Howdy Farm has a Nesco Pro Food Dehydrator that interns used last semester to dry herbs. It hasn’t gotten much use this summer, so I decided to pick what we had available and get drying. Monday morning I walked the farm with my clippers and harvested fresh herbs. Early in the day is the best time to harvest for drying purposes so that all of the essential oils are still concentrated and haven’t been dried from the sun yet.
Basil is everywhere on the farm. I filled three and a half dehydrator trays with fresh leaves. We have a few sage plants. I grabbed some leaves to fill half a tray. Then rosemary got a half and marjoram the other. Marjoram is a variety of oregano, thus the two have similarities in taste, though they are different. My intention was to make an Italian herb mix but that will have to wait until we have plenty of oregano, thyme, and parsley growing on the farm to go along with the rest of the herbs I chose to dry.
The dehydrator should be set to a temperature of 95 degrees F, as recommended on the Nesco for herbs and spices. Every 24 hours I checked on the leaves and rotated the trays. Day after day I’d see if the leaves were completely crunchy to the touch so that they would easily crumble. After awhile, the majority of the basil was crunchy but some was still not completely dry. Finally, after five days, every single herb was completely dry.
I chose to lie out pieces of paper for each herb and start crumbling them by hand. I ended up with about ½ cup basil flakes, 3 tbsp rosemary leaves, 2 tbsp marjoram, and 1 tbsp crumbled sage leaves. Next, I used a spice grinder (Hamilton Beach Coffee Grinder to be exact!) to grind the herbs into a coarse powder.
In the near future, Howdy Farm should have all the herbs necessary to make our very own Italian spice blend. For now though, I played around with the herbs we had, mixing and matching to find something tasty.
Photos and blog by Jessica Newman
There's something special about market that only those who are there every (or almost every) Saturday can understand. Farmers markets are meaningful because they are the intersection of local, home grown & made food and the farmers who deliver. The Brazos Valley Farmers Market in particular has my heart.
Unlike major cities where interns or part time workers tend to the markets, here in Bryan you're actually talking to the farmer directly. These people are the most down to earth, friendliest, humble people. They care for their land, raise animals, make home goods in their kitchens, and drive from surrounding cities to give us all the finest in local food. While I do love the food - the home baked breads and fresh, organic produce - I'm really a sucker for the people.
I find myself at home with one too many squash, okra on the verge of going bad, a full supply of jams, and a leftover cinnamon roll. It's the people, the lovely faces behind the product, that I like to support. I eat those morning sourdough cinnamon rolls because besides being delicious, Beth is too sweet to resist in the morning. And I have patty pan squash needing to be cooked because I'm drawn to Johnny's calming voice at market. Yes, I splurge at market because the wonderful farmers there are deserving of my time and dollar. The Brazos Valley Farmers Market is something special. For those who can't make it or maybe haven't found the time to talk to their sweet farmers (which you should), here's a glimpse at some of those who can be spotted. (More to come in a future post!)
Beth & Ed Hadden: Twisted Bakery
Johnny Mason: Johnny’s Produce
Virginia Cox & Sean Cox: Virginia Cox
David Elsik: Dog-Run Farm
Ed & Emma Fowler: Fowler Farm
Wilton & Carolyn Wilton: Astera Meadows Ranch
Melissa McCoury: home garden
[See PART 2 of "Meet your farmers" here!]
-by Jessica Newman
> Harvesting fresh purple-hulled peas:
While purple-hulled peas and okra are in season, Howdy Farmers spend their summer weekday mornings harvesting the two crops. The reason for harvesting each day is because the crops mature quickly. If not paid attention to, you’ll miss your peas’ prime and end up with oversized okra.
When pea pods are green and look like string beans, they aren’t ready - although they can be picked early and eaten like green beans if you’d like. But to cook the peas, wait for purple pods. Soon, the color will start to turn and become a mixture of green and purple. The pods should start feeling full and crisp, with visible lumps where the peas and forming inside. Each day you wait to harvest, the peas will quickly change color. If they look 50 percent purple one day, wait another until they look 75 percent purple. Perfect peas are a nice, deep purple – but we don’t always go for perfection! Once the peas turn purple, you only have a few days to harvest before they become soft or dried out. For fresh purple-hulled peas, harvest the crisp, full, mostly-purple pods. When shelled, the fresh peas will have a color ranging from green to greenish-white with a pinkish-purple dot or “eye.”
