Down to Earth: All about sprouts
Enjoy these fresh, baby greens even throughout the gray of winter.
Ham and Avocado Sandwich
Saturday, January 26, 2013
Those of us who like to grow what we eat can spend winter months longing for truly fresh produce. Although most edibles can be difficult to grow indoors with only a sunny windowsill for light, there are some options that will please the gardener and cook alike.
Growing sprouts can be one of the easiest edible projects around. With a wide variety of seeds available, the home gardener can grow sprouts from traditional to exotic.
Growing your own sprouts is also a way to ensure that your fresh sprouts are free of hazards. There have been health scares reported concerning sprouts sold in grocery stores, but no cases have been reported of problems with homegrown sprouts.
Sprout growing is easy and requires very little equipment. It’s suitable for kids, and requires only seconds of your time each day.
You don’t need much equipment to grow sprouts indoors, but you will need some type of vessel to grow them in. There are many types available online, but the best have an insert that drains from the bottom into a solid base. You can also get directions online for making your own sprouter.
Sprouters are available as single types or with multiple layers for growing different varieties at the same time. They are inexpensive and will last for many years. For the most versatility, look for one that is capable of sprouting small seeds as well as larger seeds.
Other than the sprouter, all you’ll need are seeds, water and good air circulation.
How to sprout
To start, pour the seeds into your sprouter insert and rinse it, then slip the insert into the solid base and cover the seeds with lukewarm water for an overnight soak.
The next morning, drain the water and rinse your seeds thoroughly. Place the sprouter in a low-light location with the temperature at about 70 degrees. Rinse the sprouts daily. If you’re growing leafy or brassica sprouts that green, move your sprouter to a well-lit location after the seeds sprout. For other sprouts, leave them in low-light conditions.
The only other thing to keep in mind is that you need to get all of the water out of the vessel every time you rinse, because seeds won’t germinate in standing water, and sprouts that sit in water will rot and smell bad. Water may be clinging to your sprouts and seeds, but make sure there’s no standing water in the vessel itself.
To harvest, drain your sprouts very thoroughly after your final rinse. To maximize their shelf life, make sure that sprouts are very dry before storage. The length of time that a sprout will last in the refrigerator will vary depending on the variety, but your sense of smell will be the best indicator of whether your sprouts have gone bad.
Seeds to sprout
Leafy sprouts like alfalfa and clover are among the most familiar seeds to sprout.
Many folks expect these sprouts to be green, but there are likely to be those among your crop that don’t green. That’s OK. The amount of greening will differ depending on the light received, but your crop will all be fine to eat.
You can maximize the number of green sprouts by not over-crowding your sprouter.
Brassicas, like broccoli, radish, cabbage and mustard, can also be sprouted. These seeds need to move around while they are sprouting to avoid developing a root mass that lessens their quality.
The easiest way to move them is to spray your sprouts with high water pressure. By the third or fourth day, water pressure won’t work, so use a fork or your hands to loosen the sprouts every other rinse.
Bean sprouts, like lentil, garbanzo, adzuki and pea, will sprout in as little as two days. It’s a good idea to taste a few sprouts every time you rinse, so you know the optimal time to harvest. Lentils, for example, sprout so quickly that you’ll get plants growing if you wait a full week before harvesting.
Mung bean sprouts are very popular with cooks, and the goal is to grow big, thick roots. You can make the roots grow bigger by applying weight on them while growing. Unlike brassicas, you don’t want to move these seeds, so use low water pressure when you are rinsing. This will force the roots to grow down, and because space in the vessel is tight, the roots will also grow thicker.
Doing double duty
Vegetable gardeners can put their sprouters to another use as we get closer to planting time. Seed sprouters are a great way to pre-sprout pea and bean seeds before planting outdoors.
Germination can be the trickiest part of growing peas in spring, as the soil must meet temperature and moisture requirements. Pre-sprout these seeds first, and then plant them outdoors for seeds ready to take off and grow.
Come join the gardening conversation on my blog at blogs.roanoke.com/downtoearth for more suggestions on gardening in the winter.
Karen Hager’s column runs every other Saturday in Extra.
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