The Human Lawnmower: A Grimm Fairytale For Baby Plants

Growing Greens For The Lazy, Cheap, and Yardless

Alfalfa sprout salad
"It was a bright and sunny morning," said the Kalanchoe ominously (or would have if it had vocal chords), "just like this one." The African Violets nodded earnestly in agreement. (They could also have been swaying in the wind - it's hard to tell with Violets.) The Kalanchoe waved his branches as if warding off evil and loomed over the jar before him. Tiny sproutlings quivered in his vision, tightly packed as a yard of clover. 
"Little sprouts like you sat her not long ago... but that day they disappeared, and I never saw them again."
"What happened to them?!" shouted one of the taller seedlings, leaning forward. The Kalanchoe eyed him pitifully, noting the flush of chlorophyll in his newly formed leaves and knowing the same fate was to befall him soon. The table began to shake as monster footsteps drew near.
"The Sprout Eater."

Has anyone noticed how short lettuce season is? I mean, if you shop at a grocery store or eat other salad greens more resilient to cold then probably not, but the natural Canadian season for lettuce is only a few months long. We hardly start enjoying fruit salads before it's on to the cob salads and then pumpkin and whoops it's snowing you missed it. From the first of September this year our temperatures took a nosedive and parts of the country have already experienced frost and snow. Poor, gentle lettuce doesn't have a hope in Nunatsiavut of surviving very long up here (unless you're Niki Jabbour and make cold frames for the little guys).

When you're a stickler like me and picky about where your grocery store produce comes from, lettuce is basically a no-go in everything but peak season. I've made a rule of not buying anything from outside my country that can be grown in my country. So avocados and citrus fruit are an exotic treat, but berries or veggies from the States are forbidden. It's no 100-mile diet, but it's a small reduction in my carbon footprint that's not hard to maintain. Even GF's on board with it. The warm fuzzies of buying "local" turn into a pain in the butt, though, when I really crave something I can't get, like lettuce in the winter. It's all from California, and generally looks like hell (sorry).

Sprouted alfalfa seeds
Enter the horrific sprout-eater story. If that didn't make a crazy, "I only eat food that fell from the tree," fruititarian out of someone I'll be surprised. GF was actually alarmed when she realized what I'd become. I've been growing baby plants, letting them think their life's adventure was just beginning, then eating them by the bowlful just as they turned green. I've become an infant plant murderer.

Like my mother, many of you may have alarm bells ringing in your heads at the word "sprouts". Images of yellowy, bean-like plants in plastic containers with warning of E. coli may be flashing in front of your mind's eye. A boy in my elementary school, bless him, used to eat those pale plants by the handful, and my fellow students used to tease him endlessly about them (while eating their oh-so-healthy Lunchables). His mother was onto something, though, and obviously ahead of her time in the holistic world, if not quite on the right track. I urge anyone wasting money on these supermarket bean sprouts to hear me out, and anyone unfamiliar with all this baby plant consumption to relax about all the germs.

Sprouts are the beautiful little beginnings of edible plants, and they are both delicious and cheap. They're made by soaking raw seeds, nuts, or grains periodically in water over a few days and lettings the baby plants hidden inside those shells to start to grow before mercilessly snatching away their life once they're a few hours/days old. Sprouts are hailed for being full of enzymes, antioxidants, and amazing, life-saving chlorophyll (plant blood, rich with magnesium). They are by far one of the most raw, pure sources of sunlight we can pump into our bodies, and they make a lovely (if a bit different) replacement for lettuce in a salad.

This being said, a supermarket sprout is pale (although those kind of sprouts are anyway), dry, and probably a few weeks dead before you buy them, therefore those lovely perks that make sprout-eating worthwhile are completely null and void in those yellow bean sticks. Plus they've been sitting around in stagnant water for a while, so E. coli has time to multiply. Yum yum. Sprouting at home ensures you're getting the benefits of living, germ-free plants, while saving money and experiencing a bit of variety, should you so choose. It's ridiculously easy to grow sprouts - you need no special equipment, no particular heat, no parental supervision, and no yard or balcony. You don't even need a south-facing window. 

