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Fresh Greens in Winter: How to Grow Sprouts at Home

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Winter is when we need fresh greens the most, and sprouts are the super-food of the season…

By Shannon Cowan Posted Feb 6, 2013

SproutsAs winter kicks into high gear and many gardens lay dormant, the demand for fresh greens peaks across North America—along with their price. Enter sprouts, the powerhouse of the vegetable world. Grown year round and packed with nutrients, sprouts are finished in days and often provide more vitamins and minerals than our favorite vegetables. They are also inexpensive and easy to grow.

Add to this impressive list their health benefits: some sprout varieties have been found to contain cancer-fighting agents, reducing the risk of breast and colon cancer. One study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science in 2004 (and later featured in Time magazine) linked broccoli sprouts to reduced risk of stroke, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. Another, earlier study from John Hopkins University noted that broccoli sprouts have higher levels of cancer fighting compounds than broccoli heads—up to 100 times higher!

So why are sprouts often overlooked as a basic winter vegetable? A few easy steps in the home kitchen easily converts naysayers and brings satisfying results. For those interested in growing sprouts for health or just their fresh taste, here are a few things to consider.

What Are Sprouts?

Sprouts are tiny plants grown without soil. In most cases, nature packages seeds with enough energy to germinate and produce two small leaves before requiring inputs from sunlight and soil. Sprouting encourages this transformation on your kitchen counter with water along, and you consume the results. Leaves, stem, and root: all are delicious and make excellent additions to sandwiches, salads, dips, spreads, and stir fries.
Sprouts growing

What Equipment Do I Need to Make Sprouts?

A variety of sprouting equipment is available today, both online and in specialty shops. Designs range from simple containers with built-in sieves to multi-tiered set-ups for sprouting several varieties at once (or for staggering sprouts of one kind). You can also use a simple glass jar with cheesecloth secured by a rubber band over the opening or screening fastened by a metal, screw-top ring. Other necessities include clean water (non-chlorinated is best) and untreated seeds (more on seeds below).
Sprouts

Choosing Which Seeds to Sprout

In theory, almost any seed will sprout given the right conditions, but some are better than others for eating in their sprouted state. Seeds marketed specifically for sprouting are also free of the harmful fungicides and other chemicals that some seed growers use to treat their seeds. Ensure your seeds are meant for sprouting before you start and choose the seed best suited for your purpose. Over the past three decades, select seeds have emerged as popular choices thanks to their ability to grow quickly and stay fresh. Some of these choices include:

Sprout Type

Flavor

Common Uses

alfalfa

mild

salads, sandwiches

broccoli

distinct

salads, sandwiches, dips, spreads

clover

mild

salads, sandwiches

fenugreek

bitter

salads, stir fries (good mixed with other sprouts)

lentils (blue, red, green)

varies

salads, soups, dips

mung beans

mild

salads, stir fries

mustard (oriental)

spicy

salads, sandwiches, dips

radish

spicy

salads, sandwiches, dips

quinoa

distinct

salads, dips, soups, spreads

sunflower

distinct (almost peppery)

salads, sandwiches, spreads

Seeds and mixes are available online from sprout and seed companies or at your local health food store. Mixes include more than one seed type, and add nice variety to your favorite dish thanks to their blend of flavors.
Sprout seeds

How to Sprout Seeds

A few tablespoons to half a cup of seed are all you need to produce ample sprouts for sandwiches, salads, and other dishes. Sprouts will double or triple in size, depending on the size of the seed and the variety you are sprouting. Keeping things small will ensure you don’t end up with sprouts going bad in your refrigerator.

In general, use 2-3 tablespoons of small sprouting seed (alfalfa or clover) and 1/3-1/2 cup of larger sprouting seed (lentils or beans) for ample amounts. Quinoa is one exception: this ‘pseudo-grain’ sprouts small and stays small.

