Countertop gardens provide fresh, organically grown, convenient, nutritious and inexpensive food. It is easy and satisfying. Best of all it is energy-efficient.
So what can you grow on your countertop? There are two major crops for your kitchen – sprouts and germinated nuts and seeds. Sprouts, all kinds of sprouts grow in just a few days with very little attention. Easy seeds to sprout are mung beans, lentils, clover, alfalfa, azuki beans, broccoli, radish and the list goes on. Grains of all kinds also sprout easily. There is very little equipment that you need and it is inexpensive. The last ingredient is a little time and TLC, instructions are below.
The second crop is nuts and seeds that you usually eat raw or roasted. This includes almonds, walnuts, pecans, cashews, filberts, pumpkin seed, sunflower seed, flaxseed and sesame seed. All these have enzyme inhibitors that slow down their digestion. Soaking the nut or seed overnight and rinsing it throughout the day will break its dormancy, increase its volume, and make it easier to digest. Soaked seeds and nuts can be blended into “milks”, ground into butters or “cheeses” to make spreads, added to shakes and smoothies. They are all high in protein and essential fatty acids.
The best place to buy seeds to sprout is from a health food store or on line from one of the multitude of suppliers. It is important to use food quality seeds (not those meant for planting). Many seed catalogs now carry sprouting seeds and equipment. You can also do a search at Amazon.com on “sprouting kits” to get an idea of the many different ways to sprout. If you buy a sprouting kit or even lids to fit wide mouth mason jars, instructions will be included. A colander is useful for sprouting large quantities of seeds.
Sprouting is very easy and after a few rounds you will learn how much seed to use and how often to start a batch. So this is how to produce an abundant crop:
1. Before bed, put 2 T. to ½ C. seeds in a glass jar or bowl. Cover with water.
2. In the morning, drain the seeds and rinse them. Place them in your sprouter.
3. 3 or 4 times a day rinse the seeds and drain well. Most sprouting systems have perfect drainage. The seed should be wet, but not sitting in water.
4. Continue until the sprouts reach the desired size. Rinse one last time. Drain well and place in a glass container in the refrigerator or eat immediately.
5. Some sprouts you can “green up” by exposing them to indirect light when they are nearly completely sprouted.
Homegrown sprouts can be stored up to a week. The sprouts can be used in salads or as a salad, on sandwiches, chopped up and added to spreads, soups, or scrambled eggs. The greatest benefits to your health come from eating them raw. As a seed sprouts there is a dramatic increase in many vitamins and enzymes. The food is alive, fresh and full of crunch and flavor. However, if you find you have too many to use before they go bad, a large quantity can be used if sautéed, steamed or stir-fried with other vegetables. Add them at the very end of cooking.
Troubleshooting: Things can go wrong, but they can easily be detected and corrected.
1. An unpleasant odor develops. This is usually due to rotting unsprouted seeds. If many of the seeds are not viable, they will start to decompose. Throw the batch away and start with fresh seed. Be sure to keep your equipment clean.
2. Seeds do not sprout. The seed may be old or had been exposed to high heat. The seed is still edible and can be added to soups or stews. Buy fresh seed.
3. Seeds get fuzzy mold on them. Rinse more often and more thoroughly. Rinse the fuzz away and continue unless there is an unpleasant smell.
4. Sprouts shrivel. Not enough water or not frequent enough watering, especially in hot weather. Water more frequently or soak again for 10 minutes so sprouts can store more moisture.
5. Brown tips. Too much water or roots staying in water that has drained through. Be sure to drain well.
A nice short video can be found here:
You can grow a large quantity of fresh food throughout the winter with very little investment in either time or money. Here is one of my favorite winter salads.
Orange Sprout Slaw
Dressing: one peeled orange without seeds, 1/4 C. of soaked nuts (cashews are wonderful). Blend until smooth.
Shred cabbage finely, add mung bean sprouts and any others you have on hand, chopped green onion and grated carrot. Toss with dressing and serve.
Written by Nancy White. Nancy is a retired secondary teacher. She built and lives in an active and passive solar, high thermal mass home. She is an avid gardener and helps others to learn how to garden.