Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Seed shopping in the food isle

Everyone knows you can buy seeds in those cute little seed packets in the garden center. But you can also get great garden seeds from packages of food in the grocery store.

Two things I just recently tested for germination were quinoa and anasazi beans. I bought 1 lb bags of each in the bulk food isle at the grocery store. I then put some seeds on a plate between wet paper towels and waited to see if they would germinate. Within a few hours I had the beginnings of quinoa sprouts. The next morning almost all had sprouted. It took 2 days but almost all of the anasazi beans in the paper towels also sprouted. Once I figured out they were viable seeds, I planted some of each. The beans are now growing inside in jiffy pots. The quinoa is outside under a frost blanket.

I have also tested organic whole peas, mung beans and amaranth with good results. The only time I had something not work was when I picked up a clearance bag of whole peas. The color looked a little off and I should have know better. I only got about a 30% germination rate when I tried to sprout some. The rest got cooked and the flavor was stale. I ended up tossing them.

Testing beans and other seed items for germination rate is also a good way to see if the food you are getting is fresh. If your stuff doesn't sprout, it has probably been sitting on the store shelf for a long time and you may want to buy a different brand or shop at a different store. You may also want to be a little more careful when looking at the clearance bin.

The potential money savings you can get by buying 1 lb bags sold as food vs. the seed packets is incredible. Take the quinoa for example. A few weeks ago I bought a 2 gram package of rainbow quinoa for $1.89. The 1 lb bag of white quinoa in the grocery isle was $3.89. I bought it for dinner, but there is plenty in a 1 lb container for eating AND planting your entire yard and even a few neighbors'. Looking at the math, there are 453.59237 grams per pound. Quinoa seeds in a garden packet work out to 95¢/gram. Purchased as a bag of food, they are less than a penny/gram.

I've had great luck at the local Vitamin Cottage Natural Grocer. Their bulk beans, seeds and grains usually come in 1 lb bags, move quickly enough to ensure freshness, and are even organic. Other stores will have bulk beans and seeds or prepackaged bags, just make sure the items are whole and not cracked, split or otherwise processed.

Others have tried growing their groceries and have had great results. Here are a few reports from members of www.TheEasyGarden.com.

"I grew wheat and amaranth last year from seed from the grocery store. We also got started on our millet by planting the seeds from the sprays sold for bird food. I planted lentils and they grew well, but the seedpods only hold one or two lentils. Not really worth growing, but it was a fun project, to see if we could and what they looked like. I figure it still was good for the soil, since they are a legume....
I planted popcorn that I got at the healthfood store. It was organic popcorn and it grew very well. We now have several jars of our own popcorn, from a handful that I planted." - FarmerDenise

"And we have terrific Yukon Gold potatoes that we hold over year after year for our own seed potatoes. They were originally a 10 lb bag of store bought. I know, lots of people say that's risky and you should only plant certified seed potatoes. But it's worked out fine for us. We get a great crop every year with many very large potatoes, and they store really well." - Kim_NC

"I've done various beans and dried peas with success. Organic wheat and oats sprout well. I grow them into grass for my cats. (I buy bulk whole grains to make my own flour so I get it by the 50-pound sack, plenty to grow) I always grow potatoes and sweet potatoes from store bought ones. Also garlic, I buy whole cloves of garlic in the produce aisle and break them up and plant them." - Ariel301


  1. Glad to see this post as I've been thinking about growing groceries since I sprouted some of our wheat for the chickens over the winter. I'm going to soak some old beans just to see if they might sprout.

  2. Buying black oil sunflower seed is another seed that is cheaper when purchased through a "food" store. You can buy it in the wild bird feeding section and grow it for own livestock (poultry,rabbits, cows etc) or wild birds. It is much much (much) cheaper when purchased "in bulk" rather than in a seed packet.

  3. I have some black oil sunflower seeds from a pack of bird seed take root. I harvested several cups per flower head. They are very pretty plants and I intentionally planted some just the other day.