Here are some other general rules of thumb to observe when growing sprouts at home:

  1. Rinse and clean your seeds to remove any dust or other debris.
  2. Spread evenly in your container so seeds form a thin layer. Avoid piling seeds on top of one another.
  3. Soak your seeds to “wake” them up and encourage sprouting. While you can skip this step for a few, lesser-known sprouts, soaking seeds is an important first step for most varieties. Cover your seeds completely and soak for 6-12 hours. (Be sure to poke down any floaters.)
  4. After soaking, drain water from the seeds and keep moist. If using a jar, try laying on one side for more even distribution.  Rinse and drain 2-3 times per day. (Note: rinse hulled sunflower seeds more frequently, since they tend to get slimy. Rinse or pick off seed skins to prevent rotting.)
  5. After your seeds have sprouted, continue to rinse and drain regularly (every 8-12 hours) until sprouts reach the desired length.
  6. Eat fresh or store in the fridge until consumed.  Most sprouts last 1-2 weeks when kept cool.

Sprouts

Average Days to Finish Sprouts

Lentils: 3-4 days
Mung beans: 3-5 days
Radishes: 4-5 days
Mustards: 3-6 days
Alfalfa and clovers: 5-6 days
Sprouts

Keeping Sprouts Safe

Despite their health benefits, instances of E. coli or Salmonella bacteria have been known to occur in commercially grown sprouts. Research suggests that some seed might have been contaminated by fertilizers while growing in the field. To ensure that your seed is safe, purchase organic or “pathogen-free” sprouting seed where possible. Always use clean water, utensils, and sprouting containers. Store finished sprouts in the refrigerator and consume while fresh. Like any food consumed raw, sprouts may carry a risk of food-borne illness, but this risk is extremely low.

A Word about Micro-Greens

Micro-greens are similar to sprouts but grow in soil or another growing medium. They also tend to be leafier than sprouts, since they are in essence, baby plants. Unhulled sunflower seeds, arugula, Swiss chard and other greens do very well as micro-greens, because the growing medium provides the added nutrients they need to thrive. After trying your hand at sprouting, micro-greens are a great next step to extend both the production and nutrition of your winter greens.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

ShannonAbout Shannon
Shannon Cowan is a writer and editor whose novels and articles are published in the United States and Canada. She and her family are currently building a green home and converting six acres of semi-rural brush into a working farm. She blogs about their adventures at www.agreenhearth.com.

 

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Len-Bowcott/100001336256024 Len Bowcott

    An excellent article Shannon. Anything that has people eating produce they grow, and thus know exactly what additives if any were introduced is a good thing. And winter is the season when self or locally grown produce is almost non-existent. Obviously that need not be the case I see after reading your post.

  • Scott Hammond

    This is one of those “WHY have I not been doing this already????” type posts. Great idea, I love sprouts and tend to buy them prepackaged in plastic from the local grocer, this is a much better way.

    • http://eartheasy.com/ Greg Seaman

      I felt the same way Scott.

  • mikaelagillette

    I have been trying to grow Sprouts in my kitchen window for a long time, but they keep getting ruined. Do they need direct sunlight? Should I put them in a place with less direct sunlight. I am definitely going to have to try it this way next time I feel brave enough.

  • http://insidesickcure.blogspot.com/ Eve Adams

    I also love growing green beans like this.

  • http://www.reynoldspest.com/ Brian Reynolds

    Great Post, this is a perfect way to prevent pests and diseases on home grown food.

    Thank you for sharing.

  • http://labyrinthfishcare.weebly.com/ Jeremy Gan

    My first attempt was when I started using red beans and originally it was something done just for fun. But after that I can tell the interest begins to develop and you just have to try with every possible combination and ways to grow the “best” sprout. Do you guys realize that using hard well water will make the sprouts crunchy? Just try it

  • Aneta Jaroma

    Thank you for sharing your experience with us! I’m inspired by people like you. Thanks again!
    Aneta

  • Kasey Ripley

    can you get green bean seeds en-,mass like you can the others? I know that I just pick up a bag of lintels and beans at the grocery store and sprout those. It’s a lot cheaper than anything else I’ve found.

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