This week on the Howdy Farm involved a lot of planting seeds. There were tons and tons of seeds that germinated this week and tons more that just got planted. Now this time, not everything planted was specifically to be grown the Howdy Farm. As a farm, we sell produce, usually at the Bryan farmers market. However, once a semester we will have a large plant sale. At the sale, we will have plenty of produce to buy (unless I eat all of the cucumbers we grow), but we will also sell little six-pack trays of plants that you can take and grow at home. For example, we have dill and kale where instead of just buying the vegetables from us you can grow it yourself! It's super fun and also so important to know how to grow your food. Plus it's fun!
So as I mentioned, we planted a lot of seeds this week. The picture above is of a raised bed in which I worked. It's under a large rosebush growing on a trellis and behind our tall bay tree. So this bed is hiding under some serious shade. So Corey watered the bed and made rows for me. Then I came behind him planting beet seeds in the row one inch apart. We planted beets here because they don't require too much sunlight. The morning sun the bed receives should be sufficient for them to grow.
Since I spent so much time with seed this week, I thought it might be cool to teach a little bit about how seeds develop. I know most of us learned this process a long time ago in the fifth grade, but maybe I can give you some new information on a more collegiate scale.
Hopefully, everyone already knows how a seed looks. The most familiar would probably be the lima beans we all planted in elementary school. They are small little seeds that you can split open, and they are symmetrical.
Now as the plant continues to grow everything is still underground, but the plant needs sunlight. So the hypocotyl grows so it can pull the rest of the seed above ground. Eventually, it will reach the surface and begin to get the sunlight it needs to pull everything but the roots above the soil. I know it sounds a little strange so let me show you a picture.
You can see in the picture to the left how the stem is pulling the rest of the seed out of the soil. Then to the right is what the plant will look like once everything but the root is out of the ground. In this picture, you can even see whats left of the seed coat still covering the soft part of the seed or the cotyledons. Cotyledons are the part that contains the first leaves that grow on the plant. From these first leaves, we can tell many things about the plant!
All life on earth is classified into a system. Most commonly plants are called by their genus and species. For the lima bean we've been using as our example, it's Latin 'genus/species' name is Phaseolus lunatus. Then further into classification if what type of plant it is. Is is vascular or nonvascular? Does it produce seeds or spores? Since most plants we know about are flowering, seed-bearing plants we will look further into those.
Flowering plants or angiosperms will either be monocots or dicots. These two words sound pretty similar to a bunch of other words I've used in this blog. Hypocotyls, cotyledons, and now monocots and dicots. So just a cotyledon refers to the first leaves so do monocot and dicot, these terms, however, refer to how many first leaves the plant will create and grow. Mono means one, so all monocots will only have one first leaf, like grasses. Di means two so all dicots will have two first leaves. So based on this knowledge what do you think our bean plants are?
If this is what our first leaves look like, then your plant is a monocot just like our bean plants here! Well, now you'll be able to tell what kind of plant you're buying at our plant sale!
Well, I am going to enjoy some fresh grown cucumber from this beautiful plant here and can't wait to write about next week!
Howdy! This week on the Howdy Farm was so much fun! Four of my six hours that I completed this week were spent planting seeds in trays so they can begin to grow in the greenhouse. Yes, FOUR HOURS with seeds! But, I loved it! I spent so much time on this one thing because it was so crucial to my project and hopefully just as important to some butterflies in the area. In other words, I spent a good long while working on my particular Howdy Farm Project!
Not only are butterflies positively beautiful but they have many other important values too. For starters, when we were all in elementary school we all studied the butterfly life cycle. We learned the wonder of how something that it practically a worm can turn into one of the most beautiful things on the planet. They also have scientific value as well. Butterflies are an obvious indicator of a healthy ecosystem. They are a food source for other important animals in the food chain, and scientists have been studying them for years for biological research. Researchers have studied butterflies in complex fields such as navigation, pest control, embryology, mimicry, evolution, genetics, population dynamics, and biodiversity conservation.
So, since these butterflies are so essential to the environment, I wanted to do my part and give them a place to stop on their travels. I also wanted to create a space for the butterflies in the area to lay their eggs. There are specific plants that eat species of butterfly will use as a host plant for their eggs. Monarch butterflies only use milkweed as a host plant. Some other common host plants are fennel, dill, clover, and even carrots. These plants contain everything the caterpillars will need to grow. Then near these host plants will be pollinator plants. For example sunflowers, hyssop, and lantana all attract butterflies. Putting all of these different types of plants near each other creates a great space for the butterflies.
