Howdy everyone! I hope you have been enjoying this weather as much as I have. I think we are finally clear of the cold snaps. The flowers around the farm are starting to bloom more and they are gorgeous! I had never seen such cool colored snapdragons before and I had never seen larkspur flowers in person before. The larkspur are huge, each flower stalk is around 3-4' tall! Michael took a lot of the flowers to sell at the market this weekend, I am sure everyone is going to love them.
A few weeks ago, Michael found these strange insect eggs that were attached to a peach tree branch that he was trimming. They are perfectly round dots that are glued to the stick. We tried to identify it, but had no luck. It is still a mystery even now that the eggs have hatched. I have to admit the eggs looked pretty cool. If anyone knows what these are please let us know because we are curious!
Our Lady Banks Rose has been growing and blooming like crazy! It has become a little hard to walk under so I trimmed it up a little bit. Now people can actually walk under the trellis without getting smacked in the face with a rose branch! You can also see how much the lettuce we planted with the volunteers last month has grown. Another great week on the Howdy Farm!
Howdy! I hope everyone has had a good week. I am loving this weather and all the beautiful flowers it brings with it. The farm is full of color and I am enjoying every minute of it!
This week we worked on cleaning up the field rows. The rows were filled with sorrel and nut sedge, the two most frustrating weeds to get rid of. Nut sedge is the worst in my opinion. It is hard to locate the nut underground and if you have to be sure to completely remove it from the bed. The sorrel is pretty bad as well because you often break off pieces of the giant taproot. If any of these pieces are left in the soil a new sorrel weed will grow. Neither of these can be composted as they risk the chance of spreading the weeds back into the garden.
The weeds have quickly come back in the field, we should be cleaning them up next week. The beans are doing pretty well. They have some damage from pests and what I think may be a disease on the some of the organic beans. There are a significant amount of leaf damage on both types of beans, however the organic seems to be slightly more severe. The conventional seeds seem to have a better germination and vigor, with a 96% germination rate compared to the 91% germination for the organic. I was not able to measure the heights of the plants, but the conventional beans are visibly larger. I am hoping that the beans will continue to grow normally despite the pest damage.
I got the chance to check on my seeds before I left town for spring break on the March 11th. They were a week old and looking great except for the Genovese basil. There is one row in the conventional basil that I obviously missed while seeding, whoops! Everything else is coming along nicely though. I did not see many differences in the germination rate except for the organic lettuce which had a 91% germination rate compared to the 82% germination of the conventional seed. Shout out to Josh for taking care of the plants in the greenhouse over spring break for us!
The Thai basil is finally starting to have more seedlings pop up, obviously a much slower germination rate than the other crops. The seeds that germinated have produced healthy looking plants. The only quality difference I can tell so far is between the lettuces. The Nevada summer crisp lettuce is a lot more spindly and weak stemmed than the organic Muir summer crisp lettuce. I am not sure if this is also indicative of rooting quality, but I will be able to answer that question when I plant them out in the field.
While checking my plants in the greenhouse I saw these passion vines on one of our other benches. At first I did not recognize the plant because of how badly deformed the leaves were. I asked Michael what type of plant they were and he said they were passion vines with spider mite damage. I had no idea that spider mites could cause such severe damage to vines. We took the pots out of the greenhouse to give them a soap treatment and put them on the hardening off bench. Hopefully these passion vines will be able to bounce back soon.
My little beans have sprouted! I don't know why, but I think bean plants are super cute. The germination rate for the conventional seems slightly lower from my initial observation. I can see the seedlings coming up though, so I think they may just be late bloomers!
Our seed order from Johnny's Seeds is finally here! I am very excited to get my intern project rolling. The plants I selected for the seed trial are Borage ,Nevada and Muir OG summer crisp lettuce, Genovese Basil, Sweet Thai Basil, Provider Bush Beans, Sorrel, and Astro Arugula. Unfortunately, some of the seed that I ordered were back-ordered and I was unable to use them in my project. The reason I wanted to do this trial is to see if there is any benefit to planting organic seed compared to the conventional seeds available.
I believe that many people may be inclined to buy organic seed because they equate it to being non GMO. It is true that it is non-GMO, but so are the seeds that would be available to the average gardener. I believe that when done correctly organic farming is healthier and more sustainable, however from what I have seen is that the organic standards are not well enforced on a large scale. I want to see if organic seed performs better in any way and is worth the slightly higher price per seed. To test this I got a conventional and organic seed packet for every vegetable. Over the next few weeks, I will be monitoring germination rates, growth, pest pressure, and taste (when possible).
