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

Project Overview

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

Annual Reports


  • Vegetables: brussel sprouts


  • Crop Production: application rate management
  • Education and Training: extension, farmer to farmer
  • Farm Business Management: community-supported agriculture, marketing management
  • Pest Management: biological control, botanical pesticides, field monitoring/scouting, genetic resistance
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture, transitioning to organic

    Proposal summary:

    With expanding demand for locally produced winter crops, especially greens, the potential for increased production and storage of Brussels sprouts should prove profitable. They are hardy to 15 degrees and available when most cole crops are not. Commercially, Brussels sprouts are grown in areas with long cool growing seasons, such as coastal California, or Southeastern England. Most of the varieties available have not been developed for the warm summers with variable rainfall and wide temperature fluctuations we experience in the northeastern U.S. Many small-scale growers invest time, space, fertilizer, and labor in this long season crop, hoping to extend the growing season with a very hardy and high value crop. Too often the yields, quality, or both, are substandard, resulting in a loss of income that only becomes apparent at the tail end of the season, when it is too late to replant. High quality Brussels sprouts command a high price per stalk, as much as $5 each at some markets, but due to inconsistent production and resulting low yields, returns are often much less. If the production problems were addressed, growers might be more inspired to plant Brussels sprouts given the high price they command. In summary, researching the production problems of Brussels sprouts has merit for the following reasons: potential to increase yields and returns to farmers, and potential to better fulfill consumer demand for local winter crops.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    I propose to test 6 varieties of Brussels sprouts, at least 4 of which are not commonly grown in our region. The 6 varieties will be planted in a 220-foot long bed that is 6 feet wide. Each variety will occupy 1/6th of the bed with 30 inch spacing between plants and 4 rows per bed.

    Each variety will be evaluated for the following:
    1) Yield, flavor, pest and disease resistance, heat resistance, and appearance;
    2) Variation in storability for a period of 2 months after harvest in refrigerated storage.

    This part of the project will begin with the selection of varieties. In this, I have enlisted the help of Jan van der Heide, an experienced seed trial researcher from Bejo Seeds in Geneva, NY. I have worked with Jan in the past, and I think he will be an excellent resource for helping to select varieties from his own company’s breeding program, and to assist me in contacting breeders from other seed companies in the U.S. and Europe.

    Sixty plants of each variety will be seeded in open wooden seedling flats in early June, and transplanted to prepared bed in July. Each 36-foot plot will be clearly identified with the variety name. The plots will be cared for in the routine fashion of all crops growing on the farm. They will be tractor cultivated, hoed or hand weeded, and irrigated during dry spells.

    I will plant an additional 220-foot long bed of a previously grown and farm tested Brussels sprouts cultivar, such as Oliver or Churchill. This bed, containing 360 plants, will be used for comparing two OMRI approved pesticides for the control of cabbage aphids against a control plot. This bed will be divided into four 55-foot plots. The first plot will be sprayed with AZA-Direct Neem at the manufacturer’s recommended rate. The second plot will be a control plot, with no pesticide spray. On the third plot, I will test Safer’s Insecticidal Soap, again at the manufacturer’s recommended rate. The last plot will be a buffer.

    I will enlist the help of Anthony Shelton, Professor of Entomology at Cornell University, to refine the layout of this planting. It may not be accurate enough for statistical analysis, but will combine the practical concerns of on farm research with an attempt to glean replicable results.

    I will scout for aphids weekly, and evaluate the need for applications of insecticidal soap or neem to achieve adequate control. When aphids are present, I will apply soap to one plot, and neem to one plot. I will leave both the control plot and the buffer plot unsprayed. I will pay special attention to aphid infestations invading the maturing sprouts, which has been reported to occur after the plants are topped. Topping the plants, or removing the growing point, is commonly performed when the lower sprouts on the stalk have begun to form. Topping encourages uniform sprout maturity. I will scout both plots for lepidopterous pests, including imported cabbageworm, diamondback moth larvae, and cabbage looper. Plants will be sprayed with BT (Dipel DF) for control if necessary. Scouting for cabbage aphids will be done visually, starting in September, approximately 2 weeks before the plants are topped. After the mid-September topping, scouting will be performed on a weekly basis. At the first sign of aphids, the designated plots will be sprayed weekly, or as recommended, using a backpack sprayer. Aphid populations will be monitored continuously and recorded until harvest ends, probably in late November.

    The growing of the crop, from seeding to harvest, will be performed by Blue Heron Farms owners, manager, or one of our well-trained employees. We employ a total of 9 people during the summer, and will involve one of our more detail oriented workers in this project. The plot layout and planting, pest scouting, and evaluations will be done Blue Heron co-owner Lou Johns or myself.

    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.