I am writing this blog post as a break between studying for different finals. This is my last post, so I just have to say that I’m very thankful for my time working on the Howdy Farm.
Working with Corey has been great, working with the other interns has been a lot of fun, and meeting all sorts of different volunteers has been awesome.
Instead of spending all day inside going from classroom to classroom, I was able to spend 9 hours a week outside doing something, and that has really helped to keep me sane this semester. As a college student, being able to see the shape and form of what I want to do with my degree has really been invaluable.
I’m majoring in Horticulture so I can grow food and feed people. The Howdy Farm will always be in my mind one of the first steps toward that goal. But the very first step will always be my family, and three of them in particular. My great grandmother, my grandfather and my dad.
My great grandmother is Ina Bell Storey, who was known as “the peach lady” in Red River County where I grew up. I never really knew her, but I see her legacy in my grandfather and my dad. My grandfather is A&M class of ‘49 and later became Professor Emeritus of Horticultural Science at A&M. My dad is A&M class of ‘83, graduating with a bachelor’s of horticultural science.
I don’t think I’d be here studying horticulture if these people weren’t in my life. I’ll always be thankful for that.
There are few things that I am as particular about as tea. If you can’t tell that the stuff in the tea bags is leaves, it’s not worth your time. Loose leaf is better anyway. (There’s only one exception to this rule, you can ask me if you’re curious.)
That said, I had a great day at the farm today. I showed up, made tea, and picked my chamomile flowers as my work for the day. I think I have it pretty good!
The blend I made was roughly equal parts mint and anise hyssop with some chamomile. The chamomile reduces down quite a bit in the dehydrator so right now I don’t have a whole lot of it to use. However, the plants are really putting out a lot of blooms now, so that won’t be a problem for long.
Making the tea is pretty simple, but I’ll walk through the my process.
First, boil water. I use a simple electric kettle. Depending on what kind of tea you are brewing, you’ll want to use the water at different temperatures. You’ll only want to use boiling water for black teas. If you use boiling water for green tea or any herbal infusions where parts are still green, then the result will be a drink that tastes way more bitter than it needs to be. Use water that’s around 160°F to 170°F to keep the drink from becoming too bitter. The best way is to have a thermometer, but my rule of thumb is that after the kettle boils is to let the water sit for about 15 minutes and then it will be about right.
Second, brew the herbs! Just pour your appropriate temperature water over the herbs and leave them brewing for about four minutes. You can brew them in an infusing basket or ball, or you can let the material float freely in the water. You’ll just have to strain the drink as you pour it into your cup. Most tea pots will come with a basket of some sort.
And third, take out the herbs and enjoy! A little honey in the tea goes a long way, but I really enjoyed this blend without any honey or sugar. It tasted very light and was pleasantly green and fresh. I’m no good at explaining flavors, but it was really very good!
I’m not sure how much tea we will end up with, but I think we’ll want to try and sell some of the blend at market. But meanwhile, I encourage you to go out and find some great loose leaf tea to brew yourself and enjoy.
I had never used this plant or even knew about it being used as tea before Corey suggested it. The leaves have a nice licorice scent. Unfortunately, when I first brewed the tea, the mint and the chamomile over powered the anise hyssop. I did brew some tea that only used the Anise Hyssop! I didn’t really enjoy it all that much, but I actually just don’t like licorice taste. But if you like licorice, Anise Hyssop is for you.
Anise Hyssop is also commonly known as Giant Hyssop or Lavender Giant Hyssop. This plant is scientifically named Agastache foeniculum and it is in Lamiaceae, the mint family. While the common name shares “Hyssop” with Hyssopus officinalis, and Hyssop and Anise Hyssop are both in the Lamiaceae family, those two plants are not closely related. Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis) is native to southern Europe. Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) is native to the North American Great Plains and other prairies in North America.
As far as uses for this herb, there’s a lot out there saying what Native American’s used this herb for, but I can’t say for certain that I ever found what I would trust as a reliable source. The most common thread was that it was used in wound care due to it’s antiseptic properties and that it was also used to treat burns. As a tea it was supposedly used to treat colds. Culinarily, it can be used wherever mint would be used (like with chicken or fish), and it can also be mixed into green salads. I’ve not tried these, but I think I will in the future!
Used in a garden, Anise Hyssop is a hardy drought resistant perennial. The flowers will attract pollinators and hummingbirds and the plant is pleasantly fragrant. This plant doesn’t really need to be coddled at all, growing it from seed is easy.
I think this is probably an under-utilized herb. I certainly hadn’t heard of it! Whether you want to attract pollinators and hummingbirds to your garden or use it in the kitchen, it’ll be easy to plant, grow, and keep around.
I’ve always enjoyed teas with mint in it, so I was glad to find out weeks ago that we had some mint growing in one of the front garden beds of the Howdy Farm. In this blog post I described how I mixed black tea and some mint to make tea earlier this semester!
Mint plants are part of the genus Mentha in the family Lamiaceae. Species of mint are widely distributed Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, and North America. The mint growing near the front of the farm is Spearmint which is native to Europe and Asia, but naturalized to North and South America.