Hence why these purple-hulled peas are also called “pink eye” rather than “black eye” peas. Black-eyed peas and pink-eyed peas are all part of a group of peas called Southern Peas. Each is simply named based on the color of the “eye” of the pea.
See those white flowers on your pea plant? Those are edible, too! Harvest for a little extra garnish for dinner parties. The flowers have a slight, raw bean taste. Be cautious not to harvest too many pea flowers or else you will diminish the plants pea producing capabilities.
> Collecting purple-hulled pea seed:
If your plants were forgotten and the pods are drying out – let them. You can harvest the seed for next year. Pick out pods that feel crunchy to the touch and look dried, losing color and turning brown. Each day come back to see if more pods are ready. Collect the dried out pods. Sit down over a big container and peel the pod apart to reveal the peas. Dried out peas will look green-ish. Save the good ones, tossed the shriveled ugly ducklings. Store them in a paper bag until next season.
> Harvesting okra
Currently at the farm we have two varieties of okra growing. Hill Country Red okra is a combination of red and green. When mature, our okra appears mostly green with some hints of red. What is unique about this variety is the width of the okra. Unlike most, the fruit is very thick. Though they may look fat, the pod is still very tender. Keep an eye on the okra plants because as fast as the purple hulls change color, your okra will be growing big in no time.
At Howdy Farm, we’ve seen the Hill Country Red variety produce big, fat, green okra. Our other variety we have growing, Bowling Red, produces long, slender, red okra. We are playing around with different varieties to find out what grows best and what our customers and we find most delicious!
Most people prefer to harvest okra when young and smaller as they tend to be more tender. Okra is best when about two to three inches long, before it becomes tough. Find the okra that fits your desires and use shears to cut the stem just below where the okra starts to form. You may want to use gloves as okra leaves your hands feeling forever slimy. Sleeves come in handy, too, as okra leaves tend to scratch and itch the skin.
Do the okra flowers look familiar? The plant is in the same family as hibiscus. You can use the flowers as part of an edible arrangement. They make a pretty garnish but aren’t so yummy to the taste.
Photos and blog by Jessica Newman
Our farm manager Corey said “just like snowflakes” when talking about how each of the Chippendale Daisy variety (Zinnia haageana) of Zinnia flowers look individualized. No two seem to be the exact same. Some are orange with yellow tips. Some have two rows of petals not one. Others are yellow with red dots. One flower will look full while another has minimal petals. This kind of variation is what I admire in zinnias, instead of expecting the same cookie-cutter visual to repeat itself.
Zinnias are one type of flower but the varieties are endless. The big, rounded pom-pom like heads catch my attention first. They have endless rows of petals, or ray flowers, piling the flower taller to reach its ideal thickness. The Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds package explains this Lilliput Mix of zinnias (Zinnia elegan) are “cute beehive-shaped double flowers.”
Many of the zinnias, though are flat and project outward. Some have small centers and others with huge centers surrounded by a ring of vibrant yellow “disc flowers.” At the farm there are yellow, red, and purple rounded zinnias in one bed. In another bed are big pink flowers and small peach ones. The Lilac Emperor Cactus Flowered variety (Zinnia elegan) stands out as having crazy octopus-like petals. All of the zinnias look slightly different but together fall under the genus Zinnia of the family Asteraceae.
What makes the zinnia so beautiful is the dense arrangement of petals forming a larger flower. In fact, zinnias are an inflorescence, meaning each of those “petals” is actually its own flower. Inflorescence is defined as a flower formed by many small flowers. The type of inflorescence depends on how the smaller flowers are arranged to form the larger one. Zinnias are called a “composite head” due to how the flowers are arranged by separate ray flowers that appear to be the petals and disk flowers that look like smaller yellow flowers in the center of the head.
