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    If you live where a daily trip to the grocery store is not possible, or you can't keep leafy vegetables in your refrigerator long enough, consider sprouting your vegetables!

    What is Sprouting?

    Sprouting is nothing more than taking seeds and supplying them with enough moisture often enough to make them pop open and start to grow.  This is exactly what seeds do when you plant them in soil and keep the soil moist.  Most of the time, however, you don't dig the seeds back out and eat the sprouts, although you could if you really wanted to.  Instead, sprouting to eat the sprouts instead of the plant or its fruits involves keeping the seeds moist without the aid of soil or other growing medium.

    What are the Advantages of Sprouting?

    When a seed sprouts, it uses the energy stored in the seed to feed the tiny developing plant.  According to The Wonderful World of Sprouting by Marion Schmidt, "Seeds will increase—in varying amounts, of course, depending upon the seed—in vitamins, minerals, amino acids and proteins from 30-600 percent."  This increase is due to the release of stored nutrients which nature designed into the seed to aid the potential plant in its growth.

    Why Sprout?

    First, sprouting seeds not only substantially increases the usable nutrition, but also substantially increases the quantity of edible food. During the sprouting process, many seeds increase in volume as much as 20 times.  Even as little as a tablespoon of seed can expand to fill a pint jar by the time the sprouting is done.

    Second, fresh sprouts are often higher in nutrition than the ultimate fruits of the mature plant.  For example, the sprouts of lettuce seeds can contain as much if not more nutrients than the actual head of lettuce.  The reason for this is simple.  Once you plant a lettuce seed, the seed has to grow into a plant before it produces a head of lettuce you can pick and then eat.  Growing into a plant requires nutrients which then are not generally available to the head of lettuce itself.

    Third, the cost of sprouting seeds is substantially less than the cost of buying the plant's final fruit.  A tablespoon of lettuce seeds can cost anywhere from 50 cents to 90 cents, and provide nearly as much bulk as a small head of lettuce.  Yet that small head of lettuce can easily cost you $1.25 or more.

    Fourth, sprouting seeds is easy, takes up very little space, and can be done without sunlight.  All it takes is a container that will hold the seeds without letting them wash away when you rinse them, and water.  Finally, sprouting seeds can be both fun and educational.  If you have small children, it's also a great way to teach them about plant growth and development.

    How do I Get Started?

    The first thing you must do is choose a container and seeds:

    Containers:
    You can use a variety of containers.  A disposable sour cream carton, a glass jar, and a plastic bottle all make suitable containers.  The container you need requires an opening large enough to be able to easily remove the sprouts once they have sufficiently matured, but other than that, it doesn't really matter what kind of a container you use, although ones you can see through make it fun to watch the sprouts expand.  Just pick a container big enough to allow for at least a 20-fold expansion of the seeds.

    Seeds:
    Most seeds can be sprouted.  However, you should not use seeds packaged for planting if you cannot first be sure they have not been treated with any chemicals.  Sometimes packaged seeds are treated to prevent sprouting in the package, fungus infections, or other problems.  You can purchase seeds packaged specifically for sprouting, buy them in bulk from businesses (local or otherwise) that raise seeds just for sprouting, or raise them yourself.

    The Process

    Sprouting seeds is as easy as 1-2-3:

    1) Place your seeds into a container with an open top.  Cover the top of the container with a piece of cheesecloth held on with a rubber band or other fastener. (If using a canning jar, you can hold the cheesecloth with the ring.)

    2) Add warm, not hot, water to the container and swish

the seeds around in it.  Let them soak in the water for eight hours or more to get them off to a good start, then drain the water.

    3) Three to five times per day, fill the container with water, swish the seeds around in it, then drain the water off immediately.  The idea is to keep the seeds moist without keeping them soaking in water.

    That's all there is to it! How long you have to wait until you can eat the sprouts depends on the type of seed you choose to sprout, and how patient you are.  For example, if you sprout alfalfa seeds, they take about 5 days, and can be eaten when they are about 1-2 inches long.  When the sprouts are ready, however, just give them one last rinse, drain them in a colander or other strainer, then eat them (cooked or raw, of course).  Enjoy! 

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