Sprouting Seeds and Beans: The Gardener's Gateway Drug | Arts & Culture | Smithsonian
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Sprouting Seeds and Beans: The Gardener's Gateway Drug

The first thing my city friends asked when I told them I had bought a 19th-century farmhouse on several acres was, "what are you going to do with all that land?" The idea of owning acreage is alien to a lot of urbanites, who consider even a small patch of grassy yard a luxury. But for the last year...

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The first thing my city friends asked when I told them I had bought a 19th-century farmhouse on several acres was, "what are you going to do with all that land?" The idea of owning acreage is alien to a lot of urbanites, who consider even a small patch of grassy yard a luxury. But for the last year and a half I've been content to leave most of my land alone, along with its trees, overgrown fields and furry residents—deer, foxes, raccoons and who knows what else.

On the other hand, it does seem like a shame not to make some use of the property, so this summer I've resolved to devote a small patch of it to my first-ever attempt at vegetable gardening. It's a short growing season up here in Zone 4 (the lower the zone number, the hardier plants have to be to survive; D.C. is in Zone 7), but I live in a valley that gets more sun and warmer temperatures than most of the neighboring mountain towns—local friends jokingly refer to it as the tropics.

I have all kinds of anxieties about this project. I don't have a great track record with house plants, and what I don't know about gardening could fill volumes. Reading books only makes me more confused; no one seems to agree on the  best way to do things. The simplest questions leave me flummoxed: How many seeds do I buy? Raised beds or rows? Do I have to wear a big, floppy-brim hat? How floppy?

Luckily, several of my co-workers are vegetable-growing mavens who have offered heaps of good advice. (I also plan to take a Vegetable Gardening 101 series through my local Cornell Cooperative Extension office.) And one of them offered me something even better: an easy beginner's project that's nearly guaranteed to succeed—sprouting seeds.

Radish sprouts on day 5. Photograph by Lisa BramenA few days ago I poured a tablespoonful of radish sprouting seeds (as opposed to growing seeds, which are usually treated with fungicide) into a jar and covered them with water. My friend's instructions were to let them soak for six hours. I forgot and left them soaking overnight. Oops. It turned out the extra soaking wasn't a big deal, though, so I continued rinsing them twice a day. Now, less than a week later, I have a jar full of sprouts!

They taste just like radishes. I threw them on a shrimp stir-fry, but they could also go in a sandwich, salad, or sushi roll. You can also sprout seeds from broccoli, mustard, alfalfa, of course, and even lentils, peas, or nuts. My next project will be mung bean sprouts, which will make a nice addition to pad thai. Sprouting seeds and beans are available from some regular seed suppliers, like Johnny's or High Mowing, or from specialty sprouting suppliers, such as Sprout People. All offer simple instructions on growing your sprouts.

The great thing about sprouting is that you can grow your own fresh veggies without soil, sun or months of waiting for a harvest, making them perfect for winter or early spring. With so few steps it's pretty hard to mess things up—and even if you do, you've invested only a few days so it's not that heartbreaking. You can always start over. And best of all, you don't need a backyard, much less acreage.

Now that my confidence is up, I think I'm ready to move on to the hard stuff.
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About Lisa Bramen
Lisa Bramen

Lisa Bramen was a frequent contributor to Smithsonian.com's Food and Think blog. She is based in northern New York and is also an associate editor at Adirondack Life magazine.

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