irrational sprouts

If you find Brussels sprouts a challenge in the kitchen and at the table - try growing them. They are one of the most heavily sprayed horticultural crops when grown conventionally, and one of the most challenging to grow reliably, organically; so challenging in fact that we have given up on our farm. Fortunately Anthony Coker, one of our local co-op members persists with some success but we find you (rightly) unforgiving when it all goes wrong the week before Christmas. So it is a relief to spread the risk across our farms; with Organic Dan from Lancashire, John Walton from Cheshire and Peter Richardson from Yorkshire. It is little drier and a lot colder up there which seems to help keep the crop healthy.

Sprouts are generally sown in trays under glass in February or March, planted out in the field in May ready for picking September to February. By August the leaves have joined across the rows trapping in a layer of still, damp air; perfect for incubating fungal disease, while the aphids get their proboscis stuck in to the younger leaves higher up. We pick by hand and are able to avoid the worst affected areas but most sprouts get a barrage of fungicide and insecticide from sowing to harvest to guarantee the uniform perfection needed for machine harvesting.

A wet summer (helped grow large plants with plenty of embryonic sprout buds) was followed by a dry September and October which kept disease at bay; just about perfect until a wet and ridiculously mild November brought the crop too forward. Thankfully the temperatures have now dropped so we are hoping they should hold for another two weeks. If the gods are with us we normally harvest the sprouts on the stalks for the Christmas boxes; not only do they look impressive; they keep longer when still attached to their mother stalk. It is traditional to harvest the tops of the sprouts about now to encourage the sprouts higher up the stalk to fill out. After vocal demands from a minority of old timers they are now available to order alongside your regular delivery; with their