Category Archives: Vegetables

Growing Bean Sprouts

Thai Fried Rice featuring Mung Bean Sprouts made in a jar at home

Thai Fried Rice with Bean Sprouts made in a jar at home

This past winter, I decided to try growing my own bean sprouts. I read that they are packed full of vitamins, protein, enzymes, minerals, and fiber, as well as easy to digest and low in calories. The bean sprouts in the grocery stores never look very fresh, but luckily, they are easy to grow right at home without fancy equipment.

I purchased seeds from a local garden store called The Bruce Company. The brand is Botanical Interests and they are listed as Mung Bean Sprouts, Vigna radiate (Phaseolus aureus), for $3.49. Other seed companies such as Burpee appear to offer these as well. You can also find other types of sprout seeds, such as a Sandwich Mix containing alfalfa, red clover, and radish.

Here are the steps that I took to grow my own bean sprouts. I wanted to provide this illustration so that others can get a sense of the general process. However, please consult your seed packet for more details on the process, as I am not an expert and modifying any of the steps could affect the results.

Step 1: Disinfect the seeds.
a.Place 1 1/2 Tablespoons of bean sprout seeds into a measuring cup, removing any broken or bad-looking seeds. Add 1 cup of hot tap water and then 1 teaspoon of bleach. Let sit for 15 minutes.
Step 1a

Step 1a

b. Rinse the bleach off the seeds well.
Step 1b

Step 1b

Step 2: Soak the seeds.
Place the seeds in a quart jar with about 2-3 times more water than seeds. Let sit for 8 hours out of direct sunlight. After the soaking time, rinse the seeds (see step 3 below).
Step 2

Step 2

Step 3: Rinse the seeds every 8 to 12 hours with cool water. Twice a day (e.g. 7 am and 7 pm) works fine for me. After rinsing, drain out the water. You can hold a strainer or fasten cheesecloth to the jar while draining to keep the seeds in the jar. Prop the quart jar up at an angle with a towel so additional water can drain out. Make sure there isn’t water sitting in the jar. Then cover with a cloth to keep the seeds out of light.
Step 3

Step 3

Step 4: When the sprouts are an inch long (around day 5), they are ready to be harvested. Pour into a bowl of water and swish to allow some of the green seed coatings to loosen and come off. Pull out the seed coverings that come off (it’s ok if they don’t come off, you can eat them) and drain off the water.
Step 4

Step 4

You can store the sprouts in a container in the refrigerator, however they do not last long. When refrigerating, make sure they are not too wet. Rinse and drain them once a day to help keep them fresh a little longer.

I try to make a recipe right when I’m harvesting them so they are at their freshest. Here is one of my favorite recipes (ingredient amounts are approximate so adjust as needed).

Thai Fried Rice

2 eggs
2 Tblsp. safflower oil
1 large clove garlic, minced
2 c. leftover cooked brown rice
1 c. grated carrots
1 c. bean sprouts
1 Tblsp. fish sauce
1 Tblsp. soy sauce
1 c. fresh basil, torn into small pieces
1 c. fresh cilantro, torn into small pieces

1. In a large skillet, scramble eggs and cook through, breaking in small pieces. Set prepared eggs aside.
2. In the same skillet, warm oil over medium heat. Add garlic and rice and toss to coat.
3. Add prepared eggs, carrots, and bean sprouts and toss together for a few minutes.
4. Add fish sauce and soy sauce and toss together for a few minutes.
5. Remove from heat. Mix in basil and cilantro.

If you enjoy making sprouts, there are sprouting devices which will help the sprouts grow larger or may make the process easier. However, given their short storage time, making a small batch in a jar for a recipe works just fine.


Updates in the Vegetable Garden (September 27, 2013)

The vegetable garden in August.

The vegetable garden in August.

As autumn arrives, the gardens are still producing. Much has grown in the last two months of the garden!

