If the sight of your barren winter garden makes you melancholy, take heart. Even when six inches of snow covers your yard, you can grow food indoors with almost no effort at all. Sprouting isn’t technically gardening because no soil is involved, but this simple technique does allow you to produce fresh greens all winter long.
The Benefits Of Sprouting
Dry grains, seeds, and legumes contain enzyme inhibitors, which maintain a dormant state until they are softened in water. These foods also contain phytic acid and other toxins to discourage animals from eating them. In their dry state, these foods are indigestible. Early man did not eat these foods, nor do primates eat them. Even in modern times, our bodies our not really equipped to digest them. A steady diet of legumes and grain can cause indigestion, bloating, flatulence, bone loss, food allergies, and irritable bowel.
Soaking grains, seeds, and beans neutralizes the enzyme inhibitors and encourages the growth of lactobacilli, a probiotic that breaks down the phytic acid.
Sprouting further neutralizes toxins and also breaks down gluten. Additionally, sprouts are whole, enzyme-rich foods. In general, they contain one to ten times more vitamin B, vitamin A, and vitamin C than raw beans or grains. Sprouts are easier to digest and contain easily absorbed protein.
How To Sprout
If you’ve never tried sprouting, you’ll be surprised at how simple the process is. First, sort through the seeds, discarding those that are cracked or discolored. Cracked seeds may have been exposed to pathogens that can make you ill. Look also for small pebbles, as they are easy to confuse with seeds. Rinse the seeds to remove any dirt.
Then soak the seeds. Cover the seeds with plenty of water—at least two parts water to one part seed. Stir them so water circulates freely around them. The seeds will only absorb what they need, so you can’t overwater them. Use tepid filtered water for soaking. Soaking times for seeds varies considerably, depending on the seed type. Soak large seeds or beans with hard shells for up to twelve hours. These include most beans and legumes. Soak soft-hulled seeds, such as amaranth, quinoa, and vegetable seeds for only four hours. Rinse the seeds and provide fresh water every two hours during the soaking process.
Finally, keep the seeds damp, but not wet until they sprout. One simple method is to place them loosely in a colander and run water over them a few times each day. A “salad spinner” is even better because you can spread the seeds out so air circulates freely, and it makes rinsing and draining a snap. Another option is to place the seeds in a large canning jar. Cover the jar with cheesecloth and a rubber band. Rinse the seeds two to three times per day, allowing the water to drain from the cheesecloth top.
When rinsing, spend at least one to two minutes running water over your sprouts. This process ensures a clean, fresh tasting product and may even accelerate germination. Just make sure to drain the water thoroughly or the sprouts may drown or develop mold.
Once the sprouts stand at least half an inch high, rinse them a final time and place them in the refrigerator. The time frame for sprouting varies, depending on seed quality and type of seed. Sunflowers and vegetable seeds may germinate in four to eight hours, while many dried legumes can take up to two days.
What Can I Sprout?
Vegetables. Vegetable sprouts are loaded with antioxidants and are high in vitamin A. Their taste often resembles that of the mature vegetable. For example, radish sprouts taste surprisingly like radishes. Broccoli sprouts have a slightly bitter bite. You can sprout almost any vegetable seed, including radish, broccoli, fenugreek, garlic, onion, mustard, and arugula. Add vegetable sprouts to sandwiches and salads, eat them plain as a snack, or toss them in stir-fries and soups.
Grains. Grains are as versatile as vegetables. Sprouted grains have a sweet, nutty taste. When you first introduce sprouts to children, opt for grains. You can sprout wheat, hull-less barley, rye, oats, spelt, kamut, and millet. Quinoa and amaranth can also be sprouted, although they’re not technically grains, but the seeds of leafy plants. Both are gluten-free. Add sprouted grains to breads, muffins and pancakes, or eat them alone. Warm them with milk and maple syrup for a healthy breakfast cereal.
Beans and legumes. You can sprout almost any bean or legume, including mung beans, chick peas, lentils, adzuki, dried peas, turtle beans, and garbanzo beans. Eat them alone as a snack or add them to soups, salads, and stir-fries.
Nuts and Seeds. Many of these sprouts are highly perishable, but chances are, they won’t last in your refrigerator long anyway. Try sprouting pumpkin or sunflower seeds. How about almond, peanut (technically a legume), and sesame seed sprouts? Most of these seeds sprout quickly and easily.
Where To Buy Sprouting Seeds
Although you can sprout regular garden seeds, your best bet is to buy them through a company  that specializes in organic sprouting seeds. These seeds have been cleaned and packaged to ensure a safe sprouting product, free of irradiation or pesticides. Conventional packagers may clean seeds in a chlorine bleach solution, so be sure to opt for organic seeds.
Another advantage over garden seeds is cost. In most cases, you’ll order sprouting seeds by the pound at a much lower cost than you’d pay for a single packet of seeds.
Once you’ve mastered the art and science of sprouting, try growing micro-greens or wheat grass. Micro-greens are the tiny seedlings of leafy plants, such as arugula, mustard, and lettuce. The greens are grown indoors in a growing medium and eaten root and all, while the plant is tiny and tender. Wheat grass (and the grass of other grains) is one of the most nutritious foods you can eat. Wheat grass grows quickly in a soilless growing medium. Simply keep the medium moist and store the grass in a moderately warm location with good air circulation.
Sprouts of all kinds are both delicious and nutritious, but you’ll get the most of your sprouting experience if you eat a variety of sprouts, rather than just one or two. Also, soy and kidney bean sprouts contain toxic compounds and should be avoided. Finally, to store sprouts, rinse and drain them thoroughly and place them in a ventilated plastic bag. Store the bag in the refrigerator for up to one week.
©2012 Off the Grid News