Some questions surprise me because they reappear so frequently, but what is it with Brussels sprouts? For decades I’ve heard nothing about Brussels sprouts, but suddenly every third visitor wants to know how to pollinate them. I do not understand.
I endure Brussels sprouts mostly because my husband likes them and they are good for me. But I will eat them only fresh off the stalk. A Brussels sprout that is frozen or otherwise tampered with goes through a mystical transformation that makes it truly vile. It’s not the flavor so much as the texture—a mouthful of bland green mush—that really gets to me. Shiver.
But if you are the type of person that wants to ensure the survival of said mush, you should know that Brussels sprouts can be pollinated by both honey bees and native bees. The plant belongs to the Brassicaceae family that includes cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, collard greens, and kohlrabi. The odd thing is that Brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, savoy, and Chinese kale are all in the same species, Brassica oleracea—they are merely different cultivars (cultivated varieties).
This means that when growing the plants for seed, you must keep the different cultivars separated from each other because they can readily cross-pollinate. For example, a broccoli might cross with a Brussels sprout and yield yet another smelly cabbagy thing to fester in our produce drawers. The amount of separation should be at least a mile because, as you know, honey bees are completely willing to span that distance.
People unfamiliar with plant propagation will often say they buy seeds, grow a sprout (or a carrot or a turnip), and never see a flower. So who needs pollination? Good question except they are forgetting that the seed wasn’t manufactured by Home Depot. They were grown by a farmer who maintained the plants until they flowered. Then the honey bees were brought in to do their thing. What a system.
So the short answer is “yes,” Brussels sprouts need pollination. Without pollination there is no seed. And without the seed we would have no more Brussels sprouts . . . perhaps not such a bad thing after all.
Confidential to “Typo Police”: Thanks. Indeed I have only one husband.