The rain fell in College Station for about 4 days in a row. Unfortunately, this rain caused all our delicate lettuces in the beds to rot. But some plants loved the spring showers and soaked up the pH balanced rains to give way to firm, bright green leaves. The rains caused the farm to burst with color and vibrancy with the pinks, reds, and oranges of our dainty pea flowers. To me, the greens of our plants and the colorful flowers come to life in the backdrop of an overcast sky. The beauty of Howdy Farm in spring will be with me forever as I am sad to say my internship is coming to a close. Even though my internship is ending, I know I will be back to Howdy Farm often.
Because my internship is wrapping up, there was still one thing I needed to complete: work the Howdy Farm tent at the Brazos Valley Farmer’s Market. The Brazos Valley Farmer’s Market takes place in the quaint downtown Bryan from 8-12 on Saturdays. Farmers and other vendors line the street selling treasures of all sorts. Some sell little seedlings of tomatoes and herbs; others bring their delicious local bakery goods, while others sell the seasonal fruits and vegetables growing in their farms. People of the community line up for the delicious tacos from a famous food truck and float from vendor to vendor to learn about what the local farm and business owners have to offer. Families and students alike leave the farmers market with seasonal treasures like sweet onions, carrots, and Swiss chard while nibbling delicious chocolate chip cookies.
I could feel the vibrancy of the farmer’s market as I got to talk to every community member who visited our tent. I felt great pride as I described what Howdy Farm is all about. That day at the market we brought hundreds of fragrant green onions, some Texas size fennel, big juicy white and red onions, and magenta radishes. One of my favorite parts of my internship was explaining how a customer could use the produce we were selling. I was able to use my love of produce forward cooking to help people increase the variety of produce in their diets. As nutrition major, the ability to share my love of produce and cooking with others is my true passion. Throughout the morning I showed off our produce to all our visitors and weighed and bagged their produce for them. This experience showed me the importance of farmer’s markets in the community, and I know wherever I go I will always find joy when I find the local farmer’s market.
On the last day of my internship, I got to learn about how the beautiful onions sold at our market were harvested. The bed with the onions was a strange sight as the onion stalks appeared to be standing in every direction; some stems remained upright while many stuck out at odd angles from the ground, still others were completely toppled over in the soggy soil. My initial thought was that the onions were dying, but much to my surprise, when the onions topple over this means they are ready to harvest! To harvest I stepped tenderly through the muddy beds and stuck a shovel under the onion roots. With a gentle push, I dug the onion slightly out of the soil so it was easy to remove with a simple pluck. After, the interns and I trimmed the roots and cut off about half of the crunchy stems. Washing the onions and pealing their outer layer revealed a juicy onion of bright white and deep purple.
Spring is well on its way and the semester is wrapping up. Howdy Farm has had an action packed spring, so action packed that I haven’t been taking note of the plants growing and changing around me! A few weeks ago our Texas Redbud was bursting with dainty magenta flowers, but when I walked past it the other day it looked like a completely different tree! Now deep burgundy spade-shaped leaves have replaced the tiny flowers. If there is one thing I learned from this, it is that I need to pay attention to the beautiful details of nature as being a successful gardener involves being in tune with a plants growth and change.
I snapped back to attention when Corey described a pest known as a squash vine borer. This is a bug that as an adult is a moth, but is highly destructive to summer and winter squash as a larva. The adult usually lays its small, reddish-brown eggs near the base of the plant. When the eggs hatch, the white larvae grow to almost an inch long and burrow a hole up the middle of the vine of the squash plant. This effectively hollows out the stem and kills the plant. Much to our alarm, squash vine borer eggs were spotted on our yellow squash plants! Unfortunately, one of the only ways to eliminate these pests in gardens is the physical removal of the eggs or larvae from each individual plant. Thus, the interns and I began the tedious process of searching each squash plant for the little flat eggs while still pulling up weeds. We learned that if the squash vine borer larvae begin to chew up the inside of a vine, one can take a razor blade and cut a small slit in the vine and pull out the larvae, then the portion with the slit can be buried in soil to allow roots to grow from that area. Hopefully our squash plants were saved from undergoing this process.
