Students earn green thumbs in vegetable gardening class


Jacob Wargo

A group of HORT 105: Vegetable Gardening students mix up cabbage for sauerkraut in the Agricultural Engineering Sciences Building on Friday. The course shows students how to tend to their own sustainable gardens.

By Celestina Edleman, Contributing Writer

Hands-on gardening courses aren’t just offered at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry — students can gain classroom and in-field horticulture experience with HORT 105: Vegetable Gardening at the University. This class, taught by Erin Harper, is open to all students regardless of their horticulture knowledge.

Harper said most students who take the class are in Business or Engineering and are looking for a break in their schedule while still having the opportunity to learn a life skill. Those who complete this class will be able to successfully grow and care for their own vegetable garden.

Living in an apartment in college means having limited space available to grow plants and succulents, so Harper teaches students how they can grow shrubs while making the best use of smaller spaces.

The curriculum changes depending on when the class is taught according to the growing season. In the winter, the class is taught in a heated greenhouse where students can grow and sustain their own vegetable gardens.

Jacob Wargo
A HORT 105: Vegetable Gardening student dices peppers to ferment to make hot sauce.

The course has been offered at the University for more than 20 years. It was created to teach students the basics of gardening design and the care of vegetables. Bianca Bailey, Harper’s teaching assistant and doctoral candidate in Engineering, is the second woman of color to graduate from agricultural bioengineering at the University.

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“Learning how to garden is not only important, but essential with climate change and the amount of food available for the future,” Bailey said. “This class allows students to become individual farmers and teaches you to take your own responsibility for your own food sustainability.”

Food sustainability is an issue, and this class can help students how to better address this rising concern in the future by teaching them lifelong skills.

In the lab section of the class, students learn a variety of skills, including the fermentation process to make hot sauce and sauerkraut. They conduct this process in the Agricultural Engineering Sciences Building in the Pilot Processing Plant. Students are expected to be fully prepared for lab: closed-toe shoes, jeans, no exposed skin, lab coats, eyewear and hairnets.

Jacob Wargo
Two students label jars of peppers ready to be fermented.

This fermentation process works the same as beer or wine. Bacteria eat sugars in food and change the chemicals in it to make it more shelf-sustainable. Students were allowed to pick how they would like their hot sauce to turn out — smaller peppers for a hotter sauce. They then cut up the peppers themselves and added them to a jar, adding the other appropriate materials to carry out the fermentation process.

Some homework assignments in this class are for students to grow microgreens on their own, which they later cut and ate. They grew their own beans and radishes in the greenhouse as well as basil. Examples of other lab activities were pumpkin painting and making salsa verde.

Axel Holmqvist and Malcolm Tivelius, both juniors in Computer Science, found this class while searching for the most fun and easy classes at UIUC on Reddit. After being in the course for a couple of months, they said they really recommend the class as a form of stress relief from their demanding schedules.

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