Although many gardeners grow a wide variety of fresh vegetables during the summer months, once the snow begins to fly, we are left with few options: we can confine ourselves exclusively to cold-stored root vegetables, or we can eat produce that’s transported thousands of kilometres by land, sea and air.
Having a steady supply of nutritious, delicious, homegrown sprouts on hand seems to me the perfect solution. And happily, growing them is so easy and instantly gratifying that it makes a great winter project for kids and adults alike. The seeds of many vegetables, beans and grains are suitable for hydroponic sprouting into tasty young shoots that will be ready for the table in less than a week.
Studies (including one last year at the University of Saskatchewan’s College of Medicine) show that broccoli sprouts can have a protective effect on blood cells, possibly reducing the risks of cancer and heart disease. Other sprouts have also been linked to cancer prevention, so experts agree that a variety should be eaten in moderation as part of a healthy diet. But, be aware that not all vegetables are candidates for sprouting.
Watch what you eat
Tomatoes, peppers, potatoes and eggplants are members of the Solanaceae family and their sprouts contain harmful poisons. Buckwheat shoots have also come under scrutiny, as there is evidence that the fagopyrin they contain may cause irreversible phototoxicity (hypersensitivity to sunlight) in humans and livestock.
Ingesting large amounts of raw kidney bean sprouts may also have unpleasant consequences. As a general rule, the sprouts of large beans—such as kidney, black beans, soybeans and black-eyed peas—taste much better when cooked; the heat also destroys enzyme inhibitors that can cause excessive gas.
Sprouting at home
Sprouting seeds on your kitchen counter takes only minutes a day, and the reward is a steady supply of fresh, crunchy shoots. While there are many inexpensive kits such as SproutMaster on the market you may want to consider, here’s all you need to get started:
- A large, clear, sterile glass jar (1- to 4-L capacity)
- A bowl large enough to hold the jar at a 45-degree angle
- An elastic band and a piece of fine mesh fibreglass window screening or cheesecloth large enough to cover the mouth of the jar
- Fresh water and organically produced seeds specifically intended for sprouting