Let’s hear it for Brussels sprouts


Bath. now the Christmas market has packed up and gone, becomes beautiful once again.  I photographed the Abbey just before the market kicked off, but the other photo is of the veg stall on Kingsmead Square taken in the pouring rain today. In fact it doesn’t seem to have stopped raining for weeks, and because the purple sprouting hasn’t ripened yet on the allotment we’ve been buying some Brussels sprouts.  They’re best on the stalks which keep them fresh for days, and as I was cutting them off one by one tonight it occurred to me that we couldn’t grow anywhere near the quality and consistency on our allotment. I know I have the odd poke at farmers, and these sprouts weren’t organic – and so I can’t say what was or wasn’t sprayed on to them during their lives – but in conditions such as we’ve endured during this last couple of months, how on earth the farmers manage the crops is a mystery, especially when the selling price is kept so low. Most years we’ve grown three or four plants and frankly they’re usually embarrassing.  The sprouts are breaking open, they’re a wild mixture of large and small sprouts and the stems – after a prolonged growing season are as tough as old boots – so woody I have to break them up with the back of an axe before I put them in the compost.

I’m very proud of what we grow, and maybe the problem is to do with our soil, but hats off to the farmers who manage to get something on to the table for Christmas.  In fact it’s quite hard to find organic sprouts, and so maybe they’re just too difficult for allotmenteers.  Either way round, if we want to eat good organic sprouts I suspect we’re going to have to pay a lot more for them – or – get used to the kind of blemishes and variability that go with nearly all home grown crops. In the end, we’re the ones doing the choosing and so if we turn our noses up at anything below grade one quality, we’ve no-one to blame except ourselves if that’s what farmers produce.

I suppose many people would say “good thing too – we hate sprouts” but I love them and I’d just love to grow them looking less like green firework displays on a stick, but meanwhile we’ll have to choose between physical perfection or organic perfection.  The ball’s always in our court.

Author: Dave Pole

I've spent my life doing a lot of things, all of them interesting and many of them great fun. When most people see my CV they probably think I'm making things up because it includes being a rather bad welder and engineering dogsbody, a potter, a groundsman and bus driver. I taught in a prison and in one of those ghastly old mental institutions as an art therapist and I spent ten years as a community artist. I was one of the founding members of Spike Island, which began life as Artspace Bristol. ! wrote a column for Bristol Evening Post (I got sacked three times, in which I take some pride) and I worked in local and network radio and then finally became an Anglican parish priest for 25 years, retiring at 68 when I realised that the institutional church and me were on different paths. What interests me? It would be easier to list what doesn't, but I love cooking and baking with our home grown ingredients. I'm fascinated by botany and wildlife in general, and botanical illustration. We have a camper van that takes us to the wild places, we love walking, especially in the hills, and we take too many photographs. But what really animates me is the question "what does it mean to be human?". I've spent my life exploring it in every possible way and the answer is ..... well, today it's sitting in the van in the rain and looking across Ramsey Sound towards Ramsey Island. But it might as easily be digging potatoes or making pickle, singing or finding an orchid or just sitting. But it sure as hell doesn't mean getting a promotion, beasting your co-workers or being obsequious to power, which ensured that my rise to greatness in the Church of England flatlined 30 years ago after about 2 days. But I'm still here and still searching for that elusive sweet spot, and I don't have to please anyone any more. Over the last 50 or so years we've had a succession of gardens, some more like wildernesses when we were both working full-time, but now we're back in the game with our two allotments in Bath.

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