Some of these seeds required some extra attention. Specifically the nasturtium seeds. These seeds need to be scarified before planting. Scarified means that the seed had a hard outer coat that needed removing before it would grow in soil. The best example of a seed that needs scarifying is Texas Bluebonnet seeds. Bluebonnets have a hard seed coat but after they are eaten by an animal, usually birds, that hard coat is worn off by the animal's stomach juices. Once the seed passes through the bird and lands on the ground, then it can germinate. Some flowers produce seeds this way to keep them safe, to keep them from growing too soon, and even so they will grow in other places. If you think about it, most animals don't 'go' in the same spot they ate...usually. Anyway, a simpler way to scarify the seeds I needed to plant was just to scrape it against the concrete a few times. Once I saw white part under the seed coat I knew I was ready to go!
Some plants I'll be using for my butterfly garden are already planted there ready to go. These flowers were from last years rain garden which is what I am converting into a butterfly garden. Some of these remarkable plants are milkweed and toad flower which are two host plants for butterflies. I couldn't have planned that better myself! Then we also have a hibiscus flower and Turk's caps growing from the old rain garden.
Even more exciting than the hibiscus flower is the Turk caps! It's a tall bush of small red flowers that are native to Texas, and they grow everywhere. They've grown on the Howdy farm, they've grown in my backyard at home, they even grow on campus off military walk! Little did I know that these little flowers are delicious! Well not the whole flower, just the bottom where the flower connects to the stem. If you pull off a flower and flip it over you will see a small white circle where all the petals meet. This area kind of makes a tiny bowl of sugar. Bite that little part, and you get a little bit of sweetness sort of like honeysuckle. On occasion when I crave something sweet I'll swing by for a taste of sugar.
Other fun things that happened on the farm this week involved our Howdy Farm Mascot; Nepeta! She usually hates all humans like any feral cat. However this week in a change of heart she let two interns, myself being one of them, pet her for a good 5 minutes or so. It was incredible. Then she let Corey pick her up and hold her. She's come so far! Well, she likes Corey because he feeds her. Colette and I just got lucky I guess. Oh well, see ya next week!
One thing I learned out on the farm this week is just how many MANY insects are out there. I think in largest quantity first place goes to the ants all over the place! Sugar ants to fire ants and nearly everything in between. We also have a fair amount of wasps in the Howdy farm as well. Unfortunately for me, I am terrified of wasps. A fellow intern got to watch me flip out when one almost landed on me. However we besides the fire ants I brought home in my shoes and the wasps I run from we do have a bunch of fascinating insects on the farm!
This beetle looks like a ladybug on steroids because in a way it is. The Mexican Bean beetle is part of the family Coccinellidae which is also known as ladybird beetles. So just think of the Mexican Bean beetle as the hardcore cousin to the ladybug and the Asian lady beetle! As similar as they look, however, this guy does some things differently. Most insects in the Coccinellidae family eat other pests this one eats plants. Maybe he and his buddies were the reason there were some holes in the sweet potato leaves?
Okay, I keep talking about the sweet potatoes that we worked with. I'd say 'harvested,' but that's not as accurate a description as we'd hoped. Oh well, better luck next time! When I arrived on the Howdy Farm Wednesday, Corey told me we'd be harvesting some sweet potatoes. I was pretty excited since I love sweet potatoes, they're just so good!! Anyway, we get out there and start cutting the vines and leaves out of the way and saving them to sell to Ronin cooking, a unique company that makes all of their food only from the freshest of veggies! While cutting off leaves and such is when I found my little beetle. Once we got everything out of the way, we began to dig.
We dug and dug following the roots trying to find some Sweet potatoes. The picture above is Corey showing us how to dig around the tuberous root without breaking it. Despite his excellent demonstration I still broke at least two. Oops! I still had fun though! We cut back three or four plants all of the same variety to see what we could find.
From the plants that we cut back, we only harvested a few sweet potatoes as you can see from the picture on the left. I know it wasn't much, but I still had a blast working with all that dirt. The other interns, as well as myself, enjoyed using our hands rather than shovels too! Now anywhere on the Howdy Farm, you will find some rouge plants growing randomly. For example, that picture on the right is a dried up Okra I found under the sweet potatoes. There had been an okra plant there, but it got choked out by vines of the sweet potato. The cool thing about this particular pod is the thing sticking out of it. By the time I uncovered this okra on the ground the seeds inside started to germinate and the radicle (or first root) became so strong that it broke through the hard outside of both the seed inside and the okra itself. Pretty nifty!
I also worked on the farm Thursday this past week, but for the sake of you dear reader, I'll keep it short-ish. Thursday involved cutting back the blackberry bushes, ripping up the morning glories that were taking over the trellis and planting sunflowers and zinnias. Then (literally) on top of all that, we added mulch and compost to all the beds we had been working on. We shoveled a lot on Thursday. Back and forth from the beds to piles of compost and mulch with two wheelbarrows. When I got back to my dorm from the Farm Thursday, my roommate asked how my day was. I told her "I am sunburnt and smell like compost...and I had a blast!"
*Note to self: WEAR SUNSCREEN AND A HAT!