Experiencing spring at Howdy Farm has been one of the most rewarding experiences I could have asked for as a nutrition major and in terms of life in general. This past week I got to be a part of an awesome program called Aggies Move. This program was started by a Texas A&M nutrition alumni where health promotional behaviors are taught to elementary schoolers at recess. Howdy Farm volunteers go to the schools to teach the kids about fruits and veggies, gardening, and being kind to the earth. Additionally, student athletes lead the kids in fun games and activities that help them be active while learning about nutrition. But last week, rather than the Howdy farmers heading to the schools, the kids came to us!
The interns and volunteers showed the kids around the farm and taught them about sustainable gardening topics such as composting, harvesting, and planting. I think the college students had just about as much fun as the kids did as we laughed, joked, and learned together. We counted the number of spots on lady bugs, planted milk weed seedlings, and hung out in our Howdy Farm club house. Howdy Farm has never felt so vibrant and alive as with the kid’s excitement in discovery. With this experience, I felt a reinvigorated drive to serve Howdy Farm and share my knowledge and passion with those around me.
The last task of the day was preparing for Saturday at the farm, Howdy Farm’s yearly event in celebration of the beauty of the farm in spring. There was a ton to do as the recent rain left the farm with moist soil ideal for weeds. Luckily, I got out of weeding by starting a little project for the farm. I began making a chalk board that would be hung on our porch to list all the produce sold at the market. First, I took a flat piece of plywood and sanded it smooth with an electric sander. Next, I spread a smooth coat of primer over the wood to protect the future chalk board paint from chipping. Doing a project such as this felt great as working with my hands dissipated all of my anxieties, with the only thought on my mind of project I was creating.
We spent our last hour at the farm in the greenhouses which is normally a warm, humid oasis for plants, but ours has turned into a plant’s nightmare. Bugs have made this their new home including common greenhouse pests such as thripes and whiteflies. Greenhouses offer perfect environments for bugs such as these to thrive as they offer a closed, humid environment with no predators. These pests can easily take over a greenhouse, and once they gain a foothold they are difficult to remove. In response to the bug invasion, we took all the plants outside to tables where the wind, weather, and predators can remove these bugs.
On my way out of the greenhouse I stopped short in my tracks at a monstrous plant that seemed to reach the roof. Upon closer inspection, I found perfect cucumbers hanging comfortably from thin vines. Tendrils reached and wrapped around strings hanging from the walls and roof, allowing the plant to stand over 6 feet tall. Some of the tendrils appeared straight while others were a spiral or helical shape; it turns out that when the cucumber plant comes in contact with a solid surface it curls up into this awesome spiral shape. Check out a cool time-lapse video of this phenomenon in action from researchers in Harvard as showcased by National Public Radio on Science Friday. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vbzgv5iKEyY My new found cucumber knowledge let me enjoy the crunchy, refreshing cuc I sampled later even more.
The past week at Howdy Farm almost felt like summer as the temperature peaked around the high 70s-- anything but winter weather! This is how it seems to go in College Station, with the crazy ups and downs of the wind and temperature. Here I have to check the weather every morning, because if not I could be in for a surprise! Despite the heat, I continued to enjoy myself as long as I have my floppy straw hat and some sun glasses (my typical Howdy Farm outfit). The plants seem to grow taller with every visit to the farm; take a look at the pictures throughout my blog posts to watch them grow.
On Friday Howdy Farm got quite a face lift. We had over 60 volunteers come out throughout the day who did some serious beautifying. 50 Aggies from a men’s volunteering group weeded almost all of the beds, put down fresh compost, and spread layers of mulch around the entry ways. Every year we lay down new layers of compost to slowly build up richness in the soil to make up for its depleted and alkaline state.
That Friday, volunteers from many organizations, majors, and backgrounds came together to spend time outdoors and do some gardening. I continue to fall more in love with Howdy Farm as it not only sets a great example of sustainability to the community, but it also provides us with a place to develop new relationships and share enriching experiences. I swelled with pride and happiness as I looked around the farm at the end of the day to see the fresh beds, rows of seedlings, and laughing students.
