Organic Brussels Sprouts in the Northeast: Variety, Pest Control and Storage Trials

Final Report for FNE11-724

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2011: $6,134.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Robin Ostfeld
Blue Heron Farm
Expand All

Project Information

Summary:

The goal for this project was to improve the profitability of organic Brussels sprouts production by addressing the common problems that plague this crop for northeast growers-adaptability to the unpredictable fluctuations in temperature and precipitation, and predilection to aphid infestation.  I conducted variety and storage trials, as well as attempting to perform pest control trials. I gleaned some valuable information from conducting the variety and storage trials, but was foiled in the pest control trials two years in a row by lack of aphids.

We evaluated the 6 varieties for size of the stalk, number of sprouts, pest resistance, heat tolerance, plant growth characteristics and general appearance.  We were able to identify Gustus as a clearly superior variety two years in a row.  The fact that it performed well in 2 very different growing seasons speaks to its adaptability. Two other varieties, Diablo and Dmitri, both ranked second and were quite satisfactory. Nautic was also acceptable; though it’s late maturity was a strike against it. The last 2 varieties, Falstaff and Franklin, would not be grown again because of small sprouts, (Falstaff) and loose sprouts (Franklin).

Harvesting for storage was done before exposure to temperatures below 20 degrees and before the sprouts became over mature.

At harvest, they were labeled and stored for a period of 2 months. In January, the varieties were tested for storage qualities, such as color retention, moisture loss, general appearance and flavor. Though Franklin kept it’s green color best, it wasn’t enough to compensate for the sprout quality. All of the favored varieties above performed well in storage also.

 

Introduction:

Blue Heron Farm has grown a wide variety of certified organic vegetables and berries in Lodi, NY since 1987. We developed a permanent bed system over 20 years ago in order to prevent erosion and soil compaction, using grassy strips between beds to provide beneficial insect habitat. The six-foot wide beds are straddled by all tractors, the grassy strips providing solid traction for vehicle and human traffic no matter the weather conditions. Crops are seeded or transplanted into 2 or 4 rows per bed, either 16 or 36 inches apart. We market our produce as locally as possible, and take pride in high quality, flavorful produce. Every year we conduct trials, both formal and informal, in order to improve our variety selection and garner ever increasing consumer approval.

 

Project Objectives:

The goal of the project was to gather useful information to help organic growers, particularly in the northeast US, to select suitable varieties and control aphids more effectively, in order to gain more reliable yields for this challenging season extending crop.

           

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Tony Shelton
  • Jan van der Heide

Research

Materials and methods:

In 2011, and again in 2012, I planted 6 varieties of Brussels sprouts for variety and storage trials, and 360 of a commonly used single variety for pest control trials. I selected Royal Marvel as the pest control plot variety.  The cultivars chosen for performance evaluation were Diablo, Dmitri, Falstaff, Franklin, Gustus, and Nautic. These plants, 60 of each type, were started in seedling flats containing McEnroe Organic Premium Light Potting mix on May 4, 2011 and May 1, 2012. They were transplanted to the field using a two-row bare root and plug mechanical transplanter on July 8 in 2011, and on June 28, 2012. The plots were laid out in 36-foot sections for the variety trial bed.  The 6 foot wide bed was planted with 4 rows spaced 16 inches apart, with 30 inch spacing between the plants. The beds had been previously cover cropped with a fall grain and legume mixture, which was mowed repeatedly before incorporating into the soil. Khreher’s’ compost was applied at a rate of 5 tons per acre and worked in with a rotovator. The beds were cultivated, weeded, and irrigated in a routine manner. The varieties were evaluated using a simple form with 7 basic criteria during the growing season.  I visually evaluated the plants for size of the stalk, number of sprouts, pest resistance, heat tolerance, plant growth characteristics and general appearance. I measured pest resistance by the number of apparent flea beetles, which was the only insect visibly present. I measured heat resistance by noting plant stress signs and the formation of loose fluffy sprouts at the top of the stalk. At harvest, they were labeled and stored for a period of 2 months. In January, the varieties were tested for storage qualities, such as color retention, moisture loss, general appearance and flavor. I did this by examining each stalk visually, looking for wilting, color change in the sprouts, and internal quality of the sprouts. I cooked a small batch of each type and attempted to note bitterness or sweetness as well as texture. There was not much variation in this category, all tasted fine but not quite as good as freshly picked sprouts.