Everything except the Borage and beans were started in seed trays. I put two seeds in each cell to hopefully ensure that I would have at least one plant per cell. The seeds were super tiny though and I did not always put just two, I will have to take this into account when I am calculating germination rates. I found that covering each row after I put the seed in the cell helped me keep track, I just wish I had started that on the first couple of trays! After I finished planting all the seeds, I took the trays to the greenhouse and watered the seeds in. I can't wait to see my little baby plants pop up!
It was rather cold at the beginning of this week so we waited until it warmed up to start my bush beans. We planted the beans 4" apart on alternating sides to ensure that they would all have enough room to grow and not have to compete. I split the space in half and put the conventional bush beans at the front of the row and the organic variety behind it. When we were done planting the beans we let the drip line run for a while to make sure the soil was nice and moist to aid in germination. I am hoping the temperature does not drop again now that my beans are in the ground.
As I mentioned earlier, we had a bout of cold weather earlier this week. The freeze caused some damage to our plants. Most of the plants were able to snap back later in the week, but some did not come back around. Never know what the weather is going to be like in Texas, I am hoping for fair weather as I begin to plant out my project.
This week we learned how to do some basic repairs to an irrigation system. The drip irrigation system we use is above ground and connects all of the field beds together. To water particular beds we use ball valves to regulate the beds that are being watered. The old ball valve was broken by a mower so we had to replace it with a new one. This was fairly simple, the pipe was cut on either end of the ball valve and fitted with new connections. The new valve was then glued into place with the blue adhesive after applying the purple primer on the inside. The ball valve worked perfectly, I am happy I got to learn how to make repairs on an irrigation system. I think that irrigation maintenance knowledge is one of the most important skills for a well-rounded horticulturist.
Before we reattached all the hoses we placed irrigation tape on all of the hose threads. This helps keep the seal tight and to reduce the wear on the PVC threads over time. One of the biggest issues with having an above ground irrigation system like this is that it is exposed to the elements. The sun breaks down the PVC plastic fairly quickly and causes leaks due to a poor seal. If the system were underground there would be a lot less wear on the system, however it is easier to notice leaks and make repairs on an above ground irrigation system. I think underground systems are the way to go as far as system longevity and ease of landscape maintenance though.
So. much. chickweed! The mat of chickweed and henbit in the raised beds is unbelievable! On the bright side, these weeds look worse than they are. The mat can be easily pulled up because the radial plant mass extends out of just a few growth points. The fibrous roots can be strong, but nothing like the tap roots in other weed species. Weeding these beds is a slow process, you have to be careful not to be overeager and pull plants you wanted to keep ( I am guilty of this). Eventually we cleared the bed, except for the Nigella, and prepared to plant lettuce in there.
This week was the first week I got to work with volunteers on the Howdy Farm. Most of them were not horticulture majors and just wanted to spend some time outside to relieve some stress. It was nice to talk to people outside my major who I would not normally get to socialize with. They were really helpful in clearing out the bed and spacing the lettuce transplants. After we planted the lettuce we mulched the bed to help keep the weed pressure down and to retain moisture. I love the contrast of the dark mulch and bright green transplants, it looks so clean! Thank you to the volunteers who helped us on the farm this week!
I use a longboard to get around campus and I absolutely love it. One of my favorite things to do is teach people how to ride a longboard. This week Michael was adventurous enough to give longboarding a try. After work we went on the road in front of the farm and practiced skating. He did really well! He even went down a small slope without bailing off of the board. I was very impressed at how quickly he picked it up. Michael liked skating so much he bought a longboard that weekend! I am going to say it is because I am such a great teacher.
This week we started collard greens in some seed trays . We have traditional collards in our hugelkultur mound that are growing voluntarily from last season. The seeds that we are planting are blue collards and are a new variety that we are going to try out on the farm.
After we got the trays planted we took them to the greenhouse and watered them in. This was the first time I got to actually work in the greenhouse and I loved being able to look at the collection of plants from all the horticulture classes. I had never seen sugarcane being propagated before, it is a lot easier than I thought and looks pretty cool. The rosemary cuttings that Michael started a few weeks ago are not doing well. They are close to the window so they could be drying out too much, but I do not think that is the main issue. I have seen some spider mites on other plants in the greenhouse so it could be damage from the mites.