There weren’t many problems to report. Leaf miners returned to visit the swiss chard, but didn’t do much damage. A white powder appeared on the topside of some plants leaves, but didn’t seem to harm the plants. Squirrels and rabbits enjoyed fallen apples and pears and didn’t bother the ones on the trees much. The rabbits also noticed the ground cherries at some point, but we still managed to find more on the ground each day. Yes, there are many weeds in the garden, but I haven’t felt a need to go after them.

My daughter's zinnia plants kept offering purple flowers for her to pick and bring in the house.

My daughter’s zinnia plants kept offering purple flowers for her to pick and bring in the house.

There were many joyful surprises in the garden. I’m not usually crazy about flowers (perhaps you remember my rant about rose bushes) unless the plant offers a practical benefit (something edible or deterring pests), but zinnias have found a place in my heart. My daughter received the seeds at a children’s garden party and she loves to go out and pick the flowers. Watching her put them in a vase on the kitchen table brings joy to our home. They have continued to produce new flowers with determination, so they seem to be a hardy sort of plant. We’ll have to buy some more seeds next year.

Late additions to the garden in the last two months included some wheat grass in a tray and more carrots and peas in my kids’ container garden. We were having plenty to pick and eat so I didn’t worry much about succession planting. Summer gets to be a busy time of year.

Here are more vegetable- and fruit-specific updates:

Zucchini soup was a wonderful evening meal with grated zucchini, carrots, celery, onion, potato, and parsley.

Zucchini soup was a wonderful evening meal with grated zucchini, carrots, celery, onion, potato, and parsley.

Zucchini: Wow. The first one I found was a monster that surely must have grown overnight. And they just kept coming. We made zucchini bread, many bowls of zucchini soup, and enjoyed slicing them up to eat right out of the garden. They taste best when they are small and tender, about 4 or 5 inches long.

Broccoli: The heads were small, but the taste and texture was delicious. It was a nice snack to just chop off a piece to eat with the kids in the afternoon.

Peas: The ‘Tom Thumb’ variety of peas wasn’t too impressive. Little growth, small pods, and then they were done. We’ll go with a different variety next year.

Shells and dry beans.

Shells and dry beans.

Hidatsa Beans: We watched the beans go from being skinny and green to swollen and brown. The dried shells cracked open and revealed maroon-colored beans inside. It was interesting seeing where dry beans come from. I knew it would happen but seeing it with my own eyes was quite the learning experience. The kids enjoyed helping to thresh and pull out the beans. Some of the beans dried right in the garden and sometimes we let a vine hang upside-down in the kitchen to finish drying. If the beans were a little soft, we just left them on the counter to dry out more. Now we just need to try to cook them!

Carrots: These were fun for the kids. The ‘Short n’ Sweet’ variety worked well in the kids’ container garden and were good to eat. With new seeds planted in early September, I hope we can pick more yet this year.

Swiss Chard: We got tired of swiss chard after about a month. The taste seemed to get more bitter over time when eaten raw (our preferred way of eating things). They were pretty in the gardens and a sauté with broccoli and turnips early in the summer was delicious, but I don’t think I’ll plant them again next year.

The cucumbers were cute hanging on the bamboo trellis, despite the spiky exterior.

The cucumbers were cute hanging on the bamboo trellis, despite the spiky exterior.

Cucumber: Another good afternoon snack! Picking a cucumber to slice up and eat warm out of the garden was great. After rubbing off the prickly spikes on the outside, the skin was so soft and edible (unlike the tough skins on large grocery store cucumbers which we often peel off).

Red Peppers: It took a while for the green peppers to take on a bright red, but it was worth the wait. They were beautiful and delicious! We sliced them up to eat raw and warm from the garden.

Tomatillos: Hanging like green lanterns, these were a fun experiment in our garden. We hadn’t had tomatillos before, so of course, we just sliced them up to try them raw. We weren’t a fan of them raw. After a failed attempt at salsa verde (I accidentally made it too spicy to consume without burns to mouth and nose), these became a good donation to the food pantry. Hopefully someone with a knack for salsa-making can enjoy the harvest from this plant until I’m willing to make another attempt. My husband found recipes for strawberry-tomatillo pie and fried tomatillos, so that would be some other fun things to try in the future.

