How to grow sprouts

Growing good-tasting sprouts is an easy indoor gardening project. Here's how.

Courtesy of Karan Davis Cutler
Mung beans begin sprouting in 24 hours. There are no hard-and-fast rules on when to harvest sprouts. Sample your crop each time you rinse and use it whenever it tastes good to you.
Courtesy of Karan Davis Cutler
Dehulling is not necessary with most sprouts. The green hulls of these mung beans can be removed by hand, but it is a tedious chore. Sprouts should be dry before they are refrigerated, however, especially those with hulls.

Several days ago, it was -26 degrees F. (-32 C) outdoors at my house, but even arctic temperatures don’t hamper my kitchen-counter garden. Let’s be honest: Sprouting seeds is as easy as gardening gets, close to foolproof.

Add water and, if the seeds are viable, they will sprout. To paraphrase the comedian Dan Bennett, one of the safest ways to gamble is to plant a seed.

There is a small shelf of books devoted to sprouts and sprouting, but most provide more than a home gardener needs — or wants — to know. The Sprout People website, my favorite on this subject, is a mother lode of information, including specific instructions for sprouting every imaginable crop.

The do's and don'ts

Once you’ve settled on what to sprout and what to sprout (click here to read my first post on this topic), the procedure is straightforward:

  • Rinse seeds several times, then soak in water overnight
  • Rinse and thoroughly drain seeds
  • Place seeds in a sterilized sprouting container
  • Set the container in a room-temperature location that receives indirect light
  • Rinse and drain the seeds twice daily — they should be kept damp, not wet

It couldn’t be easier, with a few caveats:

  •  Don’t crowd seeds — they need good air circulation
  •  Don’t place the container in the sun or in a hot location
  •  Clean the sprouting container with soap and water or in a dishwasher after each use

You’ll probably know by sight when your sprouts are ready to harvest — you’ll see more sprouts or leaves than seeds — but I like to taste every time I rinse.

More tips

Time varies by crop, anywhere from three to five days (garbanzo and mung beans, mustard, and radish) to as many as 10 days for chives. Even the slowest sprouts mature fast enough to keep a child interested, if you’re looking for an indoor project.

Dehulling isn’t necessary for most crops, but you can brush off hulls with your hand if you want, or submerge the sprouts in water (the hulls rise to the top).

Another approach is to give sprouts a ride in a salad spinner. Fill the spinner with the sprouts, immerse it in water and remove any hulls that float to the top, then spin.

With hulls or without, sprouts need to be dry to the touch before you store them in a sealed plastic bag in the refrigerator. (Let them sit for 12 hours after their last rinse, or use a salad spinner to remove excess moisture.)

Storage times vary, but most sprouts should be used within one week. Give your crop the “sniff” test if you’re in doubt — if they don’t smell fresh or they are turning yellow or gray, toss them. After all, you can start a new crop tomorrow.


Karan Davis Cutler blogs regularly at Diggin’ It. She's a former magazine editor and newspaper columnist and the author of scores of garden articles and more than a dozen books, including “Burpee - The Complete Flower Gardener” and “Herb Gardening for Dummies.” She now struggles to garden in the unyieldingly dense clay of Addison County, Vt., on the shore of Lake Champlain, where she is working on a book about gardening to attract birds and other wildlife. To read more by Karan, click here.

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