When the seed catalogs on my desk are stacked as deeply as the fresh fallen snow on my driveway, my green thumb starts to itch.

It is too early to start seedlings for the vegetable garden but not too early to grow edible sprouts. In fact, edible sprouts can be grown year round, anytime, anywhere, and a crop may be harvested in 3-to-5 days.

Sprouting is the practice of soaking, draining, and rinsing seeds at regular intervals until they germinate or sprout. About all that is needed is a quart jar, cheesecloth, and a rubber band to secure the cheesecloth over the mouth of the jar. More glamorous sprouting kits, and organic seed, may be purchased at local garden stores or from assorted sellers on Amazon.com.

The procedure to sprout seeds is easy and takes very little time or effort.

• Place the seeds in a quart canning jar or similar container.

• Add sufficient water to cover the seeds and let them soak overnight at room temperature.

• Cover the mouth of the container with the cheesecloth and secure with a rubber band.

• The following morning, drain off the excess water. Add fresh water to thoroughly rinse the seeds and drain well.

• Rinse and drain the seeds every morning and night and keep the sprouting seeds at 60-to-70 deg F.

• The sprouts will be ready to eat in just a few days. Refrigerate the sprouts when they are the desired size.
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Preferred seeds for sprouting are alfalfa, clover, broccoli, Chinese cabbage, turnip, kale, mustard, and radish. Mung, lentil, and garbanzo bean sprouts can be eaten raw or cooked. Place 2-to-3 tablespoons of small seeds or ½ to 1 cup of large seeds (e.g., beans) in a quart jar prior to soaking in water.

When sprouting seeds, some notes of caution are necessary:

• Use only certified organic seeds packaged for sprouting. These seeds are not treated with chemicals and are kept in rodent/bird proof storage after harvest.

• Red kidney and soybean seeds contain toxic substances. It is not safe to consume raw or undercooked seeds or sprouts but they are safe to eat when they are thoroughly cooked.

• Raw sprouts can be a significant source of food borne illnesses caused by Salmonella spp. and E. coli 0157:H7. The bacteria are usually seed borne and soaking the seed in 1 teaspoon of household bleach in 1 cup of hot tap water, for 15 minutes, prior to sprouting is recommended.

Sprouting various seeds is a fun and healthy wintertime project. Sprouts are packed with digestible energy, minerals, amino acids, proteins, bioavailable vitamins, beneficial enzymes, and phytochemicals. The presence of these nutrients is the result of the breakdown of complex materials, found in dry seeds, into more simple forms.

Have fun experimenting with germinating various seeds and enjoying fresh organic greens, inexpensively and with little work.

Contributed by Dr. Edwin Carley, Certified Colorado Gardener
Photos courtesy of Leslie Holzmann, Certified Colorado Gardener