Many people have planted mint to start out herb gardening, and it’s a good plant for that, but you have make sure it doesn’t take over the planting bed. It’s a perennial and can be pretty weedy since it spreads by rhizomes, or runners. It might be better to keep it in its own container, or you could even have it in a container that you bury in your planting bed with just the top inch or so of the container above the soil. This will keep it from spreading out and taking over. Mint will do fine in partial shade, all it really needs is for the soil to stay a little moist. If there’s a part of your garden that is less elevated and most rainwater flows over, mint would be a good choice for planting there (not standing water, that would suffocate the mint).
Mint has been used to soothe nausea in traditional medicine for a long time, and some studies have been conducted to see if mint helps manage IBS symptoms. From what I’ve found, it looks like mint can help a little, but only marginally. So, again, herbal tea is mostly just nice to drink instead of medically effective.
The semester is about to wrap up and I’ll just be honest: this semester has gone by faster than any other I’ve experienced. It’s crazy. But this probably just means that I’ve enjoyed all my horticulture classes a lot more than any other college courses I’ve taken so far… so I’m in the right place!
The Farm really is in full swing now, harvesting and selling lettuce, turnips, beets, cabbage, kale, kohlrabi, onions, snow peas, and sugar snap peas! It’s so exciting seeing things that I’ve planted now going to market.
Another amazing thing is that it’s already week twelve of the semester. I’ve never felt that a semester has gone by faster than this one. As we are way more than half way through, I’m starting to see how my internship’s project will wrap up. It’s turning out a little bit different than what I had imagined, but that’s how these things will go sometimes.
So the original idea was to grow a permaculture garden of plants that could be made for tea. As of right now the only thing that will be ready to make into tea in my plot is the chamomile. However, there are other things at the farm I can use with my chamomile to make a tea blend. Hopefully the fruit of my internship will be a ready to brew loose leaf herbal tea blend, with some instructions as to how to brew it.
The three plants used in this blend will be chamomile, anise hyssop, and mint. In my next few blog posts I will give a profile of the hyssop and the mint, and some tea brewing instruction.
The harvest and preparation of these three has been pretty simple. You just pick the part that you use for tea (leaves for mint and hyssop while the flowers for chamomile) and dry them so they can be stored for long periods of time before using. For some I have used a dehydrator that’s at the farm, and for others I have put the oven on the lowest temperature and kept the door open. Both methods have worked well.
Right now the herbs are being kept in paper bags, but when I’m ready to put them together in a final blend I’d like to have a nice opaque container for them. It’s best to keep tea stored away from light so that it will last as long as possible.
That’s where we are now! Again, I can’t believe it’s already week twelve. Hang in there, y’all!
Last Saturday, April 1st, was the Spring Plant Sale for the Howdy Farm and the Horticulture Club. The sale officially starts at 9 AM, but people were starting to show up and mill around the farm by 8:15 AM, just to give you an idea of how crazy the rush is at the start.
I worked the produce tables selling green butterhead and red butterhead lettuce, napa cabbage, curly leaf kale, turnips, golden beets, regular head cabbage, sugar snap peas, and snow peas. It was a real scramble getting everyone through the line, running around getting change for cash, and making sure people knew where to check out. But I thoroughly enjoyed it! Which is a pleasant surprise for me, as I didn’t think I’d be able to work very well in a market setting.
Until now, I had not been to a Howdy Farm market before. We haven’t had many Saturday markets so far, but I will be making them a priority from now on for sure. I know they probably aren’t this crazy, but I really enjoyed connecting with people that are at least interested, if not excited, about local farm grown food as I am. There is something about food beyond Horticulture for me. A connectedness that can be gained over a dinner table, and the steps getting to the dinner table, that’s different than any other. That is amplified, I believe, when we are intentional concerning what we eat and how we eat. Horticulture gives me the tools to become intentional with food, help others become intentional with their food, and to do all of this well. Because anything worth doing is worth doing well.
I’ve always had trouble talking to people, and I still wouldn’t consider myself a people person. But if I can find common ground that’s more stable than the weather or being in the same college class, then I find it much easier to close the gap. It’s a real struggle for me, and something I need to work at, but I am so grateful for my time so far at the Howdy Farm helping me find another way to connect to people.
What’s new? Not much. Weeding, compost spreading, and mulching. But that’s fine with me.
This is just a short blog post to show you something I made with something grown on the Howdy Farm!
I was taking mint cuttings so that they could root, get potted up, and sold for the April 1st plant sale. When you take cuttings, you want to remove a third or more of the leaves. That means I ended up with a whole pile of mint leaves that no one was going to use. So, naturally, I took them home.
After coarsely chopping the leaves, I mixed the mint with some black loose leaf I already had at home, and steeped the tea for about 3 to 4 minutes at a temperature around 160° F to 170° F. Notice that this is not boiling water! Boiling is only good for brewing black tea by itself (and some will tell you that the water should be at 190° F instead of boiling). For brewing teas that aren’t black, you will want to wait for the water to cool down before pouring it over the leaves. Since the mint leaves were still green, I figured the temperature for green tea brewing would be best. Any hotter and the tea would be very bitter. This isn’t scientific in the slightest, but I find that the water temperature is just about right when I let the water cool about 10 minutes after boiling.
