seeds n sprouts

top down view of buckwheat lettuceIt’s been a while since our field trip to Aiki Farms, but I couldn’t get the sprouts out of my mind. I have been doing jar sprouting of mung beans, peas, lentils, broccoli and alfalfa, but never really gave the process of growing leafy shoots more than a half-hearted try. So I bought some sprouting buckwheat seeds at Garden of Light natural food store in Glastonbury, got out some of the mesclun and spinach containers I’d been saving, and went to town. And ya know what? It was really easy, and the kids LOVED gobbling up the sprouts! We served them atop your standard green salad, by themselves dressed with a dash of balsamic vinegar, in a romaine leaf that was smeared with cashew mayonnaise and rolled up in nori or rice wrappers with shredded carrots, tomato, avocado and EZ Nori Filling or a sweet chili or peanut dipping sauce. I also imagine they’d be a great way to get greens into smoothies without a strong “green” taste!

sprouts on a saladWhy sprout?

  1. Nutrition — sprouts have a greater concentration of vitamins, minerals, protein and phytochemicals than any other period in the plants life — even full grown fruit or vegetables.
  2. Price — pound for pound, sprouts cost less than most other produce (the sproutman calculates them to be on average 26 cents per pound!)
  3. Local and fresh — sprouts stop growing the moment you cut or chew them, and it doesn’t get much more local than that! And nutrients are intact instead of dissipating slowly as produce sits on the store shelves
  4. Organic — no chemicals needed, neither pesticide or fertilizers. Invest in a good organic soil mix (this will pay off in the amount of nutrients your sprouts contain) or mix your own. Aiki Farms uses a mixture of peat moss and composted chicken manure. Find a local organic farmer in your area to see if they can hook you up or know of a good source. What do they use for seed starting?
  5. Easy to digest — The tender cell walls of these baby plants break down more easily than the tougher walls of their mature counterparts, and they contain a higher concentration of enzymes that help break them down, so your system doesn’t have to work as hard.
  6. Easy to grow — growing shoots does require a bit more space, but still not nearly work or space as outdoor gardening. Sprouting lentils, mung beans, etc in a jar takes even less time and space — a minute or two a day to rinse, and whatever space your jar or nut milk bag requires.
  7. Year-round harvest — you can grow sprouts no matter what the temperature is inside or out, ditto the available sunlight. Sprouting may take longer in one season than another, but you can adjust your process and schedule accordingly.  And your jar or nut milk bag is portable, making sprouts an easy travel food — take it with you when visiting family or on camping trips!
  8. Taste — how could I list this last?! Shoots have a very mild taste compared to kale and other dark leafy greens and kids LOVE them! They add a nice, succulent texture to your meals, and the sprouted legumes add a nice crunch to your salads.

Back to technique. I punctured the bottom of the container, placed it on the lid to catch extra water, and spread about 1 inch of soil inside. I watered it with my spray bottle, but that took more time than it was worth and I would probably line them up outside and use the hose with a light spray instead. Once the soil was wet, I sprinkled the seeds on and tried to spread them out evenly.

Not having enough empty cupboard space, I moved them to our laundry room and put them underneath a cardboard box (the tall, awkward shape of the salad container also meant that covering it wasn’t easy. I lifted the box each day to let in a whoosh of fresh air (I was worried about air circulation) and check the progress. After 4 days or so, the shoots were about 2 inches tall, so I brought them into a sunny south window. They greened up really quickly and were ready to harvest a couple of days after exposure to the sun.

Look how green they are! They kept catching my eye as I walked past the room they were in, with their vibrant green glow.  I tried cutting them with scissors, but found it easier to hold the tops of the clump I wanted and cut them free with a short paring knife. I didn’t wash them — they didn’t have any dirt clinging to them or anything, and since you’re leaving the bottom of the stems and the roots in the soil, they’re clean. One thing I’m hoping resolves itself with our new method is the hulls that stay stuck on. My sense is that I hadn’t watered the trays enough or that the covering allowed for them to dry out quicker, so there wasn’t enough moisture and the hulls dried out. Thus hardened, it was more difficult for the plant to shed the hull. We’ll see how it goes in round 2.

The tall sides of the containers made harvesting a bit awkward, so I decided to go out and get some seed-starting tray bottoms at Paul and Sandy’s in East Hampton. They were 1.29 each, and for each tray of sprouts I wanted, I needed 3 of the trays — one on the bottom to catch the water, one punctured and filled with soil and put inside the bottom tray, and one tray to cover the sprouts for the first few days after planting until they are ready for sunlight.

To get ready to put the seeds in soil, I had to soak and then sprout them. I ordered sprouting seeds from, because all I have read on the matter suggests that sprouting seeds are selected for their high germination rate and taste of shoots produced. I measured out what I thought might work (about a cup) and put them on a white kitchen towel to see if there were any stones, twigs, or funky looking seeds. My sprouting bible, The Sprout Garden, says that the Five D’s — Decayed, Diseased, Discolored, Dented and Dwarfed equal DEAD seeds.

After culling (didn’t actually have anything to cull in this batch) and soaked them overnight for about 12 hours. I drained and rinsed the seeds, and then let them sprout for a little over 24 hours, rinsing them 2-3 times a day. The buckwheat and sunflower seeds would start looking dried out before the peas, but I rinsed them all at the same time anyway. Once the seeds were showing evidence of the start of a tail , I gathered my supplies and headed to the deck. The buckwheat was barely showing a tiny sprout, many weren’t but I planted them anyway since I’d read that if you wait too long, it won’t be able to re-orient itself and get a good root into the soil.

punctured seed trayWith a paring knife, I punctured holes in the bottom of 4 of the trays so that water could drain out. I put these inside intact trays, and filled them with about an inch of soil — definitely harder to judge with opaque containers, but I will get to the point that I know how many scoops of dirt are needed per tray so that I don’t waste soil.

Dante presses the soilOnce the soil was in, we put the tops on and used it to press the soil down a bit, again, going on the process we learned at Aiki Farms. We brought the trays onto the lawn and sprayed them with a hose until they were shiny on the surface for a second or two after the hose was pointed elsewhere. We let them sit for a few minutes to drain out an excess water and brought them back up to the deck and added the seeds.

The kids head realized what was going on,  helped with the soil and the watering and were now clamoring once again to do the seeds. So Lucia took the jar of peas and spread them out in one tray. She tried sprinkling them out of the jar evenly, but got frustrated and ended up dumping them all in the middle and spreading them from there.

Lulu plants some peas

We did the same for the sunflower and buckwheat sprouts, filling 3 more trays.

4 trays planted with sprouts!

Now we used our last intact trays as a cover, guarded by a little elf:

covered sprout trays

And brought them into the the house on a table in the playroom:

final resting place of sprout trays

I put a large piece of plastic-ish stuff on the table to protect it in case some water got on it, but will probably figure out a better place for them, since we do like to use that table for crafts and the like.

The whole process took about a half hour, but I had to puncture the trays and take time for kids and pictures, so I expect I will be able to do this in about 10 minutes. Bob from Aiki Farms suggested that 4 trays would make enough sprouts to feed a family of 4 for one week.

I’ll re-post when the covers come off!