable mechanical harvester is necessary for efficient, large scale production of Brussels sprouts.


Table 1. Performance of Brussels sprouts cultivars, Blacksburg, Virginia, 1990-1991.

Marketable weight (g)
(Seed Co.)
Plant height (cm) No. marketable
Sprout Sprout
(mm ±SE)
47.1 46.1 283 6.1 30.2±0.8 x 22.5±0.5 Light green, solid sprouts were produced on tall, late maturing plants. Sprout quality was high, but plants were not highly productive. Matured 125 days after transplanting. Very difficult to hand harvest.
(Royal Sluis)
35.6 35.0 324 9.3 36.4±0.5 x 26.2±0.7 Small plants produced large sprouts that were not solid. Matured 115 days after transplanting. Very difficult to hand harvest.
47.3 33.8 331 9.8 35.5±0.6 x 29.4±0.3 Sprouts were large, light green, and lacked uniformity. Some sproutswere large and not solid Sprouts held well on the plant and were easily hand harvested.
(Royal Sluis)
37.6 40.6 232 5.7±0.2 27.9±0.2 x 22.4±0.3 Very attractive small, dark green, solid sprouts were produced on short plants. Sprout quality was very high but productivity was low. Late maturing sprouts held well in the field and tolerated cold weather.
(Royal Sluis)
39.4 46.7 348 7.4 32.9±0.7 x 24.7±0.6 Large, light green sprouts were produced on medium sized plants. Plants were very productive. Sprout quality was somewhat lacking, because the sprouts were not solid. Matured 125 days after transplanting. Easy to hand harvest.
Prince Marvel
36.6 45.9 324 7.1 32.4±0.7 x 25.9±0.3 Small sprouts were produced on compact plants. Both plants and sprouts have distinct red leaf veins. Sprouts near the top of the plant developed slowly. Suitable for hand harvest 180 days after transplanting.
38.6 39.7 308 7.7 32.7±0.5 x 26.5±0.6 Sprout size was variable. Many sprouts were large but not solid. Sprouts held well in the field. Suitable for hand harvest.
(Royal Sluis)
49.9 38.4 258 6.7 30.3±1.0 x 29.4±0.3 Very large late maturing plants. Later harvests in mid-Dec. produced yields in excess of 300 g per plant. Performed well under cool conditions and held well in the field. High quality, uniform sprouts were light green in color. Difficult to hand harvest.
Royal Marvel
38.1 49.1 358 7.1 32.7±0.3 x 23.8±0.4 Similar to 'Prince Marvel'. Short compact plants produced uniform, high quality sprouts. Easily hand harvested 115 days after transplanting.
LSD .05 2.3 3.7 22 1.1

Last update April 29, 1997 aw