Thursday, December 13, 2012

Sprouting For Winter Vegetables: A Tutorial

This is the time of year when sprouts are a great organic, locally grown and affordable green vegetable. They'll grow year round, of course, but fresh greens from other sources are harder to come by in winter, making sprouts a better fresh, local option. 

alfalfa sprouts


My favorite ways to eat sprouts are on sandwiches or in wraps. They go perfectly in nori rolls and in salads as well. Using them is easy, and growing them requires only a short soaking time to wake the seeds up, and then twice daily rinses until they reach the desired maturity.


lentil sprouts in a nori roll
Lentil sprouts and sprouted sunflower spread make a great nori roll.
It's pretty economical to buy alfalfa and clover seeds by the pound, especially when you consider how long a pound will last and how much greens it will provide. A mere tablespoon of seed produces a brimming quart full of fresh sprouts. Not only that, but homegrown sprouts cost pennies compared to the kind you can buy in plastic tubs.

I buy lentils and grains in much larger bags. They keep fine in a dark, cool cabinet. Sproutpeople.org gives specific storage life for each type of seed. I don't get my seeds from them, but they do have great information. Also, I always buy organic seeds for sprouting. Organic seed will yield the best sprouting rate, as well as the healthiest sprouts.

alfalfa seeds, red clover seeds
Alfalfa and Red Clover seeds. They are very similar, and the sprouts, to me, are interchangable. I rotate which ones I make each week just to vary the nutrients.

Alfalfa and Clover are my favorite all-purpose sprouts, but many other seeds can make wonderful sprouts as well, including lentils, broccoli seeds, sunflower seeds, and mung beans. Radish sprouts are too spicy for me, but you might love them. Their spiciness can be minimized by mixing with other seeds.  

Things like wheat and chickpeas can be sprouted, but I don't think they really make a digestible raw vegetable like the other types of sprouts. I do have a wonderful hummus recipe using cooked sprouted chickpeas, as well as a simple roasted sprouted chickpea recipe. I also sprout wheat daily to feed our rabbits & chickens.

sprout salad
Salad with sprouts, egg, avocado, homemade mayonnaise, and dulse flakes.
Basically, all seeds sprout the same way. They need a simple soaking in dechlorinated water (which you can easily make yourself) for a few hours or up to overnight. Then, during their growth phase, they need to be rinsed and drained twice a day. Besides the water and seed, you will only need a quart jar and a cloth or screen for the top of the jar. 
Here is a photo-tutorial:

alfalfa seeds
Measure about a tablespoon of seed for each quart jar. You can use 1/3 cup when sprouting lentils.
how to grow sprouts
Soak in dechlorinated water for best results. Soaking time can vary, but my rule of thumb is small seeds and nuts only need about 4 or 5 hours, while grains and legumes need overnight soaking.
strainer
After soaking, pour through a strainer and rinse with tap water.
how to grow sprouts
After each rinsing, cover with a cloth or screen, secure with a rubber band, and let drain. The seeds will rot if left in standing water once they are in the growth phase. The ideal environment is moist but not drowning.
how to grow sprouts
After they've drained, the jars can be stored on their sides. They need light to green up, but should be out of direct sunlight so they don't cook. A windowsil on the north side of the house is perfect. Store them in the fridge once they're mature.

Alfalfa and clover sprouts are ready when all the leaves are deep green. Larger seeds like legumes and grains are usually eaten when the sprout "tail" is as long as the seed itself.

I really recommend this website, sproutpeople.org, which has tutorials, stats, and instructions for sprouting every kind of seed you can think of. I referred to it frequently when I was just getting started sprouting.

A Note on the Safety of Sprouting:

When I first started sprouting I did a lot of research into the safety of alfalfa sprouts, having heard once that they really aren't all that good for you because of chemicals they produce. The conclusion I came to was that they are perfectly safe as long as they aren't your sole source of calories, and also that allowing the leaves to fully green up minimizes any harmful chemicals. We choose to eat them weekly or a couple times a week and not to worry a bit. All foods contain some kind of dangerous element; that's why we eat a variety of whole foods and don't eat any one thing to excess.