Plain yogurt, milk, strawberries, blueberries, and wheat grass.

Plain yogurt, milk, strawberries, blueberries, and wheat grass.

Wheat Grass: After getting some free seeds from the Madison Children’s Museum at the opening of the Urb Garden, we planted them in a shallow tray of compost and set them on the patio. The grass grew and we cut some off to add to a smoothie. It was ok. Our blender shredded the grass pretty well, but there were still a few strings. And it tasted a bit like grass. But hopefully the health benefits made it worth it.

Ground Cherries: These plants keep them coming slow and steady! It has been nice to pick these little fruits off the ground each day to nibble on. My son especially loves to go outside and look for them.

Large Tomatoes from church seedlings: Despite a late planting, no cage, and some storms that threw the plants to the ground, tomato seedlings from our church’s food pantry garden brought us a pleasant surprise. We were never crazy about large tomatoes from the grocery store, with their tough skin, watery inside, and bland taste. But we figured we ought to try the large tomatoes that grew from these seedlings. Wow! The taste and meaty texture was exceptional. Someone at church thought they might be an heirloom variety. We will definitely be planting more next year and further exploring the world of home-grown tomatoes.

The nasturtium seedling thrived and brought happiness to the garden.

The nasturtium seedling thrived and brought happiness to the garden.

Nasturtium: Although the spicy nasturtium leaves and flowers weren’t a hit at our house, we enjoyed the beautiful flowers in the garden. The nasturtium planted from seed didn’t get nearly as large as the purchased seedling.

Apples: Our red and green apple trees have brought us much joy this apple season. I’ve made a number of batches of applesauce and we have been eating them right off the tree and sharing them with friends. The red apples have quite a few blemishes from pests, but the green apples are mostly perfect. Both are delicious. I’ve been debating trying to prune these trees to keep them short and healthy, but I don’t want to jeopardize the harvest in future years.

Pears: Our pear tree produced about 25 pears this year. I read online that pears don’t ripen on the tree, so I picked the pears green and put them in the refrigerator for about a week or so. Then I placed them on the kitchen counter to ripen for another two weeks. They slowly turned yellow and became soft, at which point, I returned them to the refrigerator. We’ve been eating them raw and enjoying their sweetness. One of the pears had a worm crawling out of it (coddling moth?) which was a little creepy, but generally, they’re mostly blemish- and pest-free. I have debated trying out a recipe with them, such as pear butter, but we’ll probably have them all eaten before I find some time.

A woodpecker pecking at the bamboo trellis over the mostly-finished beans.

A woodpecker pecking at the bamboo trellis over the mostly-finished beans.

As you can see from the harvest totals, much has been picked since my last update:
* Swiss Chard: 338 g
* Carrots: 180 g
* Nasturtium: 9 g
* Peas: 54 g
* Wheat Grass: 18 g
* Zucchini: 2509 g
* Broccoli: 250 g
* Cucumber: 682 g
* Cilantro: 9 g (not all weighed)
* Basil: ? (not weighed)
* Hidatsa Beans (dry): 79 g
* Red Peppers: 276 g
* Sun Gold Tomatoes: 500 g
* Red Sweetie Tomatoes: 545 g
* Ground Cherries: 352 g
* Cherry Tomatoes from church seedlings: 463 g
* Large Tomatoes from church seedlings: 496 g
* Tomatillos: 246 g (more haven’t been picked)
* Green apples: 1014 g (many more to pick and some eaten without being weighed!)
* Red apples: 8396 g
* Pears: 3044 g

This brings the harvest total up to 7075 g (16 lb) for vegetables and 12,454 g (27 lb) for fruit so far. Not bad for our first year with a backyard garden! It’s a minor chore to weigh all the vegetables and fruits as they come in the house and write down the numbers, but it certainly is interesting to see how our gardening efforts are paying off. In the future, it will also be nice to look back and see how our garden has changed from year to year.

