By Arzeena Hamir
As the winter restricts our chances to grow fresh greens in the garden, an alternative is to grow sprouting seed at home. Sprouts are an excellent source of digestible protein, fiber, and Vitamin C, and are full of antioxidants. A 1997 study at John Hopkins University found that broccoli sprouts contain higher levels of cancer-fighting compounds than fresh broccoli itself.
Sprouting is so low-tech that it doesn’t even require a green thumb. Some simple equipment and just a few steps will ensure that you and your family have a safe supply of this extremely nutritious food source.
Most people have heard of sprouting seed in a jar. However, as easy as this method sounds, it can be difficult to ensure that all of the excess moisture has drained. The humid environment inside a sprouting jar can encourage fungi and bacteria to grow. You’ll find a slimy film on sprouts that have been sitting in water too long without being rinsed properly. I would not recommend growing sprouts in jars for anyone suffering from a suppressed immune system or for young children or the elderly.
The safest way to grow sprouts at home is to actually grow the seeds in soil. Any type of soil can be used but sterilized potting soil is the easiest to work with. Use whatever containers you have around the house – yogurt containers, bowls, even baking dishes, the shallower the better. The sprouts won’t require any fertilizer since all the nutrients required for growth are in the seed.
Next, just follow these simple steps:
To harvest, just take your kitchen scissors and cut what you need. The rest can be left to keep growing and harvested later. Refrigerate any unused, harvested sprouts. Sprouts grown from barley, wheat and rye will actually give you more than one crop and can be cut a number of times.
If you still prefer the soil-less method, I would encourage you to invest in a spouter that has multiple layers and trays with drainage holes. Not only do the drainage holes ensure that the sprouts remain disease-free, sprouters will encourage you to keep growing more sprouts when you see how easy it is to use them. Sprouters work best with small seeds like alfalfa, clover, and onion. All you have to do is rinse the sprouts once a day and refrigerate them once they have sprouted.
Sprouts can be grown from a wide variety of seed, each with their own distinctive flavor. While most people are familiar with alfalfa, clover, and mung bean sprouts, you can grow sprouts from the seeds of radish, fenugreek, Azuki bean, lentils, lima bean, kale, cabbage, broccoli, sunflower, onion, rye, barley, wheat and even buckwheat.
The key to starting sprouts is to find a good source of organic, untreated seed. Common garden seed found in your garden center is often treated with chemical fungicides and should not be used for sprouting. You can find packages of organic sprouting seed at your local health food store or from a variety of mail-order companies.
For more information about sprouting, you can refer to the following resources:
Sprouts: The Miracle Food A Complete Guide to Sprouting by Steve Meyerowitz
The Sprout Bookby Mark M. Braunstein
The Sprouting Book by Anne Wigmore
The Sprout House: www.sproutman.com
City Farmer Sprouts: www.cityfarmer.org/sprout86.html#sprout
International Sprout Growers Association: www.isga-sprouts.org
About the Writer:
Arzeena Hamir of Vancouver BC, Canada, is an agronomist who specializes in organic vegetable production. When she’s not planting peas or harvesting zucchini, she runs Terra Viva Organics at www.tvorganics.com