The tea was great hot, but I couldn’t drink all of it. Now I have two pitchers of mint iced tea in my fridge.
Have yourself a cuppa today! Hot or cold, it’s all good.
My garden space on the farm is nearly all built now. Edging is all down, trellis up, and the cover crop is now tilled under. Now we plant!
The first thing I planted was Chamomile.
Chamomile is a common name for many different species of daisy-like flowering plants in the Asteraceae family. The two species of Chamomile used for herbal infusions is Roman Chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) and German Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla). We have planted German Chamomile.
German Chamomile is native to most of Europe, but does just fine in temperate North America. It is an annual, however it is proficient at self-seeding, so you won’t always have to actively replant your chamomile.
I wanted to grow Chamomile for herbal infusion simply because I have always enjoyed it myself. I think we’ve all had at least one cup of “Sleepy Time” tea, hoping to soon fall asleep. These kinds of herbal teas more often than not have chamomile in them, along with other herbs like spearmint or lemon grass. There have been a few studies on if Chamomile actually helps you fall asleep or relax, or even act as an anti-inflammatory. As I understand, the general consensus right now is that the action of making and drinking hot tea is relaxing and therefore helps you fall asleep. And Chamomile teas don’t have caffeine, so they certainly won’t keep you up. Most importantly (to me), it tastes great with just tiny bit of honey!
The part of the Chamomile plant that is used for tea is the flowers. When picking the flowers to brew, it’s important to remove any green parts (this will make the infusion bitter). Chamomile will keep blooming as long as you are picking the flowers. You can either brew them fresh or let them dry before using them. Drying is pretty simple! You just need a bit of heat and air flow. I think I’ll end up spreading them out on a cloth inside the farm building, but if you have an oven with a drying setting, that will definitely work.
The work on the farm right now is still a lot of weeding, compost spreading, and mulching. It will all be worth it!
The first four weeks of the semester have gone by quickly and some of us have our first round of exams upon us at the end of this week. Meanwhile, on the farm, time goes at a different pace. A hefty portion of our time so far has been spent weeding, and otherwise we have been planting seed or preparing transplant plugs for the green house.
A word on weeding: weeding is a tedious, repetitive, messy task. And this is precisely why I love it so much. Day to day life is nonstop action and stimulation. We rush to class, cram lecture notes down on the page, finish that homework assignment, juggle student organization meetings, meet friends for lunch, and carry on in this way every day of the semester. Sometimes we just need that twenty minutes, hour, or four hours of weeding to not be worried about the next moment and only see what’s in front of you. Time moves exactly how it’s supposed to; try not to jump the gun.
Speaking of getting ahead of ourselves, my internship project is in “hurry up and wait” mode. A tough position to be in, as I am really excited for this project! Every intern is required to have a project and work on it throughout the semester. Mine is a permaculture herbal tea garden. So far we have decided to plant chamomile, hibiscus, ginger, passion fruit vine, and bananas. Corey and I might be adding to this list, but I’m not sure. All we have done so far is put a new edge boards around the plot and put up a trellis for the passion vine.
Now, I will have future blog post going in depth, but I will try to give a short explanation of permaculture here. Permaculture is designing an agricultural ecosystem to be sustainable and self-sufficient. Instead of planting all one sort of plant in one row and completely clearing that out for next growing season to be planted with something different, permaculture intends to be more hands off once it is set up and a more, well, permanent planting. I promise it will make more sense when I write an in depth post on the subject.
By the time of my next post, I expect things on the farm to begin picking up speed. We’ve set up the nursery space just today to bring plants out of the greenhouse soon, the temperature is rising, and new growth is on the way.
I'm Sarah, I'm majoring in Horticulture, and I'm a Spring 2017 intern for the Howdy Farm.
While the Howdy Farm had been looking for interns the whole last half of the Fall semester, I actually didn't sign up until I saw that there were still positions available when the new year rolled around. After some totally unnecessary worrying over schedule and work load, I decided to sign up for the internship anyway. I can definitely confirm that responding to the call for interns was a good decision.
What lead me to this internship and my Horticulture major is what I could only describe as a life long partnership and friendship with plants. I grew up way out in the backwoods of North East Texas on the old family farm, which has been out of business all my life, but the small family gardens we would grow, the pines, and hardwood forest on the property served me well. To know something is to name it, right? Well, my dad (A&M class of '83) is always pointing out plants and naming them. He would introduce them to me by name, however far down the scientific nomenclature he could go, he would name it. Growing up with that, it is hard to ignore plants, the alluring simplicity of hard farm work, and the wider reaching work of feeding your own community.
By the end of this internship I hope to have really sunk my teeth into the work of a horticulturist farmer, start to finish. Sometimes a certain amount of original zeal can be lost in lecture halls and text books, but I believe it can be easily recovered just by getting my hