It's getting hot outside and you might be wondering what to do with some of your empty garden space during the summer. During the time when we aren't using all of our beds or our field we like to plant cover crops to maintain the quality of our soil. Cover crops play a large role in agriculture by suppressing weeds, building up soil productivity, nitrogen fixation, and controlling plant diseases. Two of the main cover crops that the Howdy Farm is utilizing this summer are cowpeas (black-eyed peas) and buckwheat.
Cowpeas are a drought-tolerant, warm-weather food legume. One of its main benefits is nitrogen fixation for succeeding crops. Nitrogen is a major component in chlorophyll (which is used to convert sunlight energy to produce sugars form water and carbon dioxide) and proteins, and helps plants grow . The atmosphere consists of roughly 80% nitrogen in the form of N2. Unfortunately, plants cannot utilize this form of nitrogen and it has to be converted into another form NH3 (ammonia). The process of atmospheric nitrogen being converted to ammonia is known as nitrogen fixation. Nitrogen fixation occurs when certain types of bacteria form root nodules on the roots of the plant. The bacteria fix the atmospheric nitrogen into a form the plant can use, and in return the bacteria get to feed on some of the sugars found in the plants roots. To gain the full benefit of the nitrogen-fixation, turn under your cover crops back into the soil when they begin to flower. The plants will break down and add organic matter, as well as a slow release of nitrogen for your next crop.
Buckwheat’s main benefit is weed suppression. It has a fibrous root system that establishes quickly giving it the ability to prevent weed growth. Buckwheat is commonly used for ground cover and bringing idle land to production. An added benefit of planting buckwheat is its ability to scavenge for phosphorus and calcium in low-fertility soils, making it accessible for later crops.
As well as being good for soil fertility, cowpeas and buckwheat have several other uses. Cowpeas can be cooked as legumes (black-eyed peas) with high levels of protein, used for stomach and pancreas aliments, and helps control cholesterol levels. Buckwheat is utilized for bird feed, improving vision, lowering the risk of diabetes, and gluten free baking.
Try growing some cover crops in your garden this summer to help you build amazing soils for the fall!
Sprouted Buckwheat Waffles (Courtesy of the Worktop)
Story by Alexis Long
The Howdy Farm is home to many varieties of plants. Many of these plants are not recognizable to many individuals because they are not grown in modern large-scale agriculture. Before the Agricultural Revolution, a wider variety of plants were used for human consumption. In today’s agriculture, most crops are grown in large monocultures. These modern crops are used in little variety in order to maintain consistency, produce high yields, withstand transportation, and drought. Gardening that utilizes heirloom plants is the reaction to this “trend”. An heirloom plant is defined many ways but is commonly known as a plant that is open-pollinated and grown in a previous era. The advantages of growing these heirlooms are that they have a wider variety, they may have better flavor, and they encompass a larger genetic diversity.
The heirlooms that we purchase here on the farm are bought from Baker Creek Seeds which can be found online at rareseeds.com. The company was founded in 1998 by Jere Gettle. This family owned company carries one the largest collections of seeds from the 19th century, and with 1900 varieties from 75 countries you will certainly find something fun to grow from their catalog. All the seeds used by Baker Creek Seeds are non-hybrid, non-GMO, non-treated, and non-patented. Some of the heirlooms that we purchase thru Baker Creek include the Chinese green noodle bean, giant red re-selection celery, and Red Rubin basil.
The Chinese green noodle bean is an import from China and gets up to 20” in length. It is a smooth, straight, bright green bean that does well in stir-fry.
Giant red re-selection celery is of the European red-stalk celery variety. It has a richer flavor than other green celery and was selected for its disease resistance.
Red Rubin is a fragrant basil which is best known for its spice and overwhelming aroma.
We recommend you try some heirlooms in your gardens at home - the results will be both attractive and delicious. You'll have some great conversation starters in your garden as well!
HEIRLOOM TOMATO BLT RECIPE (Courtesy of Whole Foods http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/recipe/heirloom-tomato-blts)
Lay bread out on a work surface. Combine mayonnaise and pesto; spread evenly over one side of each bread slice. Sprinkle tomatoes with salt and layer onto half the bread slices. Top tomatoes with bacon and lettuce, and cover with remaining bread slices. Cut each sandwich in half on the diagonal and pile onto a platter.
Howdy Farm Summer Intern