Speedy Sprouts in a Mason Jar

Imagine planting sunflower seeds on Monday and harvesting them on Tuesday. Or, imagine being a sower of grains – wheat, oats, rye, barley, or rice – that produce after just a few days in a jar. Or, perhaps you take pride in your prowess as a vegetable grower and would prefer to dabble in radishes, Chinese cabbage, mustard, broccoli, garbanzo beans or pumpkins. The seeds of these plants would yield, in less than a week, a crunchy crop to mix into your soup or dinner salad.
Welcome to the world of sprouts. Everyone is welcome here, children and grandparents, homeowners and apartment dwellers. All you need are a few seeds, a jar, some sort of fine mesh porous material (such as cheesecloth) to be placed over the mouth of the jar to serve as a lid, and a rubber band to hold the lid in place. You can sprout virtually any grain, legume, or cole crop and eat part or all of the germinating plant. And you can cultivate this garden in a jar 365 days a year.
A quart-size or mason jar – the kind used for home canning – is ideal for growing sprouts. The wide mouth of such a jar allows removal of the sprouts without damaging them. From experimentation, you will learn to cover the bottom of the jar with 1 or 2 tablespoons to -1/4 cup of seeds, depending on how much of your chosen seed, once sprouted, is needed to fill the jar. Cover the mouth of the jar with cheesecloth, secure it with a rubber band and pour -1/2 cup water into the jar, covering the seeds.
After the seeds have been soaking for eight to 12 hours, pour out the water and rinse the seeds with fresh water. (The water that is poured out is mineral-rich and can be productively used for watering house plants.) After rinsing, lay the jar on its side, upon which the seeds should be evenly distributed. The jar should be propped at a slight angle, with a small piece of wood or other object elevating the bottom end, so that any excess water will drain out. Water standing around seeds will invariably lead to spoilage. Some people, in fact, turn the jar upside down to be absolutely free from the problem of standing water; the disadvantage here, of course, is that the surface area for growing – the lid itself – is much smaller than the side of the jar.
Keep the jar in darkness until small sprouts form. With the exception of a few types of sprouts – such as sunflowers and almonds – that are consumed at the first sign of germination, the jar of seeds should be moved into moderate light once sprouting has occurred. (Direct light should be avoided.) When the sprouts are 3 to 4 inches tall, they are ready to eat.
Seeds for sprouting can be obtained at health food stores, specialty markets and through mail-order suppliers. Do not use seeds that are packaged for agricultural or garden use, since these may contain pesticides, fertilizers or other chemicals that you would probably wish to avoid.
The broccoli sprout has recently gained attention for its potential to prevent cancer. A study at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore reported that “broccoli sprouts grown in plastic laboratory dishes from ordinary broccoli seeds were found to contain 30 to 50 times the concentration of protective chemicals found in mature broccoli plants.” What this means is that while a person is supposed to eat 2 pounds of broccoli a week to reduce the risk of color cancer by half, the same cancer-risk reduction could be achieved by consuming a little over 1 ounce of broccoli sprouts per week.
By contrast, wheatgrass juice – which is extracted from wheatgrass sprouts – has a long-standing reputation for its detoxifying and bacteria-fighting capacities.
Tip of the week: The most beautiful gardenia in my neighborhood gets watered once a week, at most, and is never fertilized. It is wedged up against a fence in a side yard and keeps close company with a billowy, vining star jasmine. It gets a few hours of sun each morning and is covered with several dozen blooms throughout the summer. Generally in Los Angeles, the gardenia is one of the trickiest plants to grow because of its need for considerable humidity, which is frequently in short supply here. Yet, in our city, gardenias seem to do their best in conditions of virtual neglect. It would appear that just as in real estate, location – or microclimate, horticulturally speaking – means everything to the gardenia.

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