I’ve grown sprouts for decades, mostly when I need sprouted mung beans for stir fry or sprouted broccoli for a healthy smoothie. You’ve probably done this. It requires nothing more than a mason jar, some seeds, and a sock stretched over the opening. (Or a straining lid)
I’ve also grown microgreens. Basically they’re adorable little miniature arugula and Swiss chard plants grown in trays under grow lights and harvested so early it feels murderous to cut them down.
Then I encountered a process that is halfway between sprout and microgreen, yet is ridiculously easy to grow.
The process was developed by gardener Peter Burke, who loved greens but found his busy schedule didn’t give him time to fuss with grow lights, heat mats, or greenhouse enclosures. He didn’t give up. After many experiments he discovered a technique to grow fresh greens any time of year.
Burke calls these nutrient-packed tender greens “soil sprouts.”His method provides a harvest of salad greens in a little over a week with almost no work. Staggered plantings can provide several pounds of fresh greens every day. You don’t need a south-facing window, in fact to grow the firm stems of these plants you need to start them in the dark.
Inspired by his new book, Year-Round Indoor Salad Gardening: How to Grow Nutrient-Dense, Soil-Sprouted Greens in Less Than 10 days, I gave it a try. I used potting soil I had in the barn, loaf pans I’d brought from my parents’ house, and some old (I mean old) seeds I had abandoned in our refrigerator crisper drawer for a few years.
I was pretty sure the seeds were too old to sprout and the area I’d chosen was too cold. I violated one of Mr. Burke’s rules, sneaking in an extra dose of water on the second and third days. The seeds were slower to sprout than his timeline predicted, but then again, I was using old seeds in a cold bedroom. To harvest I cut them close to the soil using kitchen scissors, sprinkling these nutritious pea, radish, and broccoli sprouts over our salads. What great salads— fresh, alive, and scrumptious.
Then I violated another of Mr. Burke’s rules, leaving the more slow-to-sprout seedlings where I’d planted them. In another few days I had more soil sprouts to cut. I replanted several trays, but still couldn’t bear to toss out the soil that was still sprouting with my first plantings. Instead I’m letting a few of them grow (again, in violation of his rules) well past the point where they should have been cut. They’re still flavorful, offering wonderful texture and complexity to winter salads.
Thanks to my not-so-well-behaved experiments, I bought several of his books as gifts for friends who are as garden-crazy or health-crazy as I am. They too think he’s on to something. You’ve got nothing to lose giving his methods a try. I suspect you’ll be a soil sprout aficionado too.
If you’re interested, you’ll need seeds to sprout, potting soil, compost (we used well-rotted cow manure from out back), kelp meal, some paper (newspaper, paper towels, whatever), and some trays (even a baking dish) to plant in. I bet you’ll be surprised how easy this is and how delightful these soil sprouts are in a stiry-fry, salad, or wrap. Let your windowsills come alive!