How To Grow A Vegetable Garden In A College Dorm Room


If you are a college student tired of paying high prices for fresh produce (if it is available at all!), then you should start a vegetable garden in your dorm room.  You don’t need to have lots of dirt to mess up your room, either – in some cases, you can grow vegetables without any soil at all!

Let’s start off by looking at some small plants that are easy to grow in a college dorm room, along with how to provide proper care for your plants.

Plants You Can Grow In A College Dorm Room

Some of the most basic plants you can grow in a college dorm room garden are microgreens, lettuce, tomatoes, and basil.  You can often find miniature varieties of these plants to grow, or at least ones that don’t take up much space.

Always check with your RA (resident assistant) before planting a vegetable garden, to avoid trouble later!

Growing Microgreens In A College Dorm Room

Microgreens are simply the seedlings of plants that are harvested before they grow to maturity.  Microgreens are packed with vitamins and minerals, and also have interesting flavors that you can enjoy.

microgreens
Microgreens are packed with nutrients, can be grown from many different seeds, and will be ready for harvest just 1 to 2 weeks after planting!

You can eat both the leaves and stems of microgreens, adding them to salads or stir-fries, or just having them as a snack.  The best part is that you can eat them raw, without cooking them at all!

You can grow as many microgreens as space allows – a long, flat shallow container will allow you to harvest lots of microgreens every week or two.  You may want to buy seeds in bulk for repeated plantings, and to share with friends or dorm mates.

Some common seeds that you can grow microgreens from include:

  • Sunflower seeds – the flavor of sunflower microgreens is somewhat nutty, resembling sunflower seeds themselves. 
  • Beets – these microgreens are said to taste like a mix between beets and spinach.
  • Broccoli – broccoli microgreens have a somewhat spicy or bitter flavor.
  • Lettuce – the flavor of lettuce microgreens can range from mild to spicy, depending on the variety of seed that you plant.
  • Peas – these microgreens tend to grow back after cutting, meaning that you can get a 2nd crop without the effort of planting seeds again.

To grow microgreens successfully, you start off with a container (a long, rectangular one is best) and fill it with a growing medium (such as potting soil). You can also use grow bags as containers for your plants – for more information, check out my article on using grow bags indoors.

From there, you will need a good source of sunlight (such as a south-facing window) and enough water to keep the seedlings growing.  You should not need to fertilize, since the seeds and the potting mix should provide enough nutrition for the seedlings to reach harvesting size (generally 1 to 3 inches tall).

For more information, check out this article on growing microgreens from the Penn State University Extension.

Growing Lettuce In A College Dorm Room

Lettuce grows quickly and is great for salads or to wrap up meats or stir-fries if you want to avoid bread.  There are many smaller varieties that will grow well in a small pot in a college dorm room.

lettuce
You can grow small heads of lettuce in your dorm room in 1 to 2 months!

Here are a couple of miniature lettuce varieties you can grow in your dorm room:

  • Tom Thumb Butterhead Lettuce – this is a Bibb type lettuce that produces small, compact heads that are about the size of a tennis ball.  One head will make salad for two people!  This variety matures in 50 to 70 days, so if you have 7 to 10 small pots (sow a seed every 7 to 10 days), you will soon have a head of lettuce for salad every week!  These seeds germinate in 7 to 10 days.  For more information, check out Tom Thumb Butterhead Lettuce on the Urban Farmer Seeds website.
  • Little Gem Lettuce – this is a miniature green Romaine lettuce that produces tender leaves.  The heads are about 4 inches across.  At 30 to 50 days to maturity, you can have heads of lettuce a month or two after planting!  These seeds germinate in 7 to 10 days.  For more information, check out Little Gem Lettuce on the Urban Farmer Seeds website.

Instead of growing each plant separately in its own pot, you can choose to grow several plants together in one long container.  Just be sure to give them enough space to avoid competition!

This problem can be minimized if you stagger the planting of seeds so that they are not all reaching maturity at the same time.  This also ensures that you always have lettuce maturing, without getting too much at once.

Of course, you can always share some of your fresh produce with friends, roommates, or a study group!

Lettuce does best in full sun, but it can tolerate some shade.  Your best bet is to place a container on a window sill or on some type of stand so that it receives enough light.

Lettuce also needs plenty of water.  While it is possible to over water lettuce, it is easy to avoid this problem.

Simply feel the soil to a depth of a few inches with your fingers.  If it feels dry, go ahead and water your plants.

Don’t simply water them on a set schedule without checking for soil moisture.  Many beginner gardeners “kill their plants with kindness” by watering too often, which can lead to root rot.

Most potting soil mixes, available at garden centers or online, will contain enough nutrition to get your plants going.  Once the soil starts to get depleted after growing for a while, you might need to add some fertilizer.

Look for a balanced 10-10-10 fertilizer, preferably in liquid form so that you can mix it with water and feed your plants at the same time you water them.  If you don’t know what those numbers mean, check out my article on NPK ratios.