Connecting to Natural Food Sources

As the saying goes, “we are what we eat.” For many, this saying helps us to cut down on fatty foods and desserts, but if we dig deeper, what does it really mean in our modern society?

To start answering this question, here is an exercise for you to consider. For a month, write down all the foods you ate: those from the grocery store, restaurants, school meal plans, office catering, candy dishes, church potlucks, and celebrations. Then, look over your list. What are you eating? Usually a common theme quickly surfaces: we really have no idea what we’re eating, how it was made, or where it came from.

It's snack time. Do you know where your muskmelon comes from? Your local farmer's market can offer you a freshly picked, organic selection.

It’s snack time. Do you know where your muskmelon comes from? Your local farmer’s market can offer you a freshly picked, organic selection.

I have serious concerns about the available foods these days. Low prices, uniform appearance, shelf life, bright colors, and marketing slogans have become the driving force behind our food production, despite the fact that our food is becoming less and less natural and healthy for us. Why is this? Does society care more about immediate gratification and the external appearance of their make-up, gadgets, cars, houses, and vacations, than they do about the food they internally consume all day long? Some might argue that natural, healthy foods are too expensive, but the world functions on supply and demand. If people demand fancy cell phones, they are manufactured and everyone totes a cell phone. If people demand natural, healthy foods, they become more available and less expensive. What we have is a simple problem with priorities: do we focus more attention on quick fixes and superficial status symbols, or the natural world and ethical values?

For those who prioritize natural, healthy foods, grocery shopping has become difficult. At your typical grocery store, it’s hard to find organic locally-sourced produce, whole grains, dairy products without rBGH, or meat without hormones and antibiotics. I don’t enjoy looking through item after item on the shelf to find something simple without corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, MSG, dyes, unnecessary sugar and salt, or BHT. Not to mention the mystery about whether the ingredients were treated with unlabeled chemicals or are genetically modified. I’ve managed to meet our food needs by shopping for different products at a variety of sources: rBGH-free local cheese and organic fruit from Metcalfe’s, hygiene products and organic canned goods from Whole Foods, summer vegetables and yogurt from the farmer’s market, nuts from Target or Copp’s, and bread from Clasen’s bakery. But sometimes grocery shopping feels like a week-long tour of the city to meet all our food and budget needs.

Despite the difficulty, it is a worthy endeavor to seek out natural foods and understand where our food comes from. Not only are we caring for our bodies, we are also connecting to nature, supporting the farmers or producers, and taking a stand in our society to say that food ingredients and sources matter. In addition to shopping around for natural foods, here are some other ideas to connect ourselves with natural food sources:

A fresh organic zucchini for your soup sits waiting in your own backyard.

A fresh organic zucchini for your soup sits waiting in your own backyard.

* Instead of purchasing products from unknown companies, why not look up the companies on the internet and see if they offer tours of their farms or factories?
* Instead of filling our Christmas wish lists with shiny gizmos, why not consider asking for a share in a CSA?
* Instead of going to the store for zucchini, why not have some in the garden to pick for our soup?
* Instead of fretting over choices in the bread aisle, why not bake our own homemade loaf and fill our homes with the smell of a bakery?
* Instead of buying mysterious jams, canned goods, ketchup, pickles, or applesauce, why not make and can them ourselves?
* Instead of believing that restaurants have healthy options, why not find out where they get their ingredients from and decide for ourselves?

To go back to our initial saying, “we are what we eat.” If we don’t know how our food was made, can we understand who we are? Are we becoming an unfamiliar, unnatural, chemical, genetically-modified, and marketing creature rather than a human being? I stand up for natural food, for connecting to the source of our food, and for prioritizing nature and ethics as I live my life. In the 21st century it’s a journey filled with difficulty, but I will do what I can, to take care of my family and the earth.