Sprouting Fresh Greens in the Winter

As gardeners, it is easy to miss the enjoyment of eating fresh-from-the-garden food throughout the winter. The anticipation and hope for a distant spring lingers during the cold and long winter nights. But eating fresh, home-grown and nutritious foods isn’t an impossibility during Ontario winters. Sprouts can satisfy the gardener’s love of seeing and guiding plant growth and, packed with vitamins and nutrients, provide health benefits.


Photo courtesy of Stacy Spensley

Growing sprouts might actually be easier than gardening itself, and it doesn’t take much time. Read on to learn how to grow sprouts in your home this winter.

Alfalfa, mung, lentil, rye, soy, and wheat are common options for sprouts. When buying seeds to sprout, make sure they are seed quality rather than food quality. Food quality seeds might not sprout. Seed-quality are meant to sprout and can be bought at specialty stores, health food stores, or even online.

All you need is a mason jar, a strainer, and something to hold up a mason jar. Specialty kits are available that provide a rack and a lid that is designed for a standard mason jar. But you can easily DIY by using an elastic to hold cheesecloth or a thin wire screen over the mason jar opening.

Soak, drain, sit, rinse

Soaking seeds will cause them to leave their docile state and start growing! The germination process is almost miraculous. But the germination process releases carbon dioxide and other trace elements that need to be rinsed out. Standing water also will not do. To prevent rot, racks are needed to help drain all the water out.

Temperature and heat are other considerations. It’s best to keep your sprouting container away from drafts or direct heat sources. The ideal temperature for sprouting is 23o to 29o Celsius. And the sprouting container should never be packed with sprouts. Leaving about a third of the container open will help with air flow.

The method

Let’s take the mung bean as an example. It is one of the most common sprouts to use because of its reliability and taste.

  1. Pour a quarter cup of mung beans into a mason jar. Don’t worry, they will expand.
  2. The next step is to rinse of the seeds to make sure they are clean before sprouting.
  3. Time to soak - at least 8 hours. In cooler temperatures, it is better to soak longer – 12 – 16 hours. Overnight the seeds will soak up water.
  4. Use a strainer to separate the seeds from the water and take out any seeds that didn’t seem to sprout. The seeds that are swollen with water are the ones that have begun to sprout.
  5. Then it’s as simple as rinsing once or twice a day for 4 or 5 days. The key step to remember is to rinse the sprouts at least once every day. If you forget, it might not be the end of the world but they will become more susceptible to rot. A good trick is to set reminders on your phone so you don’t forget.
  6. After the sprouts have grown, the final step is de-hulling. This involves separating the sprouts from the hulls. It can be easily done by putting the sprouts in water and submerging them. The hulls will float to the surface and you can skim them off.
  7. A final rinse will get rid of any other residue or hulls.

Why grow your own sprouts?

 Sprouting seeds at home is much less expensive than buying sprouts from a store. The cost of the seeds will pay for themselves after a just a few rounds of sprouting. Watching the transition from seed to sprout is also satisfying. But one of the best reasons to sprout at home is the nutritional value of sprouts. The nutrients in sprouts are more bio-available than in seed form. This means that the sprouting process allows our bodies to more easily absorb the nutrients in the seeds. Winter diets without access to fresh greens can limit nutrient intake, so eating sprouts is one way to add them to your meals.

Harvesting sprouts at different stages can change the taste as well so you can experiment with different seeds, and lengths of time to find your personal favourite. You can also store sprouts for up to a week in a refrigerator. With their taste and the wide variety of meals they can be used in, storage time probably won’t be an issue.


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By Nate Van Beilen