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by Kellie Parks, Extension Master Gardener
Seed catalogs start appearing in the mailbox before the Christmas tree comes down at my house. I set them aside until the last of the needles are swept and the house is put back in order, at which time you will frequently find me nestled in a corner of the sofa with the dog curled up beside me, the catalogs stacked on the coffee table ready for dog-eared pages.
Seed starting is a bit more work than purchasing seedlings and larger plants, but what a reward to be reaped in seeing green growth in the bleakness of late winter and the satisfaction of planting out that unusual variety that would never be found in a local nursery.
-It is essential to begin with fresh media and clean containers, whatever form they may take. Damping off is a common disease that can wipe out your entire crop of tiny seedlings and is often found in reused supplies.
-To prevent leggy plants, supplemental light in the form of a fluorescent fixture is essential. Optimally, this fixture should be able to be raised and lowered to keep pace with the height of the plants, always just a couple of inches above them. I have great success with inexpensive “shop light” type fixtures.
-Growing media ought to be pre-moistened and, once seeds are sown, watered carefully to prevent their displacement. I prefer to bottom water both to keep the seeds in place and to keep the plants themselves dry to help prevent fungal problems.
-Cover the seeds with a dome, plastic wrap or plastic bag to create a miniature greenhouse and retain moisture. For faster results, place a heat mat underneath the containers, especially for heat lovers like tomatoes and peppers. Once your seeds have sprouted, remove the covers and keep an eye on them to prevent the media from drying out.
What joy is found in the moist aroma of warm earth at a time when the scents of the outdoors have been absent for months.
The Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems Michigan Organic Farming Exchange has a terrific list of seed starting resources to be found here:
On the subject of seeds, I am fascinated by and grateful for the efforts of Bioversity International and the Crop Trust for the establishment of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. Located on a remote island between Norway and the North Pole, the vault is built deep inside a mountain and ensures long-term seed storage to preserve crop diversity. Currently housing 890,000 samples from nearly every country in the world and with a capacity to house 4.5 million varieties of crops, the vault protects the world’s food supply from natural or man-made disaster. Read more about this project at: https://www.croptrust.org/our-work/svalbard-global-seed-vault/
by Cheryl A. Gross, Advanced Extension Master Gardener
As winter hangs on in northwest lower Michigan, our bodies and minds yearn for sun and green, fresh food. Before desperation hits, grab a 1-quart mason jar and some sprouting seeds and get growing (sprouting) in your kitchen.
The benefits of eating sprouted seeds are well known. There is a chemical change in the seed and additional nutrients become accessible to our bodies. Follow this link for specific nutritional information on several seed sprouts: http://www.isga-sprouts.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/SproutNutritionFacts.pdf. In general, organicfacts.net suggests that overall sprouts “contain a significant amount of protein and dietary fiber, as well as vitamin K, folate, pantothenic acid, niacin, thiamin, vitamin C, vitamin A and riboflavin. In terms of minerals, they contain manganese, copper, zinc, magnesium, iron and calcium.” Further, eating sprouts can improve digestion, increase metabolism, help in weight loss, lower cholesterol, boost skin health and more! Check out the information here: www.organicfacts.net/health-benefits/seed-and-nut/sprouts.html.
Sprouts can sometimes be found in grocery stores. However, their availability can be limited. Worries of salmonella and E. coli are possible with sprouts. Sprouting at home can alleviate these concerns if you follow some simple steps. Purchase only seed intended for sprouting. These seeds should be “clean” from the field and exposure to unwanted organisms. Use sterilized jars, fresh water, and clean hands when working with seeds and sprouts.
- A quart mason jar is ideal for sprouting. Sterilize it first. Various screened lids are available in kitchen stores and online. A cheese cloth or other mesh, fine enough to keep the seeds in the jar when draining, is needed as well. An online search will find seed sprouting trays and other equipment. However, a jar and screened lids are enough.
- Purchase seeds for sprouting. Alfalfa is delicious on sandwiches and salads. It is a fine seed, so a fine mesh lid is needed. Mung beans are often used in Asian dishes. They are a medium-sized seed. Radish sprouts give a bit of a spicy flavor. Broccoli sprouts are a powerhouse. Which would taste best to you?
- Add clean cool water to seeds in the jar. Begin with 2-3 teaspoons of small seeds while larger seeds may take a quarter cup per batch. Allow ample space for the seeds to sprout in the jar. Soak the seeds for 6-8 hours to “wake” them up.
- Drain the water and allow the jars to lie propped up, open side down in a dark space. This eliminates any puddle worries and allows for air circulation.
- Daily, rinse the seeds 2 – 3 times. This keeps the seeds evenly moist which is needed for growth. Each time use cool, clean water and replace in the angled position. Sprouting will begin in 2-3 days.
Within a week, sprouts will be ready to eat. To create more volume and to keep them fresh, continue rinsing 2 times per day. Keep sprouts in a dark area in a cupboard or a dark corner of your kitchen. To green them up, expose them to light a day or two before eating. Should you put them in a sunny window, be aware that they might dry out more quickly and therefore, rinse them more often.
Well rinsed sprouts may be kept in the refrigerator up to a week. However, it is best to eat them fresh!
With a few simple tools, in a week you may be eating fresh, living food grown in your kitchen and feeding your body a cure for late winter blues.