A Mere Sprout

  • Difficulty Rating: Beginner
A Mere Sprout

Forget the farm and its 30-foot planting rows. When you grow sprouts, all you need is a few square inches.

Bean sprouts and microgreens are delicious and easy to grow. Sow a tablespoon of microgreen seeds in vermiculite in a small container, and within about a week you’re ready to harvest a crop of crisp tiny greens for salads. Sprouts grown in a jar are even easier. Soak the seeds overnight, then rinse them twice a day while they grow. In a few days, your crop is ready to eat.

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Sprouts and microgreens can be grown in any season, at any time. Since they are grown on a kitchen counter, you can laugh at the weather. This is tabletop gardening.

Growing your own sprouts allows you to try something more adventurous than the plain alfalfa or mung bean sprouts sold in plastic bags at the grocery store. In the past few years, seed companies have introduced seed mixtures that take advantage of the spicy flavors of radishes and arugula, the bright color of beets, and the great nutritional value of broccoli, lentils, clover, and canola.

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To get started with sprouts, all you need is a wide-mouth quart jar and a screw-on top with a screen over the opening (supplies are available at most health-food stores and online.) Put a heaping tablespoon of sprouting seeds in the jar and fill it about one-third full of water. Then just let it sit on the counter overnight.

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The next morning, screw on the screen-topped lid and drain the liquid out. Fill the jar about half-way with water, swirl it around, rinsing the seeds, then pour the water out again. Tilt and rotate the jar to distribute the seeds around the sides, cover it with a dishtowel, and let it rest on its side on the kitchen counter. This allows air to circulate well among the seeds. Rinse and drain the seeds twice a day.

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It goes very quickly. After just one day, you’ll see the seeds sprouting. The first growth is a tiny root, called a radicle. By the second or third day, little primary seed leaves will begin to appear. Keep rinsing them twice a day, swirling a little water around in the jar and draining it out through the screen. Give the jar a good last shake to make sure it has drained thoroughly — this will not hurt the tiny seedlings; they are surprisingly sturdy.

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The sprouts will fill the jar up as they grow; it may take just four days, or up to a week. They are ready to eat when the little green leaves are visible. Taste them: they should be sweet and slightly crunchy, with a fresh, salad-like flavor. Rinse them one more time and let them dry slightly on a dish towel. Store your sprouts in a plastic bag in the refrigerator; they’ll keep for about a week.

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Microgreens are just like sprouts, except that you let them develop a little farther and then eat the tops only. They take a little longer to grow to the harvest stage, but there is more to harvest. Plant microgreens in a shallow tray filled with vermiculite (available at garden shops), or in the bottom half of a clear plastic clamshell container. Press the seeds firmly into the vermiculite, water thoroughly, and then snap the cover on and leave it on until the seeds sprout.

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Microgreens will grow quickly in a sunny windowsill or on a tabletop. Use a mister to water the microgreens as they grow, and turn the container every day, so germination is even and all the tiny plants grow more or less evenly.

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After about a week, you can snip off some of the tops for sandwiches or salads. They’ll keep growing for a week or more, so you can try them as many ways as you can think of.