To get started with lettuce, check out my article on lettuce seed germination and how to speed it up.

Growing Tomatoes In A College Dorm Room

Some tomato varieties mature very quickly, and can produce lots of little tomatoes on a compact plant.  Cherry or grape tomatoes are your best bet, since it is difficult to grow larger “beefsteak” tomatoes in the limited space you have in a dorm room.

cherry tomatoes
You can grow cherry tomatoes on small, compact plants in your dorm room in about 2 months.

Here are some smaller tomato varieties you can grow in your dorm room:

  • Sweet ‘n’ Neat Cherry Tomato – this compact tomato variety is perfect for balconies or window sills in dorm rooms.  The fruits are small (0.75 to 1 ounce) and grow in clusters like grapes.  The fruit matures in 48 days, so you can have tomatoes 7 weeks after planting!  The plant is a compact determinate, only growing 10 inches tall and 8 inches wide.  For more information, check out the Sweet ‘n’ Neat Cherry Tomato on the Bonnie Plants website.
  • Tiny Tim Cherry Tomato – this tiny tomato variety is also great for the limited space in dorm rooms.  The fruits are small (1 inch in diameter), but you will get plenty of them from a single plant!  The plants are determinate, only growing to a height of 8 to 16 inches and a width of 6.5 inches.  The fruit matures in 60 days, meaning that you can have tomatoes about 90 weeks after planting.  For more information, check out the Tiny Tim Cherry Tomato on the West Coast Seeds website.

Tomato plants will need larger pots than lettuce, since the plants are larger, and the weight of the fruit could cause smaller pots to tip over.  If you are worried about this, you can put some stones on top of the soil in the pot to provide extra weight and prevent tipping.

Determinate tomato plants produce fruit once and then die off.  To make sure you have fruits at different times of year, stagger the planting of tomato seeds once every 1 or 2 weeks.

Tomato plants need full sun, meaning at least 8 hours of direct sunlight per day.  This means that you must place them near a window where they will receive plenty of light – a south facing window is best.

The frequency of watering will depend on weather conditions, but the same advice applies for tomatoes as for lettuce.  The best way is to feel the soil with your fingers, and water when it is dry.

Potting mix should provide a good growing medium for tomato plants.  Combined with 10-10-10 liquid fertilizer mixed into water, your tomato plants should thrive and produce plenty of fruit for you.

To get started with tomatoes, check out my article on tomato seed germination and how to speed it up.

Growing Basil In A College Dorm Room

Basil leaves can be picked at any point during the growing season.  You can use them fresh or cooked – just be sure to leave some on the plant so that it can continue to grow!

basil in pot
You can grow basil and pick off leaves for cooking throughout the life cycle of the plant.

Here are some basil varieties you can grow in your dorm room:

  • Cinnamon Basil – this variety is smaller than sweet basil, with a darker color and a spicy cinnamon flavor.  This plant will grow 18 to 30 inches tall and 12 to 18 inches wide.  For more information, check out Cinnamon Basil on the Bonnie Plants website.
  • Thai Basil – this variety has a stronger flavor than sweet basil, with a hint of licorice.  The leaves are also smaller than those of sweet basil, and they have purple stems, giving them a nice decorative appearance in dishes.  This plant will grow 1 to 2 feet tall and 1 to 2 feet wide.  For more information, check out Thai Basil on the Bonnie Plants website.

You can grow basil in a small container, since there is no fruit to weigh it down or cause it to tip over.  Basil plants require full sun, so put them near a window and keep the shades open!

Keep the soil moist, but don’t over water or you can drown your plants.  The best way to tell, as with all plants, is to feel the soil to see how dry it feels at a depth of a few inches.

A Word About Hydroponics

If you want to grow plants without the mess of soil, you can try a small hydroponics setup.

However, keep in mind that instead of dealing with soil, you will need to deal with maintaining the proper pH and nutrient levels in the hydroponic solution.

hydroponics
A hydroponics setup involves growing plants without soil. Here, a NASA employee is tending hydroponics plants, such as onions and lettuce.

You will also need to find a suitable growing medium for your plants.

For more information, check out this article on hydroponics from the University of Massachusetts Extension.

Conclusion

By now, you have a good idea on how to get started with a vegetable garden in your college dorm room.  To make the most of your limited space, choose smaller, miniature varieties of plants that are at most 1 to 2 feet tall and 1 to 2 feet wide.

If you do well with these plants, you can try your hand at others, and perhaps teach some of your friends or classmates how to grow their own dorm room vegetable garden.

I hope you found this article helpful – if so, please share it with someone else who can use the information.  If you have any questions or advice on growing a vegetable garden in a dorm room, please leave a comment below.

jonathon.david.madore

Hi, I'm Jonathon. I’m the gardening guy (not guru!) who is encouraging everyone to spend more time in the garden. I try to help solve common gardening problems so that you can get the best harvest every year!

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