A recent article about cold-weather gardening set me to thinking about my on-again/off-again relationship with bean sprouts.
It all began in the fourth grade, when Mrs. Kasebaum gave each student a packet of beans, what appeared to be a black plastic ice tray, and a bag of potting soil.
As a scientific experiment we were to take this stuff home over the winter holidays and begin growing bean sprouts, noting down how soon they sprouted after they were planted and how tall they grew each day, and other things that struck me as pretty unimportant, not to say ridiculous, for a strapping, active young boy to worry about.
Howsoever, I complied with her vexing request and took it all home – and then promptly forgot all about the bean sprouts while I rioted in the backyard snow and upon the skating rink down at Van Cleve Park. That was the year my pals and I formed a broomball team, calling ourselves The Sonic Brooms, and nothing could get us off the ice except a ham loaf dinner at home or a clamoring bladder.
I finally remembered the bean sprout assignment four days before school began again. Hurriedly I planted the beans in the black ice tray and stuck the whole shebang under a sun lamp I found down in the basement on top of the chest freezer that hadn’t worked within living memory.
The results I brought into Mrs. Kasebaum’s class were puny, to say the least. Only a few of the beans had even heaved the earth aside to begin their humpbacked ascent. My efforts were marked down as “Unsatisfactory”.
I did not bother with bean sprouts again until, as a young father looking for ways to cut down on food bills while still providing something fresh in the middle of an unforgiving Minnesota winter, I happened to catch the tail end of a PBS special on cold season gardening. The host, a cool and competent neatly dressed man with a clipped British accent, displayed a veritable meadow of luscious looking mung bean sprouts; all grown, he modestly claimed, with the help of nothing more than mung beans, egg cartons, some potting soil, a dash of water now and then, and a window ledge with a southern exposure.
“Easy peasy!” I exclaimed to my wife Amy, as I told her how we would soon have enough sprouts to garnish a thousand salads and make egg foo young by the boatload.
I gathered the requisite items and set them up on a TV tray next to a window in the dining room, where the southern sun occasionally checked in between snow storms.
But I had not reckoned on the family cat, which, mistakenly or not, began treating my sprout farm as a second litter box during the night.
The creature’s depredations left my grand experiment scattered all over the floor.
So I moved it to the next best place – the window ledge in the bathroom. There it began to prosper in the steamy atmosphere – until our youngest boy began eating some of the dirt whenever he went in to use the potty. He was under the impression that I was making chocolate bars, and wanted in at the start. I tried disabusing him of that fallacy, but he just gave me a knowing look, as if to say “Yeah, right, Pop; you want the goodies all for yourself!”
One last expedient occurred to me, born of desperation. Our dryer’s exhaust was vented out through a basement window; the plot of ground immediately underneath it remained free of snow and permafrost, though blanketed with a covering of lint. With several hooligans who were constantly brawling and swimming in filth, and who laughingly called themselves our children, the dryer exhaust was pretty much running day and night.
So I put my sprout farm outside, just to the side of the exhaust vent.
It was all dead and frozen by the next morning. And covered in lint.
Mrs. Kasebaum would have laughed me out of town, as well as marked me down as “Very Unsatisfactory.”
I consoled myself by remembering that the Red Owl and Piggly Wiggly didn’t sell sprouts in the winter anyways, so who was I to try to buck corporate supermarkets?