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Spring is my favorite time of the year. I love listening to the sounds of singing birds and seeing new leaf buds opening on the trees.
My garden comes to life in the spring, and the whole world seems fresh and new. I enjoy digging in the warm soil and planting the seeds that will feed my family in the months ahead.
Gardening is a natural part of homesteading and living off the grid. But you don’t need acres of land to grow sprouts and microgreens for fresh produce all year long. A sunny windowsill and a few handy kitchen gadgets (some you can make at home!) will get you started no matter what the weather is like outside or where you live.
I’m in the process of planning my Walipini-style greenhouse (a sunken greenhouse, a.k.a underground greenhouse, designed to maintain a more even temperature since it is earth-sheltered).
Until then, I garden in raised beds during the spring, summer, and fall—and my winters are filled with tiny gardens in jars and containers indoors.
I use a grow light in the corner of my basement to start seedlings a few weeks before the last frost. And the windowsill in my kitchen is the perfect spot for growing a variety of sprouts and microgreens.
I’ve tried a few different methods for sprouting seeds: Mason jars with screen lids, space-saving plastic sprouting trays that stack on top of each other, and hemp bags that allow the air to circulate around the tiny seedlings from every angle.
What I’ve learned is that different types of sprouts grow better in different systems.
And sometimes, a combination of systems works even better.
Let’s take a look at a variety of sprouting gadgets, tools, and supplies and which types of sprouting seeds work best with each type of container.
What is the difference between sprouts and microgreens?
Sprouts include the whole baby plant from root to leaf. Sprouts grow without the need for soil or a growing medium.
Microgreens typically grow on a growing medium such as soil, coconut coir, or a growing mat. They can also be grown hydroponically as long as the roots have something to anchor themselves to (like in this self-watering microgreen kit).
To harvest microgreens, use scissors to cut the plant's stem, and leave the roots in the growing medium.
What can I use as a sprouting container?
I’ve used Mason jars with screen lids, upcycled leftover jars from store-bought ingredients with muslin tied over the top, and I’ve even started sprouts on plastic mesh suspended in a baking sheet.
Basically, you can use anything that will allow you to rinse the sprouts two or three times a day and provide sufficient airflow between rinses.
When you choose your container, keep in mind the size of your seeds before they begin to sprout, the size of the holes you’ll be letting the water drain through, and the size of the finished sprouts.
Is sprouting at home safe?
Like any raw food, sprouts can carry bacteria. Always begin with clean, organic seeds that have not been sprayed with fungicide, and rinse them thoroughly before soaking. Refrigerate the sprouts once they’ve grown to the desired stage, and eat them within a couple of days.
If your sprouts smell bad at any point during the process, toss them out and start over. They may have stayed too wet and started to rot or been contaminated with mold or fungus.
Are sprouts good for you?
Sprouted seeds are miniature superfoods that contain the growing energy of the whole plant condensed into a tiny micro ingredient filled with goodness. The vitamin content varies depending on the type of sprout, but the ratio of nutrients is considerably higher in sprouts than in the fully grown plant.
You can check out some of the amazing nutritional benefits of broccoli sprouts on NutritionFacts.org.
What temperature do sprouts grow in?
Sprouts will grow at room temperature, and seeds generally need a little more warmth during germination than they will after you see the root start to grow.
Try to give your tiny sproutlings a cozy 70°–75°F for a day or two after soaking, and use cool water (not cold) for every rinse. Then, you can keep the temperature in the low 70°s or drop it into the upper 60°s and still produce a bountiful harvest.
Which method is best for different seeds?
Think in terms of size when you look at sprouting equipment. Large holes will let small seeds fall through and can cause delicate sprouts to break. Use large-holed mesh lids and fabric bags for large seeds. Use fine mesh for small seeds.
Sprouting trays can be used for any seed size as long as the seeds don’t fall through the holes.
Sprouting gadgets you can make at home
Jars with screens
Empty glass jars, either new or used, make perfect sprouting containers. It’s easy to check on the sprouts from all angles, the glass maintains a little bit of humidity and prevents the sprouts from drying out, and you can choose the lid design that fits your budget and style.
Make sure your jars are completely clean and free from food residue and soap before starting.
You can soak your sprouts in the same jar you plan to sprout them in—an added bonus and less cleanup, too!
