Sprouts are a way to eat organically grown, fresh vegetables in any season. They don't need soil, or fertilizer, or even sunlight. A garden of sprouts is miniature, but there's nothing small about their nutrients.

Seeds are packed with vitamins and minerals, and increase their nutritional values, as if by magic, when they make the transition from life in a dormant stage to plant.

In sprouting, seeds often double their vitamin C content within 24 hours and triple it within 48. Some seeds, like green peas, make astronomical increases in vitamin C.

Similar increases occur in most of the B vitamins as seeds sprout, and some sources report that sprouted chick peas also contain vitamin B-12, rare in the vegetable kingdom.

The Chinese have long been familiar with the benefits of sprouts. We in the West have finally reached the point where sprouts are familiar. Supermarkets are even stocking small plastic boxes of alfalfa sprouts.

But it hardly makes sense to buy them when they're so cheap and easy to produce at home: a small amount of seeds produces a large amount of sprouts. Three tablespoons of alfalfa seeds, for instance, will fill a quart jar with sprouts. Larger seeds, like sunflowers, soy beans and chick peas, increase almost fourfold. A cup of seeds will grow into a quart of sprouts.

There are many systems for producing sprouts at home, ranging from simple quart jars to sophisticated, mulit-tiered sprout fams, but the basic procedure remains pretty much the same.

Start with good seeds -- seeds meant for food purposes, untreated by either heat or chemicals. Broken seeds won't sprout, and hulled seeds are often damaged.

This is how to grow sprouts in the simplest manner -- in quart Mason jars. (If you buy a sprouter, it will come with specific directions for use, but the basic idea is the same.)

Rinse the seeds. Put three tablespoonsful of small seeds or one cup of large seeds into each quart jar. Fill the jars with water, and cover the tops with wire screen, cheescloth, or even clean pieces of nylon stockings, held by wire canning rings.

Soak the seeds from four hours to overnight, and then pour off the water. Rinse the seeds well -- right through the homemade lid -- turn the jar upside down and put it someplace warm and dark.

Rinse the seeds twice or three times daily, and shake the jar to loosen up the sprouts. Then return the jars, inverted, to their warm place. Most sprouts are ready to eat when they're 1/4" to 1/2" long, but alfafa sprouts are usually grown to about 2" and then put in the sun for a day to form chlorophyll.

Most sprouts are best eaten raw in soups, salads or sandwhiches, but those of large beans, like soy or fava beans, should be steamed until tender. Sprouted seeds and grains can be added to bread and cookie dough for added nutrition.

Try a variety of them, from the mung beans that are standard in Chinese food, to wheat and rye, chick peas, lentils, radish seeds, sunflower seeds and alfalfa seeds.

Most sprouts are ready in three to five days, so if you start a new batch every few days, you'll be well stocked.