Sprouting is easy, fun and a way to grow nutritious edibles almost anywhere in the house and in a very short time
Back in the hippie era of the 1970s, everyone suddenly discovered sprouting. It seemed like you couldn’t find a sandwich or a salad without a heavy garnish of alfalfa sprouts — whether you wanted them or not. Mung beans were the other mania.
These days, sprouting is a lot more versatile and made easy with simple equipment and commercially available packets of seeds that are specifically for home sprouting. It’s very easy to always have some on the go to add to salads and sandwiches or throw into your stirfries. If you don’t have a garden or even a balcony, you can still grow something nutritious to eat. As with your garden vegies, when you grow your own sprouts, not only are they as fresh as they can possibly be but you can be sure they are organic and have been grown using clean water. You can also be confident that if you look after them properly with regular rinsing, they won’t be contaminated with pathogens.
Sprouting, like cooking, reduces the anti-nutrients in legumes, specifically lectins and phytic acid, which make dried legumes indigestible. This is why legumes are banned from the paleo diet: it’s claimed that humans did not start eating them until the advent of agriculture and, indeed, we are the only primates that do eat them — obviously because we cook them.
When dormant seeds are sprouted, they become a living food. Their proteins are split into smaller, digestible molecules, their vitamin content increases, their starch is converted to simple sugars and new healthy enzymes and phytochemicals are released. They also contain good levels of valuable minerals.
What to sprout
While mung beans and alfalfa are still very popular, there are many more options that are ideal for sprouting or growing into microgreens, including broccoli, kale, radish, mustard, sunflower, snow peas, adzuki beans, soy beans, chickpeas, lentils and fenugreek.
Some bean sprouts need a little cooking, either by light steaming or quick stirfrying, to get rid of any remaining toxins. Also, it’s not advisable to eat legume sprouts every day. And don’t ever consider seeds from the Solanaceae or nightshade family as they can be poisonous. Rhubarb is another one to avoid.
There are a few general rules. Don’t sprout in full sun or in very hot or cold conditions. As with sprouting in soil, container sprouting needs a suitable temperature range for the seeds to sprout. Don’t use seed that’s meant for sowing as it may be treated. Use only organic untreated seeds and always wash them in clean running water first, discarding any that float as they are probably not viable.
Grow in a jar
- Soak 1 tablespoon of seed overnight (or for at least 6 hours) in a good-sized glass jar that’s at least 10cm deep. The jar needs to be filled with water to about 6cm from the rim. Lukewarm (not hot) water is ideal.
- Cover the opening with fly screen held in place with a rubber band.
- Drain the water from the seeds the next morning, using a fine-meshed strainer, and rinse them under cold running water. Then rinse the seeds two to three times a day, each time draining excess water by keeping the jar at an angle in the dish rack.
- The seeds will start sprouting gradually and will be ready to eat in 5–7 days. Some sprouts such as brassicas will give off a strong aroma with the rinsing method but don’t be bothered by this — they will have a great taste and be good to eat.
- Good light — but not direct sunlight — is required for the sprouts to elongate.
Once the sprouts have grown to around 2–5cm or are just showing two small green leaves, they are ready to eat.
- To slow the growth of the sprouts and extend their availability, refrigerate and continue to rinse and drain them.
Grow in soil
- Fill a recycled container (food or strawberry container) with 1cm of soil. The container must be at least 4–5cm deep and with a few drainage holes.Broadcast half a teaspoon of dry sprouting seeds on top of the soil.
- Cover the seed with 2–3mm of fine soil, water lightly and keep moist (not wet).
- The sprouts don’t require any light, so sprouting can easily be done in the kitchen. A good temperature range is 18–24°C and seeds should sprout in 3–5 days.
- Increase light gradually once the seeds have germinated (do this on about day 4 or when the first little leaves appear) by moving the container into indirect sunlight. Sprouts need some light to keep the leaves green, but be careful: direct sunlight will kill them.
- Sprouts will develop elongated stems with small green immature leaves growing to around 10cm high, giving you more food value.
- In 5–7 days, harvest the sprouts by snipping them off at soil level. Sprouts will keep growing for up to a week with daily watering.
Grow without soil
- Place a few layers of damp paper towel in the bottom of a recycled container that’s no less than 4cm deep.
- Sprinkle a thin layer of sprouting seeds on top of the towel mat. Leave the seeds uncovered.
- Cover the container with a clear lid that has a few air holes punched in it.
- Place the container near a window but not in direct sunlight.
- When growing without soil, seeds require temperatures to be at least 21°C to germinate.
- Harvest the sprouts (as with those grown in soil) by hand 3–5 days after they sprout, and rinse them to remove hulls.
Grow in a colander
- This method is good for larger seeds such as beans and peas.
- Soak the seeds for about eight hours then place in a colander. Rinse at least twice a day.
Sprouting methods adapted from
Good Organic Gardening Vol 5 No 1
Written by Kerry Boyne
Originally from Good Organic Gardening Volume 7 Issue 6