My fourth week at Howdy Farm has come and gone. This week I was a bit sad when I heard we harvested just about everything, but the new life we planted quickly dispelled my winter blues. The weather continued to be chilly in the mornings with brilliant sunlight. I was feeling like this amazing winter weather would never end when it was suddenly interrupted by a wave of warm air and humidity. While I was happy not to be so bundled up, I am sure the plants did not share my feelings. Nevertheless, we planted many different plant varieties for the upcoming spring.
The last of the harvest ended with a new found personal favorite: kale. My whole life I was opposed to the idea of its bitter tough texture, but after sampling the beautiful varieties planted by Howdy Farm, I think my opinion has changed. The kale varieties we harvested included green curly leaves, leaves with small purple veins, and flat, long shaped Lacinato kale. The flavors were strong, but along with its color, boasted its exemplary nutrient density. This kale was harvested by snapping the leaves downward for quick removal followed by a quick wash. The Northgate Juice Joint purchased the whole harvest. It is so awesome to see local businesses reaching out to Howdy Farm to be a part of the sustainable, local food movement. I am so lucky to be a part of the positive influence Howdy Farm has on enhancing the sustainability of the BCS area.
After our last harvest, we began planting. The first step was planting potatoes. Earlier in the week, we took a special variety of potatoes for planting that had little buds speckling the skin and cut them into fourths so each section had at least one bud. We let a callus form over the cut side by air drying it in good circulation. The potato fourths were planted as deep as possible, with the cut sides down, and about a food apart in the raised beds by the compost area. Each potato fourth has all the energy it needs to send up a shoot and start growing to produce up to 8 potatoes per plant. Expect a great potato crop in the near future!
This week marks my third week at Howdy Farm. The weather has been absolutely stunning, but my morning shift can be quite cold! While I am not a big fan of being outdoors in this cool weather, Corey was pleased as many of the plants we are growing, such as radicchio, require cold temperatures. Despite the cool mornings, I find I am surrounded by the colors of the rainbow from bright orange carrots to the fuchsia of rainbow chard and purple radicchio. Radicchio has white veins that provide stark contrast to its deep purple-red leafs, and can commonly be found in Italian lettuce mixes; it requires frost to lose some of its bitter, spicy flavor.
My experiences at Howdy Farm continue to teach me about my favorite healthy foods around me. This week we harvested rainbow Swiss chard. The stalks are found in brilliant colors such as a sunset yellow, deep orange, and even dark red. The leaves are deep green with many little veins. Because I have never seen a more beautiful harvest of produce than the rainbow Swiss chard, I couldn’t help but buy some to cook up in a pot of soup. The Swiss chard was taken inside and bundled up for the Saturday morning farmers market.
In addition to the Swiss chard, we also harvested carrots. Each carrot plant produces only one carrot below the soil, invisible to sight. The top consists of thin stemmed shoots with small green leaves. We plucked over 15 pounds of carrots out of the rich soil, but a coat of dirt covered the taproots. Upon washing, the layer of dirt washed away to reveal vibrant orange carrots. Those who come early enough to the farmers market Saturday morning will be very lucky to take home some Howdy Farm carrots.
After the washing was complete, Corey lead us to the green house to check on all of the seedlings we planted in the past two weeks. The soft microgreens I felt the previous week grew tremendously. The vibrant green baby leaves of kale, arugula, and mustard greens have begun to resemble their adult leafs. A bite of a mustard green leaf revealed a spicy kick. Corey also showed us the seedling tomato and cucumber plants that will one day wrap around the strings hanging from the walls of the green house. I noticed the cucumber plant had two smooth oval leaves and one pointy leaf. Corey explained the two leaves are cotyledons: the very first leaves that are part of the embryo of the plant prior to germination. The cucumber cotyledons kick start photosynthesis and the growth of the plant. While this knowledge may seem elementary to any horticulture major, as nutrition major I am lucky to learn such details.
