"Revisiting the sprout garden"

Sprouting is a way to garden!
Sunday, 28 January 2018     

My bean sprouting jar in use

Totally by chance, I came across my old bean sprouting jar recently, whilst decluttering a cupboard. Seeing it, I was immediately transported back in my mind to the days of eating 'hippie food', which included sprouting my own alfalfa and mung beans. Then regarded as suspiciously alternative, modern thinking on nutrition validates much of that food in a healthy diet, including the sprouts! Having a spare packet of mung bean seeds lying around that I had inherited from a daughter's pantry, I decided to give sprouting a go last week, and found I thoroughly enjoyed the process, as well as eating the product. I realised it was just like gardening on the kitchen bench, and with a lot going on in a short time - a welcome distraction at a time when most of the days lately have been simply too hot to go outside! I wondered if my early interest in sprouting had been the first sign of a proclivity for gardening? I certainly saw it in a whole new light this time around.

Sprouts are simply the shoots of germinated seeds. They contain surprisingly high levels of vitamins, minerals, fibre and protein, and a host of health benefits are claimed for them. They can be used raw in salads, sandwiches and rice-paper rolls; used in stir fries; cooked in soups and stews; and even added to juices and smoothies. They also make a great garnish! The most popular seeds used for sprouting are alfalfa and mung bean, but other interesting possibilities are broccoli, radish, red cabbage, kale, fenugreek, onion and mustard. It is very important to use only seeds labelled as suitable for sprouting, as many seeds packaged for the production of vegetables are treated with fungicides, which can be quite harmful if eaten, as they would be still present on a sprouted seed.

The most common method of sprouting is to use a jar - either a designated sprouting jar like my old faithful one (which has a screw-on plastic-mesh lid) or a plain glass jar along with a piece of clean cheesecloth or an unused piece of kitchen cloth (Chux or similar) cut a bit larger than the size of the jar mouth, plus a rubber band that will fit snugly around the jar mouth to hold the cloth in position as a cover. It is important that whatever receptacle is used is cleaned thoroughly before use. Seeds are checked first for any broken or discoloured ones then are placed in the jar, water is added to rinse them, then the lid or cloth cover is affixed to the jar. The water is then drained out through the porous lid or cover, which stops the seeds escaping. Next the jar is filled with lukewarm water and the seeds are allowed to soak for a while (depending on the individual type of seed; details are given on the seed packet). My mung beans were soaked for 12 hours.

After the soaking time is up, the seeds are drained again and rinsed once more. All water is tipped from the jar (if water remains in the jar from this point onwards, the seeds may rot) and it is placed in a dark spot in the kitchen - I simply covered mine with a tea towel. Air must be able to get into the jar through its lid or cover. The seeds are gently rinsed and drained about three times a day (or more often in hot weather) until they have sprouted and are the length required. They are rinsed again and placed in the frig, still in their sprouting jar. They are rinsed each day even then, and will generally last about three days. The time needed to reach the desired sprout size varies with the type of seed; alfalfa sprouts are ready in one to two days, whereas my mung beans took about four days. Information on this is given on the packet for each seed type. The length of time required will also vary with the ambient temperature. Very hot and very cold temperatures in the house will inhibit germination. Some sprouts (such as alfalfa) are greened up with exposure to indirect light at the end of their sprouting time but I kept my mung bean sprouts covered with the tea towel the whole time as suggested on the packet.

To a gardener, it is fascinating to actually see the germination of a seed happening before your eyes. The expansion of a small handful of seeds into a full jar of sprouts was also mindboggling. A little more than a tablespoon of mung bean seeds yielded more than a cup of sprouts! A bit of research revealed that the mung bean is, botanically, Vigna radiata, an annual vine with pale yellow, corkscrew-shaped blooms, closely related to my delightful snail creeper (Vigna caralla), which is actually in flower now, both being in the Leguminosae family of plants. I could, theoretically, grow a mung bean vine myself!

Sprouting seeds is a great way to introduce kids to the world of plants and the importance of plants in a healthy diet. It also offers the opportunity for people without gardens to grow some of their own food. I found my sprouts way fresher than anything I have bought in a packet in a shop: indeed, I often view those packets with suspicion, as they can often look a bit past it. It is important to note that pathogens may be present in sprouts that are improperly prepared or stored (and not just by the home gardener!), so people with a compromised immune system, plus the very young and the elderly, should probably avoid eating bean sprouts. Using seed from a reputable supplier and following sanitary practices in the process of sprouting them are the best ways to avoid the problem.

I plan to do more sprouting in the future. A related technique is raising tiny seedlings in trays as microgreen crops: refer to this blog I wrote about this interesting form of 'gardening'!

 Reader Comments

1/5  Margaret - 2122 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 29 January 2018

I know sprouts, of any kind, are nutritious and beneficial to our health. I have not tried to plant any at all, but am encouraged to do so, with your comments and success. I enjoy planting seeds, and now wonder why I have never tried the sprouts. I shall purchase some and encourage my grandson to become involved. Yes I never really made the connection between growing seeds and sprouting till just now! Deirdre

2/5  Janet - 2322 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 29 January 2018

Hello Deirdre, you sound as if you had great fun growing your sprouts I remember my old dad teaching me all about the goodness of sprouts it brought back lots of good gardening memories. Since I posted on your last blog I"ve had a disaster in my garden, I was invaded by tiny flying pumpkin beetle they were only a short time but decimated my rose garden I have never seen anything like it in my life the roses looked as if they had been freeze dried I was so upset. I know the roses will come back. Lovely memories of your dad, Janet. Awful about those horrid beetles on your roses; hope they recover soon. Deirdre

3/5  Cynthia - 4121 (Zone:11A - Sub-tropical) Monday, 29 January 2018

I"ve just revived my sprouting jar too and have bought seeds for microgreens. Your own sprouts are so fresh and nutritious. The benefit of deciding the quantity you need is useful as well. I like sprouting and microgreens, and there are lots of packets around these days for both. Deirdre

4/5  Sue t. - 2566 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 29 January 2018

i don"t have the patience to grow sprouts but i would like to grow a mung bean vine. i wonder how big it gets. Smaller than the Snail Creeper, I hope. I don"t know how big a mung bean vine would grow! My snail creeper isn"t rampageous, but maybe because it is growing in a pot (the roots have come through the bottom of the pot and it is in the ground as well but maybe the pot constrains it to some extent). Deirdre

5/5  Sue - 2074 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 29 January 2018

Hi Deidre, I was once a sprout grower and thought about doing it again recently till I saw quite a few articles in newspapers and online about the safety of mung beans or any sprouts even if they are made in good conditions at home. They pointed out that its not what is done in your home but the safety of the seeds before you start it. Some harbour pathogens which grow once the seed is in humid conditions. Sorry to be so negative but it"s worth checking out your suppliers handling. You are right to be concerned about this issue. I would recommend only getting seeds from reputable sources. I believe that even store-bought lettuces etc have also been found to be occasionally contaminated as well. Also a good idea in any case to really rinse greens etc very well before using. Thanks for bringing up this point. Deirdre

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