 

Research results and discussion:

In 2011 we had such a severe drought that by July the plants were so stressed I decided to postpone the project. The 2012 season was successful for variety trials. I was able to identify varietal differences during the growing season, and also evaluate for storage qualities. Gustus was a clear favorite. It was the earliest to mature, most attractive with a blue-green color, and very uniform in that almost every stalk was marketable with firm large sprouts.  Diablo and Dmitri were tied for second. Both were later to mature than Gustus, but acceptably early. The sprouts were a bit smaller but firm. They were a bit less vigorous and seemed to attract more flea beetles than Gustus, but appearance and yields were more than satisfactory. Nautic was quite late maturing, with sprouts developing high off the ground. It was acceptable and ranked third.  Falstaff, a red variety, was unproductive, though the least attractive to flea beetles. The plants were large but the sprouts never sized up adequately. The red color, it’s best attribute, faded in storage. In the storage trials, Franklin was superior with color retention, remaining green while other varieties were turning yellow. Unfortunately Franklin produced sprouts that were quite loose, which eliminated it from high ranking.

An abbreviated variety trial with Gustus, Franklin and Diablo was performed again in 2013. We decided to give the 3rd and 4th ranked varieties another try to see if 2012’s results would be replicated. It proved valuable to repeat the experiment because conditions were quite different in the second year. 2012 was dry with plenty of sun, the type of weather that makes disease outbreaks rare. 2013 was generally a very good growing season, the only drawback being occasional excessive rainfall. Wet weather in the late summer and early fall caused a few diseases and cultural issues to crop up in the Brussels sprouts. The main problem was tip burn, a condition in which high soil fertility and high temperatures combine with soil moisture fluctuation to cause the outer edges of leaf (or sprout) surface to turn an unsightly brown color. We noticed that our general favorite, Gustus, exhibited resistance to tip burn as compared to Diablo and Franklin. Our observations from 2012 were confirmed.

 

The pest control portion of the project was attempted in 2012. The bed was planted with a single variety, laid out with 4 zones. The first plot was to test AZAguard, the second was a buffer, the third to test Safer’s insecticidal soap, and the fourth as another buffer. All plots were cared for in the routine manner for brassica crops. The plots were observed with the intention of spotting the arrival of aphids and beginning to spray for control. The intention was to spray the 2 different controls at regular intervals, while continuing to monitor aphid population. Evaluating the comparative efficacy of the spray materials against the buffer plots was the goal. 

Scouting was performed, but no aphids were present. I decided to make another attempt to get pest control information again in 2013, but again no aphids were found.

 

Research conclusions:

Unfortunately the pest control trials were unsuccessful due to lack of aphids in 2012 and 2013. This was both frustrating and rewarding. When a problem disappears mysteriously on it’s own the results are positive, but questions go unanswered.

We evaluated the 6 varieties for size of the stalk, number of sprouts, pest resistance, heat tolerance, plant growth characteristics and general appearance.  We were able to identify Gustus as a clearly superior variety two years in a row.  The fact that it performed well in 2 very different growing seasons speaks to its adaptability. Two other varieties, Diablo and Dmitri, both ranked second and were quite satisfactory. Nautic was also acceptable; though it’s late maturity was a strike against it. The last 2 varieties, Falstaff and Franklin, would not be grown again because of small sprouts, (Falstaff) and loose sprouts (Franklin).

Harvesting for storage was done before exposure to temperatures below 20 degrees and before the sprouts became over mature.

At harvest, they were labeled and stored for a period of 2 months. In January, the varieties were tested for storage qualities, such as color retention, moisture loss, general appearance and flavor. Though Franklin kept it’s green color best, it wasn’t enough to compensate for the sprout quality. All of the favored varieties above performed well in storage also.

The variety and storage trials have been useful to obtain a better quality product. I hope they’ll be replicated on other farms. I also hope that seed breeders will continue to improve this crop’s adaptability to our region.

 

Participation Summary

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

Participation Summary

Education/outreach description:

A version of this project report is on track to be published in the NOFA-NY News, as well as posted on Blue Heron Farm’s website.

 http://blueheronorganic.com

Project Outcomes

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Future Recommendations

Continual crop improvement is a goal on our farm. We will keep at the informal trials and continue to collaborate with seed breeders to promote crops that are adaptable to regional conditions.

 

 

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.