Want to learn how to grow sprouts at home for fresh living produce grown directly on a kitchen countertop? Here we discuss the basics to growing your own sprout varieties plus some tips and tricks we've learned during our 25 years of sprouting experience.
Sprouts thrive in most any indoor environment between 65-75 degrees and make a great alternative to outdoor gardening if you happen to live in an urban environment. The seeds themselves are very cost-effective for the amount of "sprout vegetables" they end up producing and are, in addition, very easy to store, remaining viable several years when stored appropriately.
There are as many different types of sprouts as there are vegetables, some are just more suitable as far as flavor and texture goes. Certain seeds, like alfalfa, yield tiny sprouts with small leaves, while others can grow quite large providing a thick hedge of produce that can be snipped off and enjoyed as a salad green.
Usually grown in jars, bags or on trays using just water, a nutrient solution or a soil-based medium, sprouts require minimal tools and supplies. There is always the option of acquiring special equipment specifically designed for sprouting seeds, which can be particularly helpful if you enjoy sprout gardening on a regular basis.
Most dried vegetable seeds are not edible by themselves but happily sprout when given the water necessary to activate the process, commonly taking an average of 4-14 days depending on the seed type and how long you wish to sprout it. Many seeds can be grown also as microgreens which have larger leaves and a higher amount of chlorophyll content.
There are a few basic rules that usually always apply to any sprouting technique either at the beginning stages or throughout the sprouting process.
Different seeds have their own soaking, rinsing and temperature requirements as well as their own specific measurements per jar, bag, tray or sprouter. For more precise details for each sprout variety, please see our sprouting guide.
The first important step when learning how to grow sprouts is to purchase high quality seeds from an organic, non-bleached, non-GMO supplier that are tested for purity and germination rate. In our opinion, this is a crucial part of creating healthy, vibrant sprouts free of bacteria and potential molds.
Sprouts have received a bad rap in recent years because of Salmonella and E. coli contamination outbreaks that have occurred from consuming commercially grown sprouts sourced from non-organic seeds. The seeds themselves, however, were found to be the source of contaminants, traced back to the use of livestock manure directly on the seed-producing plant.
According to the Organic Farming Research Foundation, "Organic standards set strict guidelines on manure use in organic farming: either it must be first composted, or it must be applied at least 90 days before harvest, which allows ample time for microbial breakdown of pathogens." (Source)
For more information on this subject visit our Sprouts and Food Safety Controversy.
If you are new to sprouting, it is good to begin with a basic jar sprouting technique as it is the easiest way to understand the processes involved. This simply requires a wide mouth glass jar, but any jar will actually work. We tend to prefer 1 quart or half gallon mason jars, rather than smaller or larger sizes.
Mason jars are nice because you can purchase mesh screen lids with varying hole sizes, specifically designed for mason jars. These screens keep the sprouts appropriately ventilated with wider hole sizes as the seeds mature. Other jars with layers of cheese cloth or mesh screens over the top also work fine for draining the sprouts and provide needed air flow.
Hemp or nylon sprouting bags are another option in which the entire bag of sprouting seeds is soaked in water and then pulled out to drain. Bags are great for backpacking or travel and some people believe they are better than jars because they allow more air circulation which inhibits potential mold growth.
This technique employs the use of a sprouter. These are trays (usually round) designed specifically for sprouting seeds. They have small holes in the bottom and a tray for soaking the sprouts so they grow upright in a vertical fashion. This is why we call them "vertical sprouts" because their white stems are straight as oppose to jar or bag sprouts that are slightly curved and irregular.
Sprouts can also be grown in a similar fashion on grow mats or also called "blankets." These are thin (1/8 inch) durable sheets made from an organic medium that hold water very well and are easy to handle. The seeds sprout on the mat, which remains moist with the sprouts growing tall and upright.
Many people commonly use 10"x10" or 10"x20" black growing trays when using soil or hydroponic medium, such as coconut coir or vermiculite. These are trays that come with or without holes and are a little over 2 inches (5 cm) deep. They are perfect for growing all types of microgreens and sprouts like pea shoots, buckwheat lettuce, sunflower greens and wheatgrass.
All commercial sprouters are a little bit different, some are grown in stacks. These directions we offer are generally the required procedure, but it is a good idea to follow the instructions that come with each particular model.
Mold spores can be present on the seeds themselves. That is why it is exceedingly important to purchase quality seeds. Molds are also encouraged by hot humid climates and other factors, like over-watering. When growing sprouts it is important to make sure there is adequate ventilation and air circulation.
When learning how to grow sprouts we recommend you start with sprouting one type of seed at a time until you get down the process. As you gain experience, you can experiment with blending your own seed mixes using a combination of uniquely spiced and flavored sprouts, like onion, radish, broccoli or fenugreek. Some suppliers also sell pre-made sprouting seed mixes.
Here is one of our basic seed mix recipes.
This recipe is for 4 cups of seeds which can be stores in a 1 quart mason jar.
We always recommend buying sprouting seeds in bulk by the pound. They are much less expensive and good to have in your pantry as a backup for other salad greens. Most seeds when stored in glass airtight jars in a cool dark location will remain viable for several years.
Sprouts are a the perfect survival food and the seeds, although they produce pounds of produce, hardly take up any storage space. Bulk seeds can provide months or years worth of sprouts and are a good investment for your money!
Learning how to grow sprouts may be especially appropriate in the winter months when less fresh produce is available. Most sprouts adapt well to most indoor climates and living spaces.