Here at the Howdy Farm we proudly grow all of our fruits, vegetables, and flowers using organic methods*. Choosing to grow organically can prove to be challenging, especially when it comes to soil nutrient management and availability. It can take several years of ammending the soil with compost and other forms of organic matter before you start to produce bountiful yields. Healthy soil is absolutely the most important component for growing nutritious and delicious foods, and we have a couple tools to share with you that will help improve your yields naturally.
If you take a stroll through the "health food" section of your local grocery store, you might notice a new drink that is gaining in popularity - kombucha. Kombucha is a probiotic drink containing millions of beneficial bacteria, which have been shown to improve digestive health. When you hear the word "bacteria" you might automatically think disease or sickness, but our bodies actually contain and thrive on beneficial bacteria as well. Our garden soil is actually very similar. Beneficial bacteria in the soil can do wonders for the health of your plants. An example of this is bacteria in the Rhizobium genus. Rhizobium is a group beneficial bacteria that form symbiotic relationships with plants in small nodules located in the plant's roots. The bacteria are capable of fixing atmospheric nitrogen, which is when they convert the nitrogen in the air into a form that the plant can use. Nitrogen is usually the most limiting plant nutrient in the soil, so this symbiotic relationship can be extremely beneficial if your soil is lacking. In return for providing nitrogen to the plant, the bacteria consume organic compounds produced by the plant through photosynthesis. Rhizobium can be used when you are growing anything in the legume family, which includes peas, beans, lentils, peanuts, soybeans, and more. The best part is that you can purchase Rhizobium anywhere you purchase seeds. Application of the bacteria is very easy - first you wet the seeds so they are slightly damp, and then you sprinkle on the bacteria so it coats the seed. That's it! So the next time that you plant beans and peas, be sure to pick up some Rhizobium powder and you will be amazed by how healthy and productive your plants turn out.
In addition to bacteria, beneficial fungi in the soil also play an important role in the health of your crops. Mycorrhizal fungi are an example of this, as they also form a symbiotic relationship with plants through the roots. Soil naturally contains mycorrhizal fungi, but by adding the fungi to your soil and plant roots, you can help build up their levels to ensure that your plants are growing to their maximum potential. Mycorrhizal fungi work by attaching to the plant roots and essentially they create a network of smaller roots that will seek out water and nutrients for the plant. The fungi benefit from the plant by receiving sugars from the plant roots in return. Dipping the roots of your transplants in a mycorrhizal drench can help alleviate transplant shock, help your plants establish faster, and it will allow the plants to grow quickly with the potential for less disease pressure. Here at the Howdy Farm we use a mycorrhizal concentrate produced by Wildroot Organic Inc., located in Boerne, TX. The product is extremely easy to use; you just mix the powder in water and then dunk your plant's roots in the solution before planting. The results are well worth the minimal effort and the addition of mycorrhizal fungi will help your soil thrive for years to come.
If you are looking for natural, quick, and effective results in your organic garden then we highly recommend that you use Rhizobium and mycorrhizal fungi the next time you plant. These two biological tools - in addition to high quality compost, organic fertilizers, and proper soil management - will help you build a soil that is alive and functional. All great gardens start with great soil, so feed your soil and prepare to reap the benefits. Happy growing!
Written by Corey Wahl - Howdy Farm Manager
*We grow using organic methods, but we are not certified organic by the USDA.
Stop Them from Ruining your Harvest!
There are many pests that torment gardens, but squash vine borers (scientific name: Melitta curcurbitae) may be one of the trickiest to detect.
They are a species of moth, yet resemble a wasp, and often attack various squash and gourd species. What makes them so elusive is that they lay their eggs at the base of plants before the summer and the larvae hatch and inhabit the inner stem of the plant. Slowly, they eat away at the inner stem and block the flow of water from entering the plant. Damage to the plant usually is undetectable until it begins to wilt during the summer season, at which point it is too late to save it.
SO, what can be done to prevent these pesky critters without using harsh insecticides?
A couple actions can be taken to prevent your crops from being devastated by these pests:
Detecting squash borers in early June is key; you have to put an end to the squash borers over-running your plants before their lives even begin. This can be done by physically watching and removing them, but that is obviously tedious and time-consuming. An alternative is to fill a yellow dish, pan, bowl, etc. with water (Try not to spill it like I did) and place it near your garden. Because squash borers are attracted to the color yellow, they will try to get a closer look, and end up getting stuck in the water.
