Christmas is coming – so are the Chipping Campden Brussel sprouts!
Sprouts are named after Brussels which is where they were first noticed as a valuable winter vegetable. These almost mini-cabbages things are really superb veg for the majority of winter meals. They are a great source of vitamins C & K, low in calories, good antioxidants, fair amount of fibre. There are quite literally hundreds of different varieties. Though that which a domestic gardener may choose and the professional sprout grower will vary quite a bit.
Plant breeding has meant that now we have a range of varieties which can be measured on how tall/short they are; when they actually come into full production; their fertilizer requirements, as well as colour, flavour – including sweetness, and of course disease resistance. Plants like humans need good food to be healthy, hence the various ratings given to these characteristics.
Why Are Brussel Sprouts Grown in Chipping Campden?
The Vale of Evesham used to be the market garden area, but being lower-lying, sprouts could be plagued by aphids (small sap-sucking insects and members of the superfamily Aphidoidea).
There are many stories that even post World War 2, it was not uncommon to see sprouts hanging in the River Avon to wash away the aphids (but lets not think about what else was being washed on to them in the process)! However, It was found that at this higher altitude, sprouts didn’t have the same level of infestation, and so it was that Chipping Campden became a sprout-growing area.
In April and May, you will see boxes of plants being taken out to the fields to be planted. Today, it is no longer on the yard square nor the back-breaking hand planting with a dibber.
This year, we really do have to praise Drinkwater’s and the Haines’ for getting their crops planted and growing in a very hot season – yes; even sprouts get thirsty.
Sprouts have a long season, usually from early autumn to late spring. However, the bulk of varieties come to fruition from November to February. The job of picking has now become much more mechanised, though hand-picking still occurs. This is why if you grow the commercial varieties in your garden, you will find that the whole plant is ready for picking, rather than picking a few and leaving the rest to fill out From now on you will see the harvesting machines in the sprout fields.
This author can confess to being one of the slowest hand-picker of sprouts ever, even a nine-year-old managed more nets than I did. It is quite a back-breaking task, especially on cold wet days. So thank goodness for technology and mechanisation, nonetheless it remains quite a hard task.
Chipping Campden once had a sprout weekend, where we even had the invention of a sprout cake. Sprout stems adorned doorways, it was quite an event. Perhaps we should suggest to Messrs Haines and Drinkwater’s that we do it again. In the meantime, enjoy your sprouts, they‘re not just for Christmas!
Written by Liz Hodges