Sunflower seeds, pepitas, buckwheat, chia,
mung beans, adzuki beans, spelt, alfalfa,
teff, amaranth
(All bought for UNDER $10)
As a general rule, you can sprout all seeds, most nuts, lentils, chickpeas, adzuki and mung beans. You can find specifications of what sprouts best and how long they need to do so (like on Leanne Vogul's sprout FAQ) all over the internet, but I mostly just avoid large beans and eat'm when they're green.

A good starting bean for sprouting are lentils. To be honest, I've never actually sprouted lentils, but where most other sprout seeds can be hard to find outside of a health or specialty store, lentils (or chickpeas) can be bought dry in bags at the local supermarket. Grab a small handful of beans (they're going to expand to about 8x their size) and dump them in a glass jar. Most people use mason jars, but I've got washed out salsa containers, and a glass cup would be okay, too. A clear plastic cup might work, but I haven't tried. You want something that will allow the seeds light and create a little greenhouse effect. Over the lip of the jar you'll need some sort of mesh to hold the beans in but filter water out. I use some muslin cloth I found in the sewing scraps. Many people use a plastic or metal wire screen. Again, your call. Stretch your barrier over the top of the jar and grab something to hold it in place - I use rubber bands or hair elastics. Fill your jar with water and let your beans soak for a while. Like with the ingredients in a stock, the bigger your seeds, the longer you should soak them. Alfalfa seeds take four or so hours, lentils maybe five or six. I usually just let them go until the water looks cloudy. Sometimes overnight.

Soaking alfalfa seeds
Once your seeds have had a good bath, drain all the water, rinse them, then find a place where you can sit them to dip-dry. The water needs to seep out and the sprouts need to breathe, so don't put them face down on a plate or anything. I put mine on the lip of a soup cup at an angle, but you can flip yours fully upside down as long as they're on a dish drainer or something equally elevated and holey. They don't need to be in the sun right away - for mung beans, some folks suggest they should never be in light. You can let them grow on your kitchen counter, if you want. Just poke them in the sun during their last day so they start making that beautiful chlorophyll and turn green.

Now comes the easy part. Let the sprouts do their thing. Rinse them at least once a day (twice, once in the morning and once at night, is usually recommended, but ain't nobody got time for that) and eat them when they've got decently long tails on them or are turning green (again, the amount of time you let them grow for depends on the type of plant; consult the Google). Lentils should be eaten before they grow leaves. You can eat the seed husks or rinse them off. It's totally personal preference. Use them on/as salad, top a burger, dehydrate them and use them in bread, throw some in a casserole, whatever. Generally you should avoid cooking sprouts, though, because putting any sort of baby in an oven is guaranteed to kill off anything you like about them.

Spelt and adzuki beans sprouting
(Kalanchoe in the background)
Important things to note!

1) As a VERY IMPORTANT NOTE, you can sprout kidney beans (and it's cousins, like navy, pinto, and black beans), but you HAVE TO COOK THEM. This does kill off enzymes, but eating big beans raw, especially kidney beans, will make you violently ill. They're poisonous. Sprouting and then cooking beans of any sort, though, makes them much easier for our bodies to digest by turning their complex carbohydrates into simpler ones and making their nutrients more bio-available. If you're prone to gas when you eat beans, sprouting them beforehand will more than likely prevent that. 

2) Always get your sprout seeds from a food store, NOT a gardening store, where they may be cheaper but coated in pesticides/herbicides. Even if they're organic, it's a much safer bet to find some at food-grade. 

3) As anyone who clicked on Leanne Vogul's sprout FAQ link may have noticed, some people drain their sprout jars and then leave them right side up to grow. You can do this too, but I suggest the face-down method because it ensures there's no water pooling at the bottom of your container for mold to grow in.

Jar-sprouted teff. Bad idea.
4) Some very small or gelatinous seeds, like teff or chia, can't really be grown in jars. For those you need to use the toss-them-on-a-plate-and-attack-them-with-a-spray-bottle method, which I haven't tried. I did try doing the teff-in-a-jar method, though, and it just got moldy and attracted fruit flies. Alfalfa seeds are probably the smallest you should go with jar sprouting.

5) I use the green-tinted water the sprouts drip off to water my other plants, and they seem to love it. Good (cannibalistic?) sprout food for all!

Sun-filled and growing,
- Leah

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