By Meredith Poten PZ ’25
When students returned to Pitzer’s campus in August 2021, the once-lavish garden was a completely barren plot. Since then, student teams and other community members have poured hours of time and love into the land, revitalizing its soil and bringing new life to the space. Starting this academic year, there is a new student team of garden managers funded through the Robert Redford Conservancy.
One of the garden’s new crops from this past year is sugarcane, chosen because of its strong adaptability to climate here and resistance to squirrels. The garden also experienced great success with herbs, including lemongrass, tulsi basil, shiso, and mint. These are perfect to dry and make into delicious teas, which the garden club does frequently, so keep an eye out for events where you can fill homemade tea bags!
Moving forward, garden managers hope to incorporate more native plants to the plots, specifically wildflowers. Garden manager Cameron Macdonald PZ ‘25 voiced that in collaboration with the Outback Club, the goal is to “encourage more native pollinators and possibly expand to other areas of campus.”
The managers also aim to continue finding innovative strategies for preventing damage from squirrels, such as caging crops, because these creatures will eat anything and have created a rampant issue with plant consumption.
Since trying multiple methods of making compost this year, the garden’s current system is a wind-row pile. With this technique, organic waste is piled into a long row, which is then turned on a regular basis in order to supply oxygen and allow the material to break down quickly.
The Grove House kitchen repurposes its food waste for this pile, an example of a “closed-loop” food system which the garden hopes to help implement on Pitzer’s campus. This concept promotes the recycling of nutrients back to the soil, ensuring future fertility of the land. Additionally, students are encouraged to bring their personal food waste to the garden compost and there is a labeled green bin on the north side of the garden which scraps can be emptied into.
Types of waste that make up the layers of the compost pile include food scraps, woodchips, chicken manure, and plant trimmings. The garden managers take inspiration from a traditional technique of mound-building called hugelkultur, in which decaying debris such as leaves, branches, or cardboard are layered with organic materials and soil in order to decompose.
A valuable asset to the garden’s community are Pitzer’s 20 chickens. Notably, their poop provides fertilizer for compost, in turn giving nutrients to the soil, and their eggs are usually given to facilities staff. Thankfully, the chickens are able to roam outside their coop for a large portion of each day.
Last semester, the chickens experienced some rough patches, with a few instances of chicken-to-chicken bullying and a virus that spread around the coop.
But according to chicken manager Talya Drazen ‘25, things are on the up and “all the girlies are thriving.”
Specifically, Cluckers the chicken was unfortunately quarantined to her own miniature coop due to the infection. Her health has since improved and she began laying eggs again recently. Her personal coop features a luxurious landscape shaded by the garden’s banana trees; however, Cluckers declined to comment when asked if she prefers the new spot, choosing to happily eat a weed instead. A second miniature coop was built next to hers, and a couple of chickens will be joining to give them all more space.
Students are also welcome to harvest plants from the garden, as long as they aren’t contained within a wire cage. Currently, there is an abundance of leeks up for grabs, which miraculously continue to thrive after the freeze this winter which compromised the productivity of many other plants. The garden team encourages mindful picking to ensure that the vegetation is healthy and sustained.
Typically, there is a garden giveaway that students can enter to receive a basket of fresh produce and other goodies. A few possible inclusions over the course of the semester are tea bags, tomatoes, cabbage, garlic, mint, lemons, and leafy greens.
Moreover, there are many opportunities for students to get involved with the garden. For instance, club meetings take place from noon to 1 p.m. every Friday outside the Grove House, and during this time students can learn club updates and propose projects. Usually, the second half of the meeting is dedicated to hands-on work in the garden.
However, help and participation outside of these hours is loved and appreciated! In the coming months as crops produce, the garden will be looking for harvesting helpers. There is also a shortage of time and labor for processing foods, so anyone interested in activities such as making simple syrup, lemonade, natural dyes, or pesto with food from the garden are welcomed to reach out.
The garden is also looking for people to bring by art pieces that are frequently dropped off in the Outback.
Macdonald 25’ says that they are seeking “specifically ceramic [pieces] but any kind of art works.”
A mission of the garden team is to foster a collaborative community around efforts and they encourage people to reach out with any ideas using their email firstname.lastname@example.org or with a DM on their Instagram @pitzerstudentgarden