How to oxygenate your smelly dorm room

Yesterday I had my writing fellow interview. Before the interview, we were asked to prepare something that we would teach for 10 minutes during the interview. It could be anything: tying a shoelace, a card game, a particular dance, etc. I decided in a rush before my interview to teach how to grow a dorm garden. This felt a little dodgy, since I’m not sure I’m qualified enough to teach gardening, having had a few brief experiences that have been characterised by stops and starts more than blooming produce. But its something I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about recently so it seemed appropriate.

Here are the ten steps I used in my interview. Its all pretty simple stuff, but just thought I’d share it anyway!

How to start a dorm garden

What you can grow:

  • Herbs: basil, cilantro, oregano, mint, thyme, etc
  • Leafy greens: lettuces, rucola, spinach, etc
  • Garlic, onions, depends on how deep your containers are. This is all I have tried.

What to do:

  1. Go through the recycling bin and find some containers: yoghurt pots, plastic bottles (cut in half, turn top inside out), plastic dishes to use as trays. You can also invest in start trays or a long window box which would be great for something like lettuces.
  2. Investment needed: soil. Either find someone who will share some with you (ie: hang around the UEL?), or get a bag (from East Side, Home Depot or some such place).
  3. Seeds: you can get all sorts of seeds everywhere. Seed swaps, workshops, catalogues (our ‘Food Prof’ recommends Fedco or Baker Creek), supermarkets, gardening stores.
  4. Germination. Depends on seed. Large seeds with tough coating need to be soaked in warm water overnight. Otherwise, plant directly into your containers. Plant seeds ‘three times their height’ deep into containers. Some, like lettuce, don’t even bury: they need light for germination, if they are too deep, by the time they germinate, their energy store is so small that they will run out of food before they get to the surface. For germination, to start off they just need warmth: on top of fridge/near heater, etc. ‘Bottom up’ watering (by watering the tray, not the plant) every two days, or when it seems dry. Maybe spritz a bit on top too at the beginning.
  5. As soon as they start to sprout move them to a windowsill (if they are not already on one). Need as much light as possible, if you have a lounge or kitchen that has more light that may be recommended. Some people also get gro-lights (any fluorescent bulb will do) that helps the plant to photosynthesise. I myself haven’t made this investment, and anyway, part of this is making a dorm garden for cheap!
  6. With your leafy things, it often helps, as they grow, to brush their tops, mimicking the motion of the wind if they were outside, this builds their strength and makes for sturdier plants.
  7. You can also try to keep them outside for a few hours everyday, and for longer and longer periods, particularly if you eventually aim to transition them into the soil of a real garden. If you are planning on planting them outside eventually, it is also a good idea to mix the soil of that garden with some compost, this way the plant adjusts to the particular chemical properties of your soil.
  8. Continue to water them.
  9. Harvest the plants by thinning and eating from around the outside.
  10. Check the bottom of the container to see if there are root hairs sticking out. If there are, you may need to transition to a bigger container. When transitioning, it is not a good idea to pull the plant out by the roots, but try to lift it, with all of the soil, cupping the entire soil-root-plant-bundle in your hands, and place in new container/ground, arranging extra soil around it. It may be in trauma for the first few days, but will continue growing soon. Its easy! It works!
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