Now that my internship and time at A&M are coming to an end; it was great getting to experience and learn everything that the farm threw at us. Michael was an excellent teacher, farmer and friend, who could literally tell you about everything on the farm and answer every question. This internship allowed me to use everything that I learned in class in a real world setting. I even believe that I learned more while working at the farm than I did in my classes. The experiences and funny conversations with my coworkers and volunteers made lengthy tasks easier and I even got a few song recommendations.
Now that my internship is over, I think that I am ready and have grown enough to call myself a Horticulturist. Even though I am not really sure what I will be doing after graduation in this COVID-19 world, I know that I now have a solid foundation of horticulture and hope that I get to use it wherever I go.
I'd like to thank all of the people that I met during this internship for helping me be less introverted and I'd like to thank Michael and all of those who allowed me to have this experience. Thanks for reading my blog, I hope you learned something new!
One of my most favorite things to work in and learn about during my time at The Howdy Farm was the greenhouses. From learning about the individual controllers, maintaining different benches, germinating, removing transplants and putting up shade cloth, my experience in the greenhouse was always informative and fun.
We were in the greenhouse on February 22 and I remember that day fondly because it was fun and challenging, not a hard challenge but a painful one. As we were walking around Michael spotted some dragon fruit cacti that were growing wildly, so we decided to separate and re-pot them with posts.
This wasn't an incredibly easy task, each cactus had already grown an insane amount to where each limb was sprawling out 1-2 feet each. Every. Single. Limb. Was. Connected. I even wore gloves to "protect" my hands from the spines that cover every inch of the limbs. My gloves did little to help, they actually caused more pain by holding the spine, removing it from my fingers and pushing them back in. Overall, it was a fun experience getting to learn about a cactus and transplanting it into a new home.
The next step in greenhouse management was setting up shade cloth.
Setting and securing the shade cloth on each of the greenhouse sections was an easy, but very long task between the two of us. I usually only stayed around 3 hours per day and most of that time was putting up shade cloth on a single section. The steps were easy, but getting the cloth un-snagged, set correctly and evenly was tedious. The steps usually looked like this:
After planting my vegetables in my garden rows,I checked back after a week break due to COVID-19, about 1 month after sewing them. My onions were thriving, but my other vegetables were not doing as great. My tomatoes were attacked by insects and most were killed off, leaving me with a couple left. The cilantro that I had just transplanted were killed off by my mistake of not watering them in. This set me back a few weeks, but luckily we still had plenty of cilantro under the shade cloth. At this point, none of my peppers have been planted, but they are getting closer to their transplant date.
Things that I have learned so far:
The first two photos were taken back in March before we setup the cattle fences to provide support for the tomatoes. After a month on 4/20, you can see the change in onion size and see how the pests killed off my tomatoes.
One major skill that I wanted to take away from my internship was pruning. Most courses I've taken have glanced over the subject but getting to physically prune something was awesome. At first, I was extremely hesitant to prune a bed of plants because I was worried I would do it incorrectly or prune the wrong thing. I like to make sure I do things exactly the way I'm told and I want it to be consistent the entire way through. After about an hour of pruning, I was half-way done with a 6'x2' bed, which is not very impressive. The next day, I came back to a bed that was completely finished and Michael told me that I just needed to rough chop the plants, meaning I just had to cut straight across at a consistent height. The picture above was taken about 2 months after the rough chop.
I had the opportunity to practice again but this time on blueberry bushes. It was nerve wracking. I didn't want to be the one who killed the blueberry bushes, but he told me to cut back to new growth, even if the entire branch or stem was dead. I still didn't get through much of the pruning, but I think I've gained enough confidence to prune without hesitation and worry.
Pruned blueberry bushes that are planted in their own private pots. To provide a little bit of information on blueberry growth, I read a quick informative page (https://www.almanac.com/plant/blueberries). Blueberries require acidic soils and because we live in College Station where tap water has high amounts of salts, it is best to use rainwater to leech calcium, sodium and magnesium so that acidic elements are left. It is best not to completely prune young bushes (2-3 years old) but seeing that these are a few years old, we removed all dead canes and left only new growth. Lastly, blueberry bushes require full-sun in order to grow properly.
In horticulture, there are many different types of tools that a farmer may need. In this post, I'll go over a few tools that I encountered and worked with while working at the Howdy Farm.
A soil knife, pictured first with the orange handle, is a great tool and was primarily used by Michael. It is useful in digging up and cutting roots and stems. My favorite memory of this tool is when Michael would ask someone to hand it to him and they would, usually by the blade. It was always funny seeing someone receive the quick lecture on safe handling of a knife. The second picture is the tool crate, which contains many different spades, rakes, gloves and other tools.
Other tools that I gained experience using were weed eaters, shovels and a post rammer.
Soil knife picture from https://www.amleo.com
For my internship, my goal was to grow a few varieties of onions, tomatoes, peppers and cilantro with an objective of making Pico de Gallo for my presentation.
Pictured below is the first step, sewing. The entire tray was potted with germination mix, a mix that is more suitable for seedlings and then each variety was sewn into a specific area and labeled. We had quite an excess of coriander, so we placed seeds in between other varieties to act as a spacer and to complete the columns.
As a horticulturist, I think finding sustainable solutions to produce vegetables and other plants is priority. Sustainable agriculture is the practice of reducing consumption or finding solutions to produce crops without compromising the potential of future crop production. From rainwater tanks and active solar energy systems to composting and Hugelkultur, the Howdy farm can educate you on sustainable practices by just taking a tour.
Rainwater tanks are great solutions to reducing the amount of water that you have to pay for by collecting thousands of gallons (depending on the size you buy) of rainwater that is readily usable.
Active Solar Energy Systems - A system that actively collects and stores energy converted from the sun. Pictured below is a set of solar panels located on the deck's roof of the main building. The next picture after shows the control panel that helps monitor energy intake and storage.
Composting bins - Great and effective ways of returning nutrients to the soil by decomposing organic matter like plants, certain foods and other materials. Depending on what nutrients you may need, different ratios of brown to green matter may be needed.
Not pictured below, but to the right of the shed (water tank picture) is the Hugelkultur mound. Hugelkultur is a long term composting method that decomposes logs or pieces of wood underground, forming a mound.
Feineigle, Mark. “Hugelkultur: Composting Whole Trees With Ease.” The Permaculture Research Institute, 4 Nov. 2013, www.permaculturenews.org/2012/01/04/hugelkultur-composting-whole-trees-with-ease/.
Our first few weeks on the farm taught us the importance of consistency and attention to detail. Pulling weeds seems like a menial task but once you start ripping out your first red sorrel and realize that half of the root was still inside of the soil, you begin to realize that you kind of suck. Michael metaphorically beat into us that weeding is "quality over quantity" and that he would rather you take your time removing every part of the weed than flying past and only topping them. We began to learn that spending a great amount of time weeding was not a bad thing for three reasons: we had a lower re-population rate of weeds, we had the chance to actually converse and meet each other and the time spent weeding was therapeutic.
In the picture below is two composting bins, where weeds get to change their ways and actually be useful.
The main walkway is a perfect place to start. Entering through here always made me feel instantly relaxed and ready to work. The combination of shrubs, trees and small plants looks amazing and I'm sure if I had a decent sense of smell, it would definitely smell great too! Before you leave the main walkway and enter the farm, make sure to try the Oxalis, a small purple flower on the left side.
The patio is a fantastic place to relax and study, or hang with friends in between classes. It features benches, picnic tables, shade and even Jenga.
Here you can see each of the different flower beds, rows and benches for different plants and crops. A few of these beds were cleaned out to provide space for other interns.