Edible Indoor Gardening with Sprouts
Margaret Murphy, Horticulture Educator and Regional Foods Coordinator, ISU Extension
This Christmas, I was given a kit to grow my own sprouts. A good winter gift for a gardener I thought. Sprouts are a nice source of fresh vegetables this time of year. Plus, they are rich in protein, vitamins and minerals making them a great addition to any diet.
Sprouts are the seedlings of various vegetables, beans or legumes. They are often associated with Asian cooking. Actually, growing sprouts is an ago-old tradition in many eastern cultures and is still widely practiced today. Growing them is easy and inexpensive. Seeds frequently used to grow edible sprouts include alfalfa, radish, broccoli, cabbage, lentil, and mung beans. Keep in mind that when selecting seeds buy only those labeled for growing sprouts, which are untreated seeds.
Seeds can be sprouted by several methods. My kit uses a multi-tray system but the most common way is the “jar method”. For this method all you need is a wide-mouth jar, some cheesecloth (or other type of mesh material such as a nylon stocking) and a rubber band. Some folks prefer using a screw-top ring instead of a rubber band or fine-wire mesh instead of cheesecloth.
Once you have all your materials gathered, add the seeds to the bottom of the jar. How many seeds to start with will depend on the type you are using. The University of Wisconsin-Extension has a handy chart to help determine this in their publication, Growing Edible Sprouts at Home (http://learningstore.uwex.edu/assets/pdfs/A3385.PDF). Start with a small amount if you are new to growing sprouts and use a separate jar for each different type of seed if growing more than one variety.
Once the seeds have been placed in the jar, securely cover the top using the cheesecloth and rubber band. Clean the seeds by rinsing them with cold water. The cheesecloth will act as a strainer when draining the water from the jar. Repeat the cold water rinse one or two more times. Next add lukewarm water to soak the seeds. A general rule of thumb is to use one part seed to three parts water. Let the seeds soak for eight to twelve hours. Keep the jar in a warm, dark area such as a kitchen cupboard. After soaking, drain well. (Tip: use the nutrient-rich liquid to water houseplants). It is important to rinse the sprouts at least twice a day. Thorough rinsing, proper drainage and good air circulation are key to preventing the seeds/sprouts from rotting.
Sprouts are ready to harvest when they reach the desired length. The time it takes until harvestable will vary by sprout type but is usually within three to seven days. Before harvesting you may want to “green-up” the sprouts by placing them in a well-lit window for a few hours. Avoid setting them in direct sunlight, especially at midday. (Note: Not all sprouts will green well, if at all, such as mung beans).
Most sprouts taste great eaten raw in salads or sandwiches. They can also be added to cooked dishes like soups, stir fries, or casseroles. You can keep unused sprouts in a plastic bag or covered jar for up to a week in the refrigerator.