Tips for Growing Sprouts Indoors for Your Guinea Pigs
But in the off-season, when it’s too hot or cold for vegetables to grow well, or if you live in an apartment, you can still provide live, growing food to your little furry friends. How? Sprout!
Sprouting is easy, inexpensive, and allows for the freshest possible food for your guinea pigs. Because it’s still alive and growing, sprouting provides a wonderful supplement to their food on a regular basis. Having wheat on hand to sprout provides you the security of knowing that in an emergency, your precious fur babies won’t go hungry!
Wheatgrass is easy to grow and is a favorite of my guinea pigs. Plus, I know that she’s getting significant vitamins and minerals in an easily digested form. For each 100 grams, wheatgrass has 2.6 mg of vitamin C, 28 mg of calcium, and 200 mg of phosphorus. The main concerns about wheatgrass are oxalic acid and mold, but you can minimize the mold factor with the sprouting method we’ll talk about in a moment. While wheatgrass does contain oxalic acid, like most leafy green vegetables, the amount a guinea pig will eat does not contain a dangerous amount. Humans drinking highly concentrated wheatgrass juice might need to be concerned about the leaching of minerals or the formation of kidney stones, but the amount a guinea pig will eat makes this a non-concern for a healthy cavy. As always, ask your veterinarian before making changes to your cavy’s diet and begin slowly.
There are sprouting mixes and equipment available for purchase, if you are so inclined, but if you have a pie plate and some unbleached paper towels, you’re in business. Look for organically grown hard-winter wheat berries at your local health food store or online.
Now for the how-to: Rinse a cup of seeds in a fine mesh strainer and pick through the seeds, removing any chunks of dirt or small rocks. Now wake up those little sleeping nutritional powerhouses by soaking them. Add one part seed to three parts water in a clean bowl. Give the seeds a stir so each seed is good and wet and to ensure there are no dry clumps. Let them soak overnight. The next day, poke any floating seeds to see if they will fall to the bottom of the water. If they don’t, skim them off and throw them away.
Strain the water off with your fine mesh strainer and pour the seeds evenly onto a pie plate that is lined with a double layer of unbleached paper towels. (Don’t just throw the water down the drain. The water is packed with nutrients, and houseplants LOVE it!) Twice a day, gently squirt the sprouts with fresh water using a squirt bottle. Use cool (but not cold) water and set the pie plate somewhere dark and cool but not drafty. Then cover the pie plate with a cotton cloth or another paper towel to help the seeds retain some moisture yet allow the sprouts to breathe.
After about four days, the sprouts will have sunk their roots into the paper towel. At that point, leave the sprouts uncovered and water them daily by gently removing the paper towel and adding 1/3 cup of water to the bottom of the pie plate. Return the sprouts to the pie plate and let them grow near a window. After about ten days, your sprouts should be at least 4 inches tall and ready to harvest!
Cut the sprouts (like mowing the lawn) about one inch above the seed. Present the cuttings to your pig for his or her munching enjoyment. You can continue watering the sprouts and allowing them to regrow, but here in the humid South I never grow beyond a second harvest to reduce the possibility of mold. If you live in a drier climate, you might get a third harvest in, but always throw away your seeds when you see mold starting to grow on the paper towel.
Between sproutings, throw away or compost the used paper towels and wash the pie plate very thoroughly. I like to use boiling water to disinfect the pie plate between batches.
If you and your pigs enjoy sprouting, you’ll soon get into a rhythm of starting new sprouts before the last batch is harvested for a continuous supply of yummy greens! If you live in an area prone to tornados, hurricanes, earthquakes, or any other form of natural disaster that might interrupt essential services, it’s a good idea to keep a spare pie plate, a roll of paper towels, and a package of wheat berries among your other emergency supplies.
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