My mom used to use old canning jars and worn-out pantyhose. She’d simply cut a few squares from the clean pantyhose, drape two or three over the top of a Mason jar (using several layers gives it more strength), and secure them with a wide rubber band (like the kind stores use on celery). Even the tiniest of seeds were kept safely inside the jar during rinses.
If you don’t have old pantyhose lying around, you can substitute muslin, cotton cloth, linen, or even a stained (but clean) handkerchief.
I’ve used plastic craft mesh as the screen for larger seeds, like peas and mung beans. Just cut the mesh the same size as the mouth of the jar and screw a jar band over it to hold it tight.
Fabric sprouting bag
Most natural fabrics with a loose weave will work for your DIY sprouting bag. Hemp is preferred for store-bought bags, but I’ve been successful with unbleached muslin and linen, too.
Cut two rectangles of fabric about 6 ½” x 8” and sew them together along three sides. You can fold over the top edge and hem it, leaving about ½ to thread a drawstring through—or you can leave it with a raw edge and just tie a string around the outside to keep it closed.
To soak seeds inside a sprouting bag, just dunk the whole bag in a bowl of clean water and let it soak for the recommended length of time.
Once the soaking is finished, you can rinse the sprouts by gently swishing the bag in a bowl of water two or three times per day. Hang the bag up and allow it to dry between rinses.
Sprouting equipment you can buy
Sprouting kits are an excellent way for beginning micro gardeners to learn about different seeds and sprouting tools. Sprouting kits typically come with small amounts of a variety of single-harvest seed packs in addition to some basic sprouting tools.
Part of the fun of growing sprouts and microgreens is trying out various new flavors. Radish sprouts add a touch of spice to fresh salads, and mung bean sprouts are perfect for tossing into your favorite stir-fry recipe.
Try this sample pack of organic sprouting seeds from The Sprout House if you’d like to experiment with new flavors before committing to purchasing a large quantity of something you may or may not like.
Sprouting jar with a stand
If you’d like to try the glass jar method of sprouting, you’ll love this kit that includes two Mason jars, screen lids, and a jar stand with a drip tray to catch any excess water draining from your upside-down jars. Jars with mesh lids work well for small, delicate sprouts (like alfalfa sprouts or clover sprouts), and you can also use them for larger varieties, like sunflower or bean sprouts.
Mesh sprouting lid for glass jars
Plenty of jars but no lids? These screen mesh lids for wide-mouth jars are the perfect addition to your kitchen gadget drawer. I prefer fine screen to plastic mesh and have found that screen lets the water run through better than some of the plastic lids on the market.
You can use a regular-mouth jar for growing sprouts, too but a wide-mouth Mason jar makes it easier to remove the sprouts once they’re grown.
Hemp bags are great for large seeds and sturdy sprouts—think mung beans, peas, lentils, and sunflower sprouts. The Sproutman Hemp Sprout Bag can be dipped in water to rinse your seedlings and hung up to dry for 360-degree air circulation.
Grow more than one type of sprout at a time with these clear plastic stacking trays that let you watch your sprouts grow.
Or, if you prefer the look of stainless steel, try these 3-tier stackable stainless steel sprouting and germination trays.
For a sprouting gadget that adds beauty to your home, I love this Terradisiena Terracotta Sprouter. The stacking terra-cotta trays enhance the down-to-earth feel of a farmhouse kitchen, and reviewers report that since the trays breathe better than plastic, germinating seeds have better airflow as they grow.
You’ll need to set each tray out separately when your sprouts are ready to green up since the terra-cotta prevents light from getting through when the trays are stacked.
If you’d like to get your children interested in growing sprouts, how about getting a chia pet? For a modern twist on the 1980s chia pet trend, check out this puppy chia pet … or add to your Star Wars collection with The Child (baby Yoda).
Although chia pets are a fun introduction to micro gardening, they are not necessarily safe for growing food. If you plan to eat your chia sprouts, I recommend using a sprouter that is certified to be food-safe.
Sprouting is a wonderful way to produce fresh food for your family all year. With the right container and a little water and sunlight, you can grow nutrient-rich leafy greens to add to smoothies, sandwiches, and dinner recipes. Bring a little springtime into your home and start growing sprouts today!