We cleaned up some of the beds in the raised bed area that was overgrown with Chickweed and Henbit. When I first saw the bed I did not even know we had anything planted in there. After some careful weeding, we revealed the Star of Bethlehem plants underneath the mat of weeds. They will be much happier now that they are not being smothered. I have never seen what the flowers on the Star of Bethlehem look like, I hope it blooms during my internship.
One of the best perks of working on the farm is that I can bring home fresh flowers. Anemones (second picture) are my favorite, they have so many different bold color patterns. Calendulas are my second favorite, their bright orange color just brightens my day. They are also edible, but I have yet to work up the courage to try them. Stock flowers and snapdragons are always beautiful and their unique shape makes for some fun arrangements. I am excited to see what other flowers pop up on the farm!
This week we harvested a lot of the radishes that we had growing on the farm. They are reaching the end of their growing season and will bolt soon if we do not get them out of the ground. You want to avoid having your root crops and greens go to flower unless you are trying to harvest seeds from them. This is because the flavor will change and turn bitter as the plant redirects it's energy and resources to flowering. Thankfully most of the radishes had not gone to flower yet.
Unfortunately, as Michael and I were harvesting we noticed that we had an aphid infestation on the watermelon and daikon radishes. The radishes were still a good size despite the fairly heavy pest load you can see in the picture to the right. We did want to get the aphids off the leaves before we processed them for market though. To clean the aphids off we used water and a small amount of soap, they came off pretty easily. The infestation was a lot heavier on the watermelon radishes than on the daikon.
After washing the radishes we bundled them together to sell at the farmer's market on Saturday. I was curious why we leave the leaves on some root crops, but not others. It has to do with the shelf life of the vegetable. When we harvest the radish, the leaves are there to be used up by the plant to allow the root crop to keep longer. Along with the market this weekend, we had an order from a local restaurant owner for 8 pounds of daikon radish and 5 pounds of mustard greens. It was really cool to know that some of the produce we grew at the Howdy Farm is going to be used in a restaurant in Bryan/College Station.
On Saturday morning I got the chance to help work the Howdy Farm booth at the farmer's market in downtown Bryan. The weather was pretty awful, it was super cold and windy with a nice drizzle of rain to top it off. Despite the weather, there was a fair amount of people who ventured out to support their local farmers. I had a great time telling people about the different radishes and greens that we had. The customers had a lot of recommendations about how they prepare and cook the vegetables. I got some great recipes and even tried some of the radish in a soup and it was delicious! It was nice to interact with community and learn new ways to prepare vegetables I had never really been creative with.
My first few days on the farm have been great! At the start of my internship we toured the farm's greenhouse space and helped set up the support for the hydroponic system that the other intern, Josh, will be using for his project this semester. I decided that for my internship project I wanted to do a seed trial comparing conventional vs organic seed. I got the idea to explore this concept through my experience with my family's vegetable garden last spring. We had two types of corn, one was organic and the other was traditional seed. The organic corn was completely eaten up by some type of borer, only one or two stalks made it to harvest. I was curious if it was because the organic seed was more susceptible to pests than conventional seeds. There is a slight increase in price for organic seed and I wanted to know if there were any benefits to using organic over conventional seeds. To test this I chose 6 different crops and ordered both types of seeds to plant and observe. In my observations I am looking at germination rates, rooting quality, growth habit, pest pressure, and taste when possible. Since my seeds will not be in for another month, I got the chance to learn the wonderful art of weeding, something that is always needed on the farm.
Our first weeding task was to clear out some space in the field plots so that we could plant some greens. We worked our way down the rows, weeding and occasionally finding a worm or insect along the way. Everything that we pulled went into the piles to compost over the next few months.
To wrap up the week we cut back the potted hibiscus plants so that they will hopefully come back in spring. We then planted out snapdragon seedlings in the pots and planters. Lastly, I had the pleasure of getting to know Nepeta the cat. She lives on the farm and loves to hang out with us while we work. She has the prettiest blue eyes, hopefully one of these days she will let me get a good picture of them. Just hoping she does not crush the snapdragons as the planters are her favorite place to lay!
Hi! My name is Gabrielle Melchor and I am a senior undergraduate student in the horticulture science department. After graduation, I hope to pursue a career in nursery management and production or urban green space development. If you have any questions about my internship or would just like to talk plants, you can find me at the Howdy Farm. Gig 'em!