It's not quite time to start seeds for the outdoor gardening season, but the cold frame or greenhouse is looking tired and long in the tooth. It's the perfect time to grow sprouts! Quick, delicious, healthy and easy to grow, these tiny green wonders are a great addition to your farm plan any time of year. There is definitely a local niche for sprouts for those who want to include them as part of their farm business.
Sprouting is the practice of germinating seeds to be eaten (raw or cooked). Sprouts are concentrated in nutrition and rich in health-promoting enzymes. They are crunchy and fresh raw and savory when cooked.
One big factor to consider when growing sprouts, especially as a business but even for yourself, is that some sprouts have sickened people because of bacterial contamination. The warm, moist environment needed to grow sprouts is also conducive to growing bacteria.
Types of Sprouts
Basically any type of bean, grass or vegetable seed can be grown as a sprout, although some sprouts can be eaten raw. Some of the more commonly sprouted seeds are:
Supplies for Growing Sprouts
Sprouting seeds. You do want to buy seeds specifically grown for sprouting, as these have been cleaned for eating as sprouts and therefore free of pathogens.
Clean, wide-mouth jar. Mason canning jars work well. Fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth, or seed sprouting jar top (or make your own from mesh and a canning jar ring).
Lidded container for sprout storage.
Scaling Up to Sprout Farming
If you are growing sprouts on a farm scale, you may use seed trays, also called flats, to grow your sprouts. You will likely want a use some kind of greenhouseLINK to grow sprouts to sell to larger markets, but you can make do with many different situations as far as equipment. Sprouts do not need a lot of light since they are harvested before they grow leaves, which carry out photosynthesis.
Sprouts require moisture, warmth, light, proper ventilation, nutrients, a growing medium, and a growing container. You may need to provide heat via electrical propagation units, figure out how to water with an automated irrigation system, and so forth. But the sprout operation setup can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be. You could begin by adding a set of shelves with eight or twelve seed flats on it and try selling small amounts of sprouts before committing to a larger venture, or you could fill a greenhouse with seed flats.
How to Grow Sprouts
These are the simplest step by step instructions for how to grow sprouts. Actual details may vary depending on the variety you are growing, especially sprouting time.
- Rinse seeds several times in warm water. Make sure to rinse well and to drain them well in between rinses.
- Soak seeds overnight in fresh water.
- Drain and put seeds into your sprouting container (if you use a jar, they may already be there).
- Place the sprouting container in a room-temperature spot that receives some light (indirect is best - too much sun or heat is not good).
- Twice daily, rinse and drain the seeds well. Keep them damp but not wet and make sure they have room to breathe without drying out. Sprouts need good air circulation.
- Harvest sprouts when - they've sprouted! Before you see their true leaves open. You can also taste the sprouts when you rinse.
Harvesting and Storing Sprouts
Time to sprout varies by crop, but is typically three to five days. Some sprouts will retain their hulls, which you can eat or remove by brushing them off gently with your hand or rinsing the sprouts in a quick cool-water soak. You can spin them out in a salad spinner.
Before storing sprouts in the refrigerator, they must be quite dry. Spin them well in the salad spinner and/or let them drain for about 12 hours after rinsing.
Safe storage times for sprouts vary, but generally they last about one week. Any sprouts that are discolored or smell funny should be composted - don't eat old sprouts!
You can sell sprouts at the farmers markets and your local grocery stores and food co-ops. Many people love sprouts for their nutritional benefits without having to go to the trouble of sprouting at home.