Updated: Jan 19, 2021
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An early part of our Agriscaping Mastery Program training, we're asked to start getting good at growing things, starting with sprouting seeds. At first, this may strike one as kind of basic, since we're trying to turn our backyard into a producing garden (by this I mean that you might expect someone with that goal to be gardener enough to already know how to sprout a seed), but I genuinely appreciate Justin's thoroughness. The reality is that SO many of us in today's world have no idea how the process even works! (I would include myself up until a couple of years ago...and if not for the major health problems that necessitated the learning process for me, I would still be clueless.) Honestly, people pay a lot of money for sprouts in the store or on a sandwich, so why shouldn't it be on our radar to include in weekly CSA boxes, if that's our ultimate goal? (I'm not sure yet that CSA boxes for our neighbors is the end goal, but it would be fun if it happens!)
I only have familiarity with the idea of sprouting because of our crazy health journey. When my youngest son had such awful allergies and digestive issues as a breastfeeding infant, I was desperately searching for answers, and many of the resources I found that helped us at that initial stage of healing focused on teaching the "traditional" food wisdom that our modern world with its many conveniences has allowed the last few generations to forget (see the Weston A Price Foundation for more info on Traditional Diets). One of these is the simple fact that seeds, nuts and grains are actually quite difficult to digest, especially for a compromised digestive system. Traditional peoples noticed this, because they were much more aware of the connections between what they ate and how their bodies performed, so they used soaking and fermenting to start the process for them, greatly enhancing nutrition and easing digestion, as a rule.
I was eager to learn more upon first learning this because severe digestive issues were our main complaint at that stage (almost entirely healed now, I'm happy to share, but our diets still have to stay home-grown or organic and unprocessed to keep us that way!!). Of course, modern science now tells us that ungerminated seeds contain phytates and other substances that protect the seed and can irritate the digestive system, making them harder to break down, so you actually can physically absorb less nutrition from an unsprouted seed. Fancy that! And simply soaking raw seeds, grains, beans, and nuts in (salt) water overnight before using them makes a huge difference - the seeds start to germinate, breaking down some of these products, starting the seed's growing cycle and adding the enzymes and nutrients of the growing plant, as well as making them easier to digest. (Please note only use salt if you're not planning on growing the seed to a sprout, usually for beans and nuts where you'll throw out the soak water.) Even if you're healthy, why would you want to make your body do more work digesting than it has to? - let it use those resources for something else! This simple step helped us a lot when we were struggling with severe digestive problems. (If nothing else, it definitely reduces gas and discomfort when you eat the soaked version, so take note if anyone in your family has issues - this may significantly lessen the problem!)
As we have healed, I am so happy to share we can finally tolerate things like raw soaked nuts, freshly harvested beans from a local farmer, brown rice and gluten-free grains again, because we absolutely could not for a long time, but even now I never skip the step of soaking first. With oats and grain-based flours, I also add whey or Garden Goddess beet kvass (hands down the best probiotic drink and lacto-fermenting starter I have found!) in their overnight soak because the lacto-fermenting process also helps digest not only the grain but also seems to degrade any mold toxins that may have accumulated during storage. We still cannot eat unfermented grains, pre-packaged nuts and peanuts (these make me extra anxious, unsettled, unable to concentrate and munchy hungry for a day or two, of all things, and sometimes it simply depends on which package we eat, so it's not an allergy to the food itself!), and my only guess is this must be because of high levels of mold toxins due to poor storage practices. We have super mold-sensitive systems because of our health history of CIRS, so that would explain the weird symptoms of increased inflammation triggered by unfermented grains, some nuts and flours. But the soak/ferment-the-night-before trick has allowed us to be able to eat things like rice, beans, and gluten-free grains and flours again, symptom free, so I am SO thankful! If you have any digestive issues, or just want to lessen overall burden on your body, I highly recommend trying it - traditional ways of soaking and fermenting do take a little more time, but there is real wisdom guiding them!
Back to the sprouts. It's been a while since I sprouted seeds (instead of just soaking), so I dug in the pantry to find my sprouting supplies. I really like the Easy Sprout Sprouter, because it's an all-in-one system that doesn't lose seeds out the bottom (you can use the small-seed-insert for smaller seeds), and it's very easy to soak and do your rinsing in the same cup assembly until harvest - you just have to shake/tap the cup to get it as dry as possible after each rinse to avoid mold. If you want to just do sprouts, this is an excellent starter system.
We also decided to try out a Seed Sprouter Tray to see if we could get those sprouts to more of a microgreen stage without having to use soil. In this process, I have learned that "sprouts" are just the sprouted seeds (usually it takes around 6 days to get them to this stage, and you consume the resulting baby plant, seed and all). "Microgreens" by contrast, are usually sprouted in soil, so you don't eat the seed, and they are grown for longer, often 2-3 weeks, until they are cut and harvested. I really don't want to deal with the soil until we have an outdoor garden room, but these seed sprouter trays claimed you could grow to a microgreen-sized plant without using soil, so I'll let you know later if that's true.
If you'd like to see more of how the sprouting process went, enjoy this video to see a bit of how the Easy Sprout system works! (Spoiler - as promised, we had beautiful sprouts in about 6 days!)