A grow-op in your own kitchen

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If ever there was a perfect time to start growing your own edible greens, the era of the COVID-19 plague is surely it. With very little equipment, space, time or investment, it is easy to start growing your own tasty, nutritious sprouts and microgreens. All you need is a windowsill, some seeds, a container and, for microgreens, a growing medium (we’ll get to that below). Growing sprouts and microgreens is fast, easy and very rewarding.

Sprouts and microgreens are both just versions of sprouts — the difference being that microgreens are a slightly more mature version of sprouts. Microgreens take up to two weeks to grow and are generally harvested once two leaves appear, while sprouts can be grown in two to six days from start to finish, depending on the type of seeds grown.

All sprouts are delicious, versatile, nutrient dense, superfoods. Recent research in peer-reviewed academic journals shows that sprouts may improve cardiovascular health, help prevent heart disease and stroke, help to treat diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and arthritis, and have potent anti-cancer properties.

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In addition to the health benefits and the joy of growing veggies in your own kitchen, there are other benefits to growing your own sprouts and microgreens, including saving on trips to the grocery store — especially important during the pandemic — and eliminating the need to buy plastic tubs of lettuce shipped for thousands of miles.

To reduce the risk of contamination from sprouting your own seeds or growing microgreens, stick with a known, reputable seed supplier and buy organic, non-GMO seeds. Wash all your sprouting equipment thoroughly in hot soapy water and allow to dry thoroughly. Follow the seed sellers’ instructions carefully and refrigerate the sprouts or microgreens as per the suggested timelines.

Sprouts and microgreens can be used in sandwiches, wraps, salads, homemade pesto, stir fries, smoothies, soups and casseroles. Essentially, you can use them almost anywhere you’d use any leafy green such as lettuce, spinach, arugula or kale. A couple of my favourite ways to use sprouts are on avocado toast with a dab of spicy mayo, or in a BST (a toasted bacon, sprout, tomato sandwich).

Sprouts can be grown in two to six days from start to finish.
Sprouts can be grown in two to six days from start to finish. Supplied Photo

To Grow Sprouts

You will need:

1. A glass jar. A large-mouth canning jar works well although any glass jar will be fine.

2. A mesh screen (can be purchased online to fit large-mouth canning jars) OR a piece of laundered, loosely woven cotton or a couple of layers of washed cheesecloth cut to fit over the top of the jar, and an elastic band.

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3. Sprouting seeds. Preferably organic and non-GMO because in the case of sprouts, the entire plant, including the seed, is eaten. Organic non-GMO seeds must meet much stricter guidelines than their non-organic, GMO counterparts. Note that although you can sprout most legumes, seeds or nuts, DO NOT sprout Chia seeds, flax seeds or quinoa, (they turn to goo) OR kidney beans (they contain a toxin that causes serious illness without cooking). If sprouting non-organic dried seeds, pulses or lentils, be sure to sort through them to be sure you are not growing any dirty, damaged or mouldy seeds.

Begin by thoroughly washing your jar. Add 2 tbsp of small seeds (or 4 tbsp of larger seeds such as chickpeas, lentils, peas, etc.) and fill with water. Soak small seeds for 2-3 hours and larger seeds for about 6 hours. Drain the jar and leave the inverted jar, on an angle in a bowl so that it can continue to drain, in the windowsill but out of direct sunlight. Twice a day, rinse the seeds with plenty of fresh water and leave to drain again. Small seeds will be well sprouted within 2-3 days. Larger seeds may take 4-6 days. Once ready, replace the screen with a lid or piece of plastic film and refrigerate for up to a week.

To Grow Microgreens

You will need:

1. A growing tray. Can be a glass dish, a recycled plastic tray or a proper growing tray available from most garden centres or seed companies (many online).

2. A growing medium. This can be soil, coconut coir, vermiculite, hydroponic systems, “baby blanket” (made from wild grasses), paper towels, rockwool, hemp pads or Tencel STG pads. All companies selling sprouting seeds also offer some type of growing medium. Some growing mediums can be reused if carefully cleaned, rinsed and dried. Check with your seed and equipment supplier.

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3. Sprouting seeds. Again, preferably organic and non-GMO. Different microgreens require different growing times, so follow the seed company’s instructions carefully. Most microgreens start in the dark and are then moved into daylight once the seeds are sprouted. Grow lights are not necessary and are generally only used in commercial production.

If you’re just starting off with microgreens, I’d recommend you start with a simple kit first. This requires less investment in terms of both equipment and time spent researching.

One of the best simple introductory kits for growing microgreens comes from Niagara-based company UgroGreens, owned by Ray and Renee Houweling, who first started their family plant-based business in 1995. More recently, the Houwelings teamed up with their son and daughter-in-law to develop and expand the microgreens business with the introduction of a variety of microgreen kits. After trialling many organic, non-GMO seed varieties, they went on to source trays and grow mats while they perfected their instructions. Their straightforward, compact kits contain everything you need to grow two batches of microgreens (tray, two grow mats, two packets of seeds and detailed instructions). They also sell refill kits that contain just seeds, instructions and grow mats for those who already have their trays. UgroGreens has recently expanded into the U.S. and now sells kits at several stores in Ontario, including Sobeys, Loblaws, Walmart, some independent health food stores, as well as online at Amazon. You can find them at www.ugrogreens.co.

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According to Ray Houweling, broccoli, sandwich supreme and salad supreme microgreens are currently very popular. But as for his own favourites, Ray says, “I like some ‘zing,’ so for me, it’s cress, radish and Oriental mustard seeds.”

Please check out the many other Canadian seed companies that supply organic, non-GMO seeds, including but not limited to: Kitchen Table Seed House, Wolfe Island, www.kitchentableseedhouse.ca; Mumm’s Sprouting Seeds, Saskatchewan, sprouting.com; and Veseys, Prince Edward Island, www.veseys.com/ca.

Lindy Mechefske is the award-winning author of Out of Old Ontario Kitchens and Sir John’s Table. Watch for Ontario Picnics (coming soon). Contact her at lindymechefske.com.

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