The art of dormitory gardening

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If you want to eat healthier in college while not breaking the bank, indoor gardening is the way to do it. Photo by Elizabeth Mitch.

Sometimes healthy eating is extremely difficult for a college student. Time is constrained, Whole Foods Market is expensive; and fast food is … well, fast food. The school cafeteria does provide healthy food options, but they can get repetitive.

One possible solution to the problem is simple — grow your own vegetables.

Sure, your landlord probably wouldn’t be thrilled to find out that you transformed your front yard into your own produce section. And perhaps creating a tomato farm beside the lacrosse field on campus isn’t an option either.

Therefore, most students are limited to what they can grow indoors. Seeds are cheap, and you can plant them in anything from Chinese takeout containers to Tupperware. While many are aware of windowsill herbs, herbs are certainly not the only plant that can be grown inside.

Sprouts are one of the quickest growing crops out there, and they don’t even need soil. All that’s needed is a mason jar, a cloth or strainer, some sprouting seeds, water and a windowsill. After the seeds are soaked, they only need to be rinsed once a day to yield a crop. But the best feature of sprouts is that they have immense nutritional value.

To give an idea of just how nutritious they can be, Alfalfa sprouts are 35 percent protein, contain vitamins  A, B, C, E and K, and contain the minerals calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron and zinc. Sprouts will yield a harvest about every five days, so you could potentially keep a round of five mason jars to ensure you have sprouts every day.

Microgreens are similar to sprouts in their immense nutritional content, but they are grown in soil. As the name suggests, they are the baby plants of vegetables like broccoli or watercress. Because the plants are tiny you can grow a lot of them in a small amount of space, just as long as they have sunlight. A crop of microgreens will be ready to snip in about one to three weeks, so keeping about two or three trays of greens in rotation would ensure that you had fresh vegetables once a week.

One popular microgreen you might know is wheatgrass, which is used either raw or for making intensely nutritious wheatgrass shots. As an added bonus, wheatgrass is pretty enough to decorate a desk

Mushrooms aren’t technically vegetables, or even plants. However, hobbits aren’t the only persons with a taste for them. Shiitake mushrooms are essential to many East Asian cuisines, while portabella and white button mushrooms are popular in Western cuisine. You may have heard stories of people looking for morel mushrooms in forests.

Now you can grow all of those mushrooms at home. For beginners, it’s probably best to purchase an inexpensive kit such as a shiitake log or a portabella box. Then simply let the kit sit in a dark corner or on your kitchen counter. Depending on the species of mushroom, you could have a crop in 10 days to six weeks.

If you’re really feeling adventurous and wish to wow your friends and your body, you can attempt to grow spirulina. Spirulina provides the most known nutrients of any food: plant, grain or herb. Spirulina is an algae that the U.S. Department of Agriculture refers to as the food of the future because its quick growth rate and nutritional content give it potential for solving world hunger. In fact, there is a story of Catholic nuns in Central Africa growing it for malnourished children.

Despite how great spirulina is for the human body, most people have never heard of it. Perhaps this is because algae simply aren’t the prettiest of vegetables for marketing.

Nevertheless, it is possible to grow this plant at home with a fish tank and harvesting equipment. For about four to six months, you can grow and filter out the algae; eating merely five to ten grams of it will yield health benefits. If your roommates aren’t weirded out by the green tank in the room, you can grow some great vitamins from home.

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