There are few things in life as satisfying as eating home-grown food. Whether it is flavorful herbs, juicy tomatoes, crisp cucumbers or other delicious produce, it is simply delightful to consume freshly picked fruits and vegetables. This is especially true after the endless supply of greasy pizzas one inevitably ingests as a grad student. Moreover, the act of gardening itself is widely recognized as beneficial for physical and mental health.
‘But where can I do gardening as a grad student at MIT?’ you may ask.
Well, if you live on campus in Ashdown House, you are in luck! Starting from late Spring, Ashdown offers its residents small garden patches that are allotted on a lottery basis. The plots are approximately 4m2 and free of cost. You may plant the fruit/vegetable/herb of your choice and reap until the start of winter. Note that some of the other graduate dorms offer a similar service (but I don’t have a personal experience with them).
Before the start of the planting season, the Ashdown garden maintenance team kindly puts down a layer of compost over the garden, so that your plot is ready to use at the start of spring. I still recommend turning the soil before you plant, so that it is well aerated.
What you plant is entirely up to you! My friends and I chose relatively easy crops, such as basil, coriander, tomatoes, zucchinis and pumpkins. We purchased seeds and shrubs at Home Depot, which had good quality products at a reasonable price. We also successfully harvested spring onions, simply by re-planting the bulbs we had saved after consuming the leafy part.
By far our most successful crop was the pumpkin. We started with only one small shrub, but ended up collecting a total of 15 pumpkins over the course of 3 months! They were of varying sizes, ranging from a basketball to almost a car tire! The easiest way to consume the pumpkins was to simply boil them in a soup with a dash of salt and milk (which added to the naturally creamy texture).
Posing in front of the garden enclosure with three of the pumpkins. Photo credit: Xueying Z.
Sadly, some of our crops were not as successful. We tried growing spinach by starting with seeds in a pot, but the shoots died immediately after being transplanted onto the ground. Also, many of our tomatoes were eaten by greedy animals (birds, rats…) as soon as they turned red. Next year, we should train the dorm’s Housemaster’s dog (Teddy) to chase the pests away!
Despite these minor mishaps, the gardening experience in Ashdown House was very fun and rewarding. It was not a lot of work, especially when teaming up with some friends. Moreover, none of us had much previous experience. So I would recommend it to both complete beginners and more advanced gardeners!