Published on 08/26/98

Sprouts a Great Way to Keep Gardening Indoors

When gardeners can't be outside digging in the soil, there's no reason they can't grow vegetables inside. They may be small vegetables, but they are nonetheless vegetables.

Sprouting vegetable seeds can be done practically anywhere and anytime. Sprouts provide a natural source of protein, vitamins and minerals. Because they are low-calorie, sprouts are a welcomed addition to many dishes, from salads and soups to meatloaf.

Sprouts from mung bean (Phaseolus aureus) have been used for food since ancient times. These sprouts have nutrient value similar to asparagus and mushrooms, which contain high quantities of vitamin A.

You can buy mung bean seeds from mail-order seed companies and health food chain stores. (Regardless of the source, though, never use seeds that have been treated with a fungicide. Treated seeds aren't edible. You can recognize them by the coating of pink or green dust on the seed coat.)

You can sprout mung bean seeds in almost any container. Glass jars are the most common.

You don't have to get mung beans, though. Other seeds that may be sprouted include alfalfa, broccoli, cabbage, clover, fenugreek, mustard, radish, sesame, sunflower, adzuki beans, chick peas, lentils, green peas, wheat, rye and triticale.

Sprouts can be grown in three to 10 days, depending on the type of seeds used. Start new seeds at three-day intervals for a continuous fresh supply of edible sprouts.

To sprout seeds, first wash about 2 ounces of seeds and soak them in lukewarm water for six to eight hours, or overnight, at room temperature.

Next, put the seeds in a jar covered with cheese cloth.

Sprinkle the seeds with water at least two to three times each day. Sprinkle them once early in morning and again before going to bed at night. It helps to roll the container around during each sprinkling to allow for easy growth of the sprouts until they are 2 1/2 to 4 inches long and are ready to eat.

For best results, use only nonchlorinated water like well water, spring water or distilled water. The chlorine in city water can cause poor sprouting. Sprouting is best done at 70 to 80 degrees in a dark place.

It takes three to seven days, depending on the temperature, for sprouts to mature.

Put mature sprouts in a water-filled container and wash them to remove seed coats and fibrous roots. The sprouts will sink to the bottom, and the seed hulls will float to the top. Gently skim off the hulls by hand or with a small wire strainer. Allow the sprouts to drain.

Sprouts are best when used right after washing. But they can be stored for several days in the refrigerator at 38 to 50 degrees in closed glass or plastic containers or freezer bags.

The size of mature sprouts will vary. They may become bitter, though, if you allow them to grow too long (more than 4 inches).

Wayne McLaurin is a professor emeritus of horticulture with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.