Just in case you’ve wanted to know how to grow sprouts but have never tried, here’s a quick refresher course in the basic technique.
The most common method of germinating seeds for the table requires a wide-mouthed quart jar. Measure about 1/2 cup of dry beans, or 2 to 3 tablespoons of tiny seeds, into the glass container, and then half-fill it with water. You’ll need to fit some kind of sieve over the jar to allow water — but not seeds — to pass through. It’s possible to use a piece of cheesecloth or old nylon stocking with a rubber band around the rim to hold it securely, or to buy a screw-on ring with stainless or plastic mesh already attached. (The screened lids come with various sizes of holes to accommodate many different types of seeds. They’re available in any health food store.)
Let the seeds soak overnight, and then pour off the water … which will probably have clouded up just a bit. (That liquid, by the way, makes a wonderful fertilizer for your houseplants, since it’s loaded with minerals that were leached away from the seeds.) Rinse the kernels with cool, fresh water, and lay the jar on its side in a dark place to drain.
Remember that germinating seeds need both air circulation and moisture, so make sure your sprouts-to-be have plenty of each. If you place the jar in a cabinet, leave the door slightly open. Rinse the seeds two or three times daily … making sure that you completely pour off all the water in the jar each time, since the seeds will easily ferment if they remain soaked.
The sprouting kernels are also sensitive to heat (they’re quite difficult to grow in extremely hot and humid weather) and cold: Some varieties may not even germinate when your house gets overly chilly on winter nights. (If this becomes a problem, you can wrap the sprouting jar in a towel or flannel shirt and place it near a burning light bulb.)
If all goes well, you’ll probably see the seed cases pop open and send out tiny shoots within 48 hours. Most types of sprouted seeds will be ready to eat in three or four days. Once they’re fully developed, you may want to place the shoots in the sunlight for several hours so their leaves can “green up” to a healthy color. Then remove the sprouts from the jar and store them in the refrigerator in a closed container or plastic bag, where the crisp young delicacies will keep for as long as one week
Some seeds will also sprout when treated to the paper-towel-and-draining-rack technique: Simply cover a rack or tray with a double thickness of damp towels, sprinkle the pre-soaked seeds out evenly over the paper, and then cover them with a top layer of damp toweling. Place the assembly in a dark cupboard and keep the seeds’ atmosphere moist by resoaking and wringing out the top towels whenever necessary.
Small, gelatinous seeds — such as chia, cress, radish, and buckwheat — shouldn’t be soaked overnight since they might absorb too much liquid and turn into a mucilaginous mass. Instead, such water-retaining kernels may be kept barely moist in the saucer of an unglazed clay flower pot. Wash and thoroughly soak the porous dish (so that it won’t steal moisture from the thirsty kernels), and measure into it equal quantities of seeds and water. Let everything stand undisturbed until all the liquid is absorbed by the seeds, then set the saucer in a larger dish with water in the bottom, and keep the environment dark by placing a plate over the assembly. If the water in the bowl is kept at a constant level, the seeds will absorb whatever moisture they need through the clay … and sprout within a few days.
Finally, it’s very important to keep your sprouting equipment clean, because bacteria may develop if the seeds happen to ferment. So, after you harvest each crop of sprouts, sterilize the glass jar — or wash and scrub the clay saucer — you used.
By following the simple tips in this article, you ought to be able to satisfy your “snowbound” green thumb and provide healthful, delicious greens for your table at the same time. So get out those jars, saucers, and paper towels, and set out on a sprouting adventure!