Even without a small patch of grass or a sunny spot for a window box, you can still grow some of your own food. You’re just going to have to learn to love sprouts. Alfalfa sprouts, bean sprouts, sprouted wheat and barley and rye, lentil sprouts… you can sprout just about anything you can think of. And you really should, because sprouting doesn’t take a lot of space, time or energy. Plus sprouts are super-nutritious and versatile. All you need is a sprouting jar (or just a regular mason jar plus some cheesecloth or a mesh screen), a bit of water and whatever seed or bean you wish to sprout. After just a few days, you’ll have a tasty harvest of nutrient-packed sprouts for your enjoyment. I sprouted a mix of alfalfa, clover and radish sprouts that I bought at a garden store. They are a perfect spicy blend for sandwiches and salads and, since most people are familiar with alfalfa sprouts, they are a great for beginners hoping to share their harvest with families and friends.
Ready to get started? First, you need to buy your sprouting starters. Many experts warn that you should only buy starters specifically made for sprouting, but I’ve bought regular old mung beans from the bulk aisle at the co-op and they’ve worked perfectly. Many co-ops and health food stores also carry actual sprouting starters and you can find sprouting seed packets at some specialty garden stores. If all else fails, you can order sprouting mixes online through places like Sprout People. Two to three tablespoons of my alfalfa/clover/radish seed blend yielded nearly a quart of sprouts.
Next you’ll need a sprouting jar or something similar. I bought an actual sprouting jar made precisely for this purpose, but I’ll let you in on a secret: any jar will do. Sprouting jars are just glass jars with a screw-on mesh screen lid. That way you can easily fill it with water and drain the sprouts, as I’ll explain in a minute. Alternatively, you could fashion your own sprouting system by placing a few layers of cheesecloth or mesh screen over the top of a canning or other glass jar. You could even leave your jar uncovered and drain them using a fine mesh strainer or colander, though it won’t be as convenient as the other methods.
The basic process for any sprouting operation goes like this: Place your seeds/beans/whatever in your jar and fill with at least three times as much water. Let those soak overnight. The next morning, drain them by tipping the jar upside down and shaking it gently until as much of the water as possible has drained. This is an important step, because you don’t want your little guys to succumb to The Mold. I like to lay my jar on its side in between rinsings so they can spread out better and get some air. Keep your jar in a moderately cool, moderately dark place with good airflow. You don’t want to keep your sprouts in your dresser drawer or in the fridge, but you also don’t want them outside on the scorching pavement. I keep mine in plain sight on a table where I won’t forget about them and where I can show them off to visitors. Most sprouts require 2-3 rinsings a day. You do the same thing each time: fill the jar with water (don’t be stingy), shake ‘em around and then let it drain it really well.
Alfalfa and other leafy sprouts like a little bit of light for a few hours right before you harvest them. Gets their chlorophyll going. So set them next to a bright window on the last day if you can. To “harvest”, you just give your sprouts one last rinse. Your sprouts can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week. I put my sprouts in a tupperware with a damp paper towel and they lasted even longer.
And what do you do with all of these sprouts that you grew right in your own home? Sprinkle them on your salad, layer them in a hearty sub or just use them in a simple snack that my Mom passed on to me: a peanut butter and sprout sandwich! Sounds weird, but it’s delicious. Weirder yet, add in a few slices of fresh cucumber and you’ll be amazed how immensely tasty it is. Really! If you sprout mung or other beans, you can saute them in stir-fries. Other sprouts, such as wheat and rye, can be added to bowl of cereal and can even be used in baking.
There you have it, the ultimate small space solution for growing your own food. If you have room for a quart-sized jar, you have room to sprout. There are plenty of other methods for sprouting, but I’ve had good luck with this one. Here are a few helpful sprouting resources to get you going: Sprout People’s website, the book Fresh Food From Small Spaces by R.J. Ruppenthal and my post on mung bean sprouting.