I've also heard about the dangers of bacteria growing on sprouts. Any moist environment can provide a home for bacteria. This might be a concern for immune suppressed individuals, particularly with the sprouts sold at the grocery store. One might wonder, how long have they been in the package? How have they been handled? Who has been touching them? Storebought sprouts may not be safe, but I will trust my homemade sprouts, carefully rinsed morning and night, and made under conditions that I control and am witness to.

Also, seeds, nuts and grains are rendered more digestible by soaking and sprouting. In fact, we've stopped eating most seeds, nuts, grains, and legumes unless they've been soaked or sprouted. This soaked grains breakfast cake is one delicous recipe I came up with to make our whole grains more digestible. I think the benefits of sprouting far outweigh any risks.

Check out my articles on wild foraging (edible weeds, and wild foraging in April) and harvesting weeds in the garden, to see how we find sustainable, healthy greens throughout most of the year.

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19 comments

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December 14, 2012 at 11:21 AM

thanks for all the useful information, I have never done this before! I found you on the Gluten Free Friday Blog Hop

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December 14, 2012 at 1:24 PM

Thank you for sharing! What beautiful pictures too! :) I have this tweeted and pinned to our Gluten Free Fridays board! :)

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December 18, 2012 at 3:01 AM

This is a great guide thank you. I used to sprout during the summer but my sprouts started turning to mold and not working well and I found out lately that they like to be at temperatures starting at 18 degrees and it's too cold here unfortunately so I'll have to wait until summer again!

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December 18, 2012 at 8:40 AM

Not everything sprouts at the same temperature. You could always do something like lentils or sunflower seeds, which may work when alfalfa sprouts don't. Good luck!

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December 29, 2012 at 11:35 AM

Hi! I just found your blog through Nature's Nurture! What a wealth of information. I can't wait to see what you come up with next. I'm your newest follower!

Mary Beth

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January 2, 2013 at 4:25 AM

Thank you for your sprouting tute. I love sprouts but they seem to go to smelling like a muddy swamp even though I rinse up to 4 times a day. I'll give them another try. Love your posts. xo

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January 2, 2013 at 5:17 AM

Thank you Lydia! Please make sure you let them drain adequately. I leave mine to drain for hours, because the seeds rotting in water is what will make that smell. You don't want them to go bone dry between rinsings, but they don't like to soak long either. Twice a day rinsing should be enough if they are drained well. Good luck!

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February 5, 2013 at 5:56 AM

Thanks for this! I've been sprouting - but didn't know how to get them to green up. Yay!

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March 15, 2013 at 8:47 AM

I am in love with sprouts! They are just so adorable, so easy to grow, and so good for you! Thanks for sharing this at Raw Foods Thursdays! I'm going to highlight it next week!

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March 21, 2013 at 4:11 PM

I am so glad I stumbled upon your blog! We live life un processed as well, but things like sprouting are very new to me. I love how you provide photos and steps. Do you happen to have any posts on sprouting grains and nuts as well? Thanks for the info!

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June 27, 2013 at 5:41 AM

Thank you for sharing this at the HomeAcre Hop! We'd love to have you back again this morning: http://blackfoxhomestead.com/uncategorized/the-homeacre-hop-25/

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July 20, 2013 at 6:02 PM

Very interesting! I love sprouts so I may have to try this. Love your pics too; they're great!

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August 7, 2013 at 2:09 PM

That is really neat! I never thought about sprouts being sprouted seeds (not sure why), but it never occurred to me to make them at home. Great tutorial! I bet my daughter would love to watch the entire process.

Thanks for sharing on Natural Living Monday!

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October 1, 2013 at 9:14 PM

I really like your site. This sprouting information is really valuable. I like sprouts (mainly alfalfa and onion) on my sandwiches, and they are such a great source of fresh vitamins in the winter. Of course, I have to pin this! I just popped over from Tuesday's Table Linkey. So glad you posted there. I would love it if you drop by to visit me at http://kneadedcreations.comm! Have a great day! Deb @ Kneaded Creations

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October 13, 2013 at 6:32 PM

Thanks for sharing these great sprouting tips on Tuesday Greens!

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