2/3/11

The Easiest Vegetables to Grow

Would you like to grow vegetables that need no special tools, no weeding, no green thumb, no sunshine - in fact, no garden? Vegetables that will grow any time of year, in any climate zone, in any weather? Vegetables that can be eaten days after starting the seeds, cost little, taste great, and are jam packed with nutrition? If you answer "yes," then you need to start growing SPROUTS!

I'm not going to teach you how to grow sprouts here - there's lots of instructions, including videos, online. I just want to share what sprouting methods have worked best for me.

What is a sprout? It's the first growth (germination) of a seed, usually including a root end and a leaf stem. The nutrients which are packed into a seed to allow it to grow are transformed in the sprouting stage and are highly beneficial for human health. There are many varieties of seeds you can sprout, and some are vegetables you've perhaps never eaten and would never grow in a garden, like fenugreek or arugula. Other popular sprouting seeds might be more familiar, like radish, lettuce, peas, and dill.

To get started, you should buy seeds specifically labelled for sprouting, not seeds sold in packets at the garden center. Seeds intended for garden sowing might be treated and processed differently than those for sprouting. This might require a visit to the nearest health food store. You are only going to grow a few tablespoons at a time (which will fill a quart jar with sprouts), so one bag goes a long way. Prices vary, depending on the type of sprouting seed; radish is far less expensive than broccoli.

The growing process will take only minutes of your time per day, and generally includes these steps:
  • soak the seeds in water
  • rinse and strain the water (sprouts that sit in water can rot quickly)
  • grow on the countertop
  • rinse and drain 2  to 4 times a day while growing
  • eat
Mung bean sprouts ready to eat

Stacked tray, with mixed seeds in top layer, cover to the right

My sprout jar, just rinsed and drained
I have grown sprouts in glass jars, woven baskets, natural fiber bags, and stacked sprouting trays, but I prefer using a jar. If you don't want to buy any special equipment, you can simply use a cleaned-out mayonnaise jar with a piece of cheesecloth over the opening, secured with an elastic band. Alternately, plastic lids with plastic screens are sold specifically for using on wide-mouth Mason or Ball jars. Many health food stores sell sprouting jars, usually larger than quart size, with a mesh screen inside the screw band lid. This is what I use most often, but I wish the jar was more squarish (like the canning jars) so it wouldn't roll when turned on its side on the countertop. I resort to setting mine in a corn-on-the-cob plate to keep it stationary.

How long it will take to grow the sprouts depends on the type of seeds and the temperature of your growing spot, and how long you like them to get. Quinoa seeds need only 30 minutes of soaking  and will sprout two roots per seed within 24 hours (note: from experience, I recommend using quinoa seeds sold specifically for sprouting, since the quinoa grain for cooking is sometimes processed differently and won't sprout). Other sprouts might require 8 hours of soaking and a few days of growing.

I most often sprout alfalfa, red clover, broccoli, radish, and lentils - mixing them together because they have similar soaking and growing requirements. Combined seeds such as this are sold pre-mixed as "sandwich mix" sprouting seeds. I usually grow these sprouts for 4-5 days in my kitchen, which is heated between 61-68 degrees in winter. If you are growing in warmer temperatures, you might need to rinse the sprouts more often so they don't dry out. I don't bother growing sprouts in summer because I have lots of fresh vegetables from my garden.

I individually grow mung beans because their requirements are a bit different. I start them in soaking with warmer water than usual (about 90 degrees) and soak for a full 12 hours initially, which helps the harder seeds to sprout. I lay a small terrycloth hand towel over the jar to block out light, and I find this keeps the sprouts white, rather than green, and keeps little side root shoots from forming. They usually reach the length I like in about 4 days.

Some sprouting instructions suggest ways to remove the seed hulls after the sprouts have shed them, but I've never found these to be bothersome to eat. Most are paper thin so I don't even notice them. Plus they probably provide added fiber to your diet.

After my final rinsing and straining, I like to let the sprouts grow for another 8 - 12 hours on the counter, to sop up the extra moisture. Putting the sprouting jar in more light to "green up" the sprouts, especially the small-leafed ones, adds chlorophyll to the array of vitamins and enzymes which sprouts provide as a living food - all beneficial to your health. You can start eating them right away, raw in salads and on sandwiches, floated in warmed soups, cooked in stir-fry, etc. Even after your sprouts have reached "maturity" they will continue to grow in storage in your refrigerator, but so slowly you won't notice any difference. You can just place the growing jar in the fridge, or put the sprouts in a zip bag into which you've place a folded dry paper towel to absorb excess moisture. Be sure to eat them within a few days.

So start sprouting and enjoy your harvest!