Article originally published in ‘Permaculture Magazine’
All photos by Paul Watkin

Gardeners can grow a variety of vegetables and salads in the garden, cold frame, polytunnel and greenhouse all year round, although the choice is limited in winter. But what about people without a garden or those whose allotment is a cold bike ride away on a winter’s day?

Elaine Bruce in her indoor garden.

In this article, Elaine Bruce explains how we can all grow an abundance of high quality, enzyme packed plant food, to harvest freshly all the year round – indoors.
The Living Foods lifestyle goes a step further than a diet of fresh, organic foods with lots of raw vegetables. It is an approach to a healthy diet that is in natural partnership with many of the principles of permaculture.

Living Foods is an integrated lifestyle, adopted in whole or part, by increasing numbers of people in pursuit of better health. The principle of ‘super nutrition’ require the choice of fresh organic foodstuffs as a pre-requisite, but adds an important dimension – enzyme rich and fresh chlorophyll rich foods. Enzymes in food assist the body’s own enzymes in cell repair and boost immunity. Chlorophyll is chemically almost identical to blood and has the power to detoxify the body and rebuild living tissue. To provide as much fresh chlorophyll as possible for our basic daily needs we require generous amounts of sprouted seeds and young shoots (called indoor greens) which can be eaten in salads, incorporated in green energy soups, or juiced.

A Living Foods kitchen requires big jars for sprouting seeds and a place to drain them. Sprouts need space to grow, with plenty of air, so a large plastic sweet jar or glass pickle jar with a mesh (proponet, flexible mesh screening or old nylons) held in place by an elastic band, is ideal. The mesh top is necessary to allow water to drain out and air to enter.

A tablespoon of fine seeds(e.g. alfalfa, fenugreek, radish) or 1/2 cup of larger ones is ample for rapid growth without rotting or becoming slimy. This happens when seeds are not rinsed thoroughly or often enough, or if they lack air circulation. Try combinations in one jar (large green lentils with chick peas, mung beans with aduki beans, or alfalfa spiced with radish or fenugreek seeds). For those with limited shelf space, sprouts can be grown satisfactorily in sprout bags and hung over the kitchen sink or in the shower. They will, however, need light for the last few days.

As a general rule tiny seeds need to soak for 4 – 5 hours and wheat berries and other large seeds up to 15 hours. After soaking, thoroughly drain the seeds, leave the jars tilted at 45° making sure the mesh is clear, allowing the air to circulate. Thorough rinsing twice daily is essential to flush away the waste products of the growing sprouts. The water used for rinsing can then be used for watering the seed trays.

For the first 3 or 4 days, sprouts like to be in the dark and kept warm (in an airing cupboard, or cover with a cloth and leave near the stove, boiler or chimney). On about day 4, the sprouts need tipping out of their jar into a riddle or colander inside a big bowl. They are then swished gently in water to dislodge the seed hulls. If left in, they are often the reason for smelly, rotting sprouts. The hulls go into the compost and the cleaned and drained sprouts are returned to the jar.

Now keep them in daylight (but not prolonged sunlight) to form chlorophyll in the leaves, and continue to rinse twice daily. Crunchy sprouts like lentils, chick peas and mung beans are best eaten straight from the dark while the shoots are short and sweet. They rapidly become fibrous and tough if left too long.

Photosynthesis in action. Wheatgrass, sunflower greens, buckwheat lettuce and aloe vera.

For a year-round supply of young ‘indoor’ greens, grow trays of sunflower seeds and buckwheat lettuce. The seeds are soaked for 15 hours, rinsed and then drained for 24 – 48 hours. When they start to germinate, plant in trays. Any trays without drainage holes, 50 – 75 mm deep, will do but you can buy purpose built ‘gravel’ trays with propagator lids. Half-fill with the best quality earth or organic compost/soil mix, shake, level, but do not firm the surface, then spread the just sprouting seeds on the surface and cover with newspaper or another seed tray (but not more soil). The trays can be piled three high for a day or two – the pressure helps them to root. At this stage, in cold climates, a source of heat may help. This can be from anywhere warm in the house

The first four days in the garden.

When the shoots push off their coverings (at about day 4), place them in full daylight and water daily. They rapidly turn green and within 7 – 8 days are ready to be harvested and eaten immediately! Harvest by cutting as close as possible to the soil, leaving a mat of soil held together more or less firmly by the roots.
Trays of wheatgrass can be grown in a similar way. This can be used finely snipped over salads, chewed or juiced in a special juicer1. Wheatgrass can also be left in tap water for up to a day to absorb some of the additives and can ‘de-chemicalise’ sprayed fruit and vegetables. All you do is soak the fruit or vegetable in a solution of wheat grass and water. After use, the wheatgrass should be composted.

The soil mats can be recycled in one of two ways. Either break up the mat and add it to your compost heap, or tuck it face down in between emerging vegetables, under a fruit bush or on any patch of soil where the mulch has become thin. These highly manoeuvrable small mats of ‘instant mulch’ are useful in many places and soon rot down. 7 or 8 root mats a week for six months will make a significant difference when replenishing a raised bed.

A tray each of sunflowers and buckwheat lettuce, and at least one variety of sprouted seed planted daily, with wheatgrass (started once or twice weekly), will provide a heaped plate of chlorophyll-rich greens twice a day for two people. Plant extra trays for juicing.

Sprouting seeds in the heart of the home saves time, travel costs and packaging – even if you could buy such fresh, nutritious food from a shop. These cheap and simple-to-produce foods are the most vitamin and mineral-packed salad vegetables you can eat – and so easy to grow in a minimal space. With all the waste products also being turned into resources, we close the loop by growing and eating this food. So not only are we contributing to our body’s health, we are, in some small way, contributing to the wellbeing of the Earth.