I have officially been an intern for two weeks at Howdy Farm now, and I could not ask for a better experience. The weather has been stunning with many brilliantly sunny days with a slight breeze. The farm looks amazing bathed in the winter sunlight. Not only has the weather been great, but so have my learning experiences at the farm. Over the past two weeks, I have learned so much about growing produce from planting tiny fennel seeds to harvesting bouquet-looking romaine.
The interns and I began our internship by learning how it all starts: planting the seeds. I filled up hundreds of little black planters with rich soil and began planting. I sewed a great variety of seeds of all shapes and sizes such as spicy basil, fennel, kale, and many flower varieties. Many of the fine small seeds require light to germinate, so they only needed a gentle push into the surface of the soil, while larger seeds, such as fennel, were covered with about 1/8th of an inch of soil for the best growing conditions. Next we prepared more soil by adding perlite, a porous white volcanic glass, to the soil to aid in proper drainage. We had to pour the pearlite very carefully, because it produces a white cloud of particulate that irritates the lungs. In this prepared soil we pressed pieces of fragrant turmeric and ginger root in to the soil and covered it. The turmeric and ginger will take about a year before any growth will be seen. When all the seeds were neatly planted, we carried the pallets to the greenhouse.
We stepped out of the crisp, cold air and into the warm, humid green house. All around me there were plants and seedlings of many different varieties. I stroked my hand over a lush green bed of arugula microgreens and saw little seedlings of fruit trees from pomegranate to avocado and fig. We placed the freshly planted seeds in the green house where they will comfortably stay until they are ready to move to the soil outdoors.
After the planting was complete, we focused on harvesting. Under the bright sun, I took my sheers and cut beautiful heads of prize head lettuce with deep purple tips and bright green bottoms as well as brilliant green heads of romaine lettuce that can only be compared to a bouquet of flowers. The heads of lettuce were taken to the wash room to undergo a thorough cleaning before they could be donated or sold. It took quite a long time and a lot of water to wash the soil hiding in the leaves of the lettuce, which is why Howdy Farm is interested in building a new sink that can utilize water from the rain collectors. The beautiful heads overflowed in the large coolers we then drove to the Brazos Valley Food Bank.
As a nutrition major, I was ecstatic that so much produce from Howdy Farm is donated to the food bank as fresh produce, especially of the excellent quality of Howdy Farm, can be hard to come by. I love that Howdy Farm is helping to enhance the health of the community by donating fresh, healthy food to those in the greatest need.
The past two weeks have been truly amazing, and every day I leave Howdy Farm thinking how lucky I am to have this experience as an intern. Not only is this experience teaching me about how to grow produce, but it is also showing me an appreciation for the colorful beauty that comes from the soil. The knowledge I gain at Howdy Farm teaches me something that every dietitian should have: a focus on the amazing fruits and vegetables that should be the core of our diet.
Howdy, my name is Amanda Beaver and I am about to embark on a journey: an internship at Texas A&M’s Howdy Farm. As a nutrition major en route to become a registered dietitian, I know next to nothing about growing plants.
Growing up my family has killed just about every plant we have tried to grow. Each year we plant tomatoes in neat little planters with fresh hopes of a bountiful crop that will rival the beautiful tomatoes of farmer’s markets. By the time the little hard, green tomatoes begin to turn a shade of orange a crow comes along and destroys it. If it is not the crows, then its bugs, if not bugs than a lack of water. Despite our efforts, we have never been able to get it right. It is my primary goal of this internship to learn how to successfully grow a variety of produce, so that I can not only share this knowledge with my helpless family, but also my future patients. I can apply what I learn at my Howdy Farm Internship to my future career so that I can teach the roots of nutrition to enhance the health of the community.
Not only will I learn about growing produce at my internship, but I will also learn about sustainability. This brings me to my second goal of my internship: to learn environmentally friendly methods of growing produce. I can also apply what I learn about sustainability to my own personal life, as I have made it my new year’s resolution to become more environmentally friendly in every aspect of my life.
Because I know very little of the subject of horticulture, I know that every day of my internship will be an enriching experience. I am so excited to begin learning by doing. By the end of the semester if there is anything I will learn, it will be how to grow a tomato plant so my family can finally have some homegrown tomatoes!