Tips and tricks for getting into the garden

Find creative ways to garden at UMass

Markus Spiske

Photo by Markus Spiske on flickr (

Flowers are beginning to bloom, and the warm breeze is hinting of spring here in Western Massachusetts. The months of April and May are not only the start of warm weather, but they bring the start of planting season.


But gardening and home-grown produce can seem out of reach for students living in dorms, suites or rented off-campus housing. Daniel Bensonoff, Sustainability Coordinator of Campus Gardens, thinks gardening is important in developing well-rounded adults who are active in the community. He shared some tips for getting involved in gardening and eating local, even when a full home garden is not an option.


Sheet Mulching

One of the easiest ways to start a garden is a technique called sheet mulching, also known as the cardboard method or lasagna gardening. Rather than removing sod, gardeners “layer various organic materials in kind of a lasagna approach on top of the soil and it all breaks in naturally,” said Bensonoff.


Sheet mulching uses easy-to-find materials like cardboard, which goes on the bottom, compost and either mulch or straw on top. These materials break down into soil that is nutrient-rich, saving a beginner the hassle of killing grass and digging through compacted dirt.


Container Garden

If you have some outdoor space but are not allowed to dig in your yard, you can grow a container garden. A container garden is a garden where all the plants are in pots. There are several different types of plants that can grow successfully even in small pots. Bensonoff recommends plants in the nightshade family: tomatoes, peppers, eggplants. If placed where they have lots of sun, these plants grow well, produce delicious fruits, and generally do not attract many pests.


Window Plants

Don’t have any outdoor space? That’s OK! You can still grow certain plants in a window. Try herbs like thyme, oregano, sage and parsley. These plants are a “really good option because you only usually need a little bit of them and they’re so nutrient-dense,” said Bensonoff. They can grow indoors but need lots of sun. Bensonoff added this tip: “Anything going in a pot will generally need more water than if it’s growing in the ground.”


Amherst Community Gardens

If you are looking for a garden plot, the town of Amherst has plots available for the 2022 season. They offer plots that are approximately 20 feet by 20 feet at two locations: Amethyst Conservation Area and the brand-new Fort River Farm, which will open for the first time this season. Plots are available to on-campus students and all Amherst residents for a recommended $10 donation. Angela Mills, Executive Assistant to the Town Manager of Amherst, asks that students who request plots be around for most of the summer to tend to them.


Rosa Vogel

More Options

If you are still looking for more options check out the UMass Permaculture Initiative. Bensonoff teaches a course in the Stockbridge School of Agriculture on permaculture where students learn the principles of permaculture and participate in hands-on learning while tending to the garden.


Students can get gardening plots at the UMass Gardenshare, located behind Sylvan.


If gardening is not for you, consider supporting local agriculture by buying a local Community Supported Agriculture share. There are several around the Amherst area including one sold by the UMass Student Farm.

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