With a heat wave hitting college station, the beautiful yellow zinnias quickly became a sickly yellow the next day. To salvage the beauty and spread it around the town, we harvested fresh, howdy farm “organic” flowers to arrange handheld bouquets to sell at market. The outcome is vibrant, summer-y, and makes me happy.
Taylor Paine, Program Coordinator of Benz School of Floral Design, harvested the flowers and shared her floral design knowledge. I thought I had it down, as I am the only one in the family who arranges the flowers in a vase. However, she taught me the tricks and the proper way of making a bouquet. I learned to crisscross the stems and swirl them in the same direction. We made a bunch of “roundy moundy” bouquets in which the shape of the bouquet is round and forms a dome. Taylor gave me a quick design 101 about other styles, too, like the Flemish style.
Taylor harvested many zinnias, a few wild sunflowers and “brocade mix” of marigolds. She took off the leaves of the cut flowers and immediately put them in water to keep them hydrated, fresh, and turgid.
Outside, I harvested rosemary and chocolate mint (some of which was flowering for an added detail to the bouquets) to add as our “greens” to the bouquets. We peeled away all the leaves from the bottom half of the herbs for easy arranging. Then, we let the creative genius flow!
With so much variation in the zinnias, many of our arrangements were made of entirely the one flower. But they don’t lack in originality! In other pieces we added orange marigolds and a few sunflowers here and there. The Chippendale Daisy zinnias made the perfect base to a warm colored bouquet – my personal favorite.
Come Saturday’s Brazos Valley Farmers Market, we sold our bouquets to spread the color around College Station .
Photos and blog by Jessica Newman
Howdy Farm has had an abundance of purple hulled peas (related to black eyed peas) lately. People go nuts over them at market wanting to shell peas as a family past time. One customer requested a whole bushel - 25 pounds of purple hulled peas! All these peas made me search for a recipe that really represented the farm and gave the beans a lead role.
In Julie Morris' cookbook Superfood Kitchen: Cooking with Natures Most Amazing Foods she presents plant based dishes that happen to be vegan (meat and dairy free), focusing on "superfoods." Morris defines superfoods as "a natural food containing an exceptionally high nutrient density, as well as phytochemicals and antioxidants."
In her smokey kale and black-eyed pea stew, Morris uses fresh oregano and thyme, wakame flakes, kale, and a garnish of parsley as her superfoods of choice. Wakame, Morris explains, is a sea vegetable, or green to be exact. It is an edible seaweed sold dried and when added to a soup, will expand. It can be purchased at a health foods store or found on the international aisle.
If you're making some of Howdy Farm’s purple-hulled peas ahead of time, set aside 3 cups cooked to add to this flavorful soup. Or, use any other southern pea like black-eyed peas.
Kale & Black-Eyed Pea Stew
Makes 6 to 8 servings
1 Tbsp. coconut oil
2 cups diced white onions (about 1 medium onion)
6 cloves garlic, minced
3 stalks celery, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh oregano leaves
1/2 Tbsp. chopped fresh thyme leaves
1/4 tsp. chipotle powder
1 Tbsp. smoked paprika
3 cups vegetable broth
3 cups water
2 Tbsp. wakame flakes, ground or crushed into fine pieces
3 cups cooked black-eyed peas
1 head kale, stems discarded and leaves chopped
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Fresh parsley, chopped, for garnish
By Jessica Newman
Howdy Farm had a color wheel of peppers at last Saturday’s Brazos Valley Farmers Market. Our customers all appreciated the beautiful pepper arrangement full of green and red bell peppers; yellow, orange, and red habaneros, green and red serranos; big and small red cayenne peppers; and green jalapeños.
While many recipes call for a smidgen of spicy peppers, maybe one jalapeno or so, some of our shoppers were buying peppers by the box! Another farmer used our goods to make orange habanero salsa with no tomatoes for a chunky Tabasco-like condiment. One woman stocked up on serrano peppers to use in everything she cooks – eggs, soups, pot roast and the like. Another lady had the great idea of creating a colorful and kicking with flavor pizza. Jammin’ Granny, a local jam maker and vendor, bought up a mix of habaneros and jalapenos for her fruity and spicy jams.
The wealth of peppers we had inspired me to make something hot. Howdy Farm had an entire cooler alive with peppers and half was due to the habaneros. With a bowl full of habaneros and a farm stand across the way at the farmers market with crates of tomatoes, I set out to make spicy salsa.
I dared to try the tips of the peppers to settle on which kind of spice I wanted. The serrano and small cayenne were incredibly hot so I didn’t even touch the red habanero. Yellow habaneros have a wonderful flavor with little spice (relatively speaking). I went home with five yellow habaneros, one orange habanero for a spice booster and 6 small heirloom tomatoes. The salsa I concocted from market purchases and the help of the Internet is a tangy habanero tomato salsa great on everything.
-By Jessica Newman
Organic matter, what is it and why is it important? Organic matter may only make up a small percentage of soil, but it is a crucial part of having healthy soils for plants. Organic matter is made up of mostly decomposing plant material. This can come from many sources such as leaves as they fall from the trees or even the grass as you mow your lawn.
What does organic matter do for the soil and what are the effects? Once the various leaves, bits of grass, and other plant parts come in contact with the soil's biology, work begins. The various microbes and animals, such as earthworms, begin to consume the fallen plant matter and slowly turn it into a dark rich material called humus. Humus is the ultimate prize in your soil! One could see it as black gold for your garden, lawn, or pastures. Humus and organic matter performs various roles. It helps to retain soil moisture (those who have any outdoor plants can see the benefit of that in the summer!), helps to keep soil light and aerated, helps to insulate the soil from high and low temperatures, and it provides food for the microbes and earthworms who add nutrients to the soil in the process of breaking down the organic matter.
Left: Buckwheat grown as a summer cover crop not only increases soil health but also attracts pollinators with its flowers and various song birds with the seeds it produces. After allowed to seed out, the buck wheat can be incorporated into the soil to be broken down into soil organic matter Right: Wheat planted in a raised bed or garden in fall can latter be pressed down to create a surface mulch that suppresses weed seed germination and helps to retain soil moisture. In the end the wheat will break down into organic matter
Left: This area once could be compared to a sand box. After a few years of cover cropping one can see the increasing health of the soil from the increase in organic matter and soil coverage. Right: The increased organic matter attracted earthworms by the hundreds! Earthworms help the soil by adding nutrients and increasing aeration.
How can you add organic matter to your soil? It is easier than thou think! For those who garden, planting cover crops or growing a top much is simple and can even be a beautiful addition to the surroundings! There are many plants available to use as a cover crop; depending on the species they can bring additional benefits on top of adding organic matter, such as adding nitrogen to the soil and attract beneficial wildlife. To read more on cover crops you can read about few in our last blog post written by Alexis Long. When adding cover crops there are a few options. One easy way to add organic matter is to add leaves(be sure the leaves haven't been sprayed with herbicide) as they drop in the fall to garden rows where they will hold onto soil moisture. There is the method known as green manure where you can simply chop, drop, and till in the cover crop, thereby incorporating the plant material into the soil where is will be broken down by the microbes and earthworms. Another option is to cover mulch the cover crop on top of the soil. To do this the cover crop is simply pressed down on top of the soil in a sheet. The benefit of doing this is the layer of mulch will help to suppress weed seeds from germinating, shade the soil, and hold on to soil moisture - this method works best if you are going to be planting started transplants rather than seeds. A great way to grow a cover mulch is to plant wheat seed into the garden in fall. It is an easy crop to grow and provides a uniform sheet when flattened. When it is time for summer plants, take the garden tool of your choice and flatten the wheat stalks to the ground where they are all laying the in the same direction. Once flattened, spread the flattened wheat apart to access the soil and plant your plant as you would normally. After the plant is in the soil simply cover the exposed soil with the surrounding stubble. Other fall planting options for this method are oats, barley, and rye.
Organic matter not only benefits the plants by adding nutrients and ground cover but it also helps people time and money by having to water and fertilize less, therefore work less and enjoy more!
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