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After a few days in the backcountry, most people start to crave fresh foods (as well as a good burger and a beer, but that’s another story). You’ve likely gone through any fresh produce you packed in such as apples, chopped peppers and some hearty kale leaves to supplement your meals. But these don’t last very long in a backpack. Sure, you have plenty of dehydrated and freeze dried fruits and vegetables, but there is just something energizing about eating fresh food. Most people are not experts at foraging wild foods, so why not grow your own sprouts in the backcountry and take your garden on the trail?

Sprouts are very easy to grow in the backcountry. For home sprouting, you can get a special screened sprouting lid that fits onto a wide-mouth jar or use sprouting trays. In the backcountry, where minimal weight and convenience is a necessity, hemp-sprouting bags are a great alternative. Hemp is naturally anti-bacterial and anti-fungal, which reduces the risk of growing moldy sprouts. The durable bags come with a mini carabineer to clip onto your backpack and weigh only six to eight ounces when wet and filled with sprouts. You can put a half-zipped plastic bag over the hemp bag to catch any water that drips out after rinsing and to keep the bag from getting dirty. This also acts as a mini greenhouse.

The hemp sprouting bag in action.

Day four of the sprout-growing process.

Seeds used to grow sprouts include clover, alfalfa, radish, broccoli, mustard and bean that can be found in grocery stores. Some seed companies sell mixtures of seeds for sprouting, such as the Grand Canyon Kick Mix, that includes clover, radish and mustard. Each sprout has a different taste and the variety adds fresh, crisp flavor to any dish. Radish and broccoli sprouts are spicy. Mustard sprouts taste like mustard. The others are milder in flavor. Live, raw sprouts are full of vitamins (A, B, C, E & K) and minerals (calcium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, iron and zinc), enzymes, disease fighting phytonutrients and even some protein. Sprouts can add a refreshing, delightful crunch to your breakfast burritos, your lunchtime tuna wrap and your Teriyaki stir-fry dinner.

A Mexican burrito topped with fresh, crunchy sprouts.

Sprouted seeds − The Grand Canyon Mix: clover, radish,
and mustard seeds.

Here is how trail sprouting works: At home, sterilize your hemp sprouting bag by turning it inside out and boiling in water for five minutes. Soak the seed mixture overnight in a bowl of water − preferably for about eight-12 hours. Soak for too short of a period and the seeds may not germinate, too long and they may get mushy and rot. Pour your soaked seeds into the wet, pre-boiled hemp bag and pull the drawstring. Rinse with fresh water and hang. The bag should stay somewhat moist for germination but not dripping wet. Rinse twice daily by pouring water into the sprout bag and letting it drain through the bag. For water limited backpacking, submerge the bag and swish it around in potable water. You’ll have edible sprouts in about 48 hours, but peak eating is typically about three-to-five days under room temperature conditions.

Tips and precautions for trail sprouting:

  • If you are going on a short trip, start your sprouts a few days before you leave so they are ready to eat on the trail.
  • If you are going on a long trip, take two sprouting bags to rotate three to five days apart so you can always have sprouts available.
  • Be careful to contain your seeds and sprouts and not let them drop onto the ground. They are not meant to grow on the wilderness floor.
  • Choose only organic seeds to sprout.
  • One tablespoon of seed will grow approximately one cup of sprouts. If rinsed daily, they can stay fresh for up to one to two weeks, so you can eat them with each meal.

  • Temperature and sunlight can affect the growth of sprouts. If they get too cold, they will freeze or grow very slowly. If you are in a hot and dry climate, you may need to rinse them three to four times a day to keep damp.
  • Rinse sprouts with clean, potable water. If you soak them in a lake or stream, you may end up with Giardia-containing sprouts.
  • If you notice anything furry, fuzzy or hairy growing on your sprouts (not to be confused with root hairs), do not eat them. Salmonella and E. coli have been known to grow on sprouts and sprouts are actually banned in some grocery stores due to potential outbreaks. Throw them in the fire (if fires are allowed) or pack them out with your trash (they will shrivel up to almost nothing). If you are concerned, thoroughly cooking sprouts should kill any disease causing bacteria.

We challenged our University of Utah Wilderness Nutrition students to take the hemp bags and seeds on a 2-3 day backcountry trip. All supplies were donated by Mountain Valley Seeds in Salt Lake City, UT; www.mvseeds.com

Here is what they thought:

“I thought the bags were extremely convenient and easy to pack around. It motivated me to give life to otherwise dull/hibernating seeds... The sprouts I ate turned out delicious and assuredly nutritious! Any seeds making their way into my near future better beware, I be a sprout’n’.”

- Bradley D.

“Sprouts are delicious and knowing that you grew them yourself makes them taste all the better and they are less expensive that way as well.”

− Rebecca G.

Now that your interest is starting to sprout, we challenge you to take your garden on the trail!

For more information, here are a few resources:

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