Friday, April 25, 2008

Starting a Garden in Your Dorm

Most people who don't have a yard don't even think about the possibility of gardening. At most, I've seen college students with a potted plant or two. But if you utilize your space well, you can actually get a full garden going in your dorm. Right now, I have spearmint, peppermint, lavender, rosemary, basil, dill, oregano, chamomile, cilantro, beans, tomatoes, broccoli, cucumbers, lettuce, and spinach growing, and will soon have carrots as well. (No, I am not messing with you)

Of course, gardening out of pots in your dorm room is going to require some forethought. Here's some things to start thinking about before you plant your garden:

1: How much light can you get?

I happen to be pretty lucky in terms of how much natural light and window space I have. In my room, I have some short plants on the windowsill, and also plants on my desk, which is right next to it. I also have a common room with an enormous wall of windows, and I have planters all along that windowsill, as well as hanging baskets. Not having access to a common room can limit what you can grow, but you can still have a surprising amount growing in just one little window.

2. What will you do with them over break?

If you drive home for summer or winter break, this is no problem for you. But if you fly home, taking plants on the plane isn't very feasible. But do not despair: find a few friends who drive who can each take a plant or two home. If you absolutely can't, then only plant annuals, and plant in time to harvest your crop before you go home.

3. What will you put them in?

You can go to any store with a garden center and buy plastic gallon planters for less than a dollar each. But if you're a cheapskate like me, and a little bit creative and resourceful, you can get all your planters for free. Save water bottles, soda bottles, milk jugs, even Styrofoam take-out platters, anything that could hold dirt in.
Also, if your college has a ceramics studio, go to the ceramics professor at the end of a term and ask if they could hold on to stuff as they're cleaning out the studio. TONS of ceramics pieces are left in the studio by students who take a class and never return to take their work home, and if you're lucky you can find some really nice things for free. But please ask first. Don't just take stuff off shelves.

4. Where will you get soil?

Again, you can go to a garden center and get potting soil cheap. But there are other ways of getting soil. If you only have a few small plants, you can just wander around campus and get a cup of dirt from here and a cup of dirt from there until you have enough. You can start a vermicomposting bin in your dorm/suite, which will give you nice compost and reduce the amount of trash going to landfills. Or, if your school has a greenhouse or any place where plants are grown for experiments, ask if you can use their soil. I know Knox has a compost pile for the greenhouse, and lots of people on campus get soil for their potted plants there.

Next post I'll talk about the process of starting your garden.

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