Written By: Jackie Parker
It’s a known fact that college dorms and apartments aren’t exactly the most spacious when it comes to living area. Frequently, students don’t have access to a back yard or balcony, so the possibility of growing a full-blown garden outside is slim to none. Luckily, there are plenty of plants that flourish indoors simply with sunlight and water. Growing indoor plants is a practical way to save money and cultivate nutritious food! - See more at: http://www.foodieoncampus.com/5-nutritious-plants-grow-dorm-room/#sthash.QVgbBKw8.dpuf
Channel your inner gardener and try growing these 5 edible indoor plants:
Don’t mistake microgreens for garnishes! Many researchers are quickly realizing that these premature green leafy vegetables pack almost 3-4 times the vitamin and mineral content than their mature counterparts. If you have a windowsill, a shallow container, humus soil, and microgreen seeds, you can easily grow these tiny power veggies. Plus, you will save a ton of money, as microgreens in the grocery store are extremely pricey!
Wait, what? You can grow lettuce, spinach, and kale at home? Yes! Iceberg, arugula, spinach, and romaine lettuce will shoot up easily indoors with the right setup. Simply google and you will find instructions. In addition to their crisp, refreshing taste, these salad greens are loaded with vitamins A, C, and K.
Scallions (AKA, Onion Greens)
The next time you go to the grocery store, buy some scallions! Then, cultivate a new batch by placing the white bottoms (the bulb portion) into a glass with about an inch of water. The water in the glass should be changed daily; when the shoots appear, place them into a pot of soil and let the show begin. Scallions provide vitamin K and could also have cancer-preventing properties.
To grow your own ginger, put the root in warm water overnight, then point the eye bud towards the top of your container and cover it with 1-2 inches of rich soil. This plant needs consistent warmth and moisture, and after a few weeks your ginger will start to grow, so be patient! This technique also works for turmeric. Ginger is a staple for cooking and a natural remedy for common ailments like digestion issues, nausea, flu symptoms, muscle pain, and menstrual cramps!
You will be amazed at how simple growing carrots indoors can be with the proper soil, the right amount of moisture, and exposure to sunlight. Carrots are always a great snack and a perfect addition to dinner recipes. They’re also packed with vitamin A and carentenoids. Radishes and potatoes can be planted in a similar fashion!
So, take advantage of your vacant windowsills and recycle old containers to grow your own food! You’ll soon find how rewarding it is to grow your own nutritious food. And don’t forget that there are tons of other plants that can be grown indoors… maybe college is the time to earn a degree and a green thumb!
So here are some tips for organic, preventative pest control:
1) The War of Ladybeetles and Aphids
Everyone loves ladybeetles (also called ladybird beetles). Children pick them up in awe, and some cultures associate the beetle with good luck. However, seeing ladybugs also mean that aphids--their main food source--are in the area. Thin white filaments on budding leaves or flowers also mean aphids, and they are often called plant lice because they live in hoards and are hard to completely remove.
For a short-term solution, aphids can be washed off with water. Another way of removing them is simply to get rid of any infested leaves and care for lacewing and lady beetle populations. Preventative measures include planting chives or garlic close to the plant you want to protect, or even planting banana peels in between the desired plants. Some websites recommend using an oil-and-water mix spray in the place of pesticides, such as orange oil mixtures.
2) Leaffooted Bugs can rasp the life out of your plants.
3) Mealybugs can cause plant wilting.
Know how pests consume produce.
The three insects listed in this article are all bad because of their mouth apparatuses. They all have a proboscis that is harder than a butterfly's or a moth's, made for piercing leaves. Aphids, Leaffooted Bugs and mealybugs all cause some damage because of the way they eat produce, by digging in and sucking away nutrients. In some cases the damage is only superficial, like the discoloration caused by the leaffooted bug. However, mealybugs and aphids both cause significant damage by swarming in large numbers onto leaves and drying them up, preventing the plant from thriving. Using flowers to attract natural enemies, like marigold for lacewings, can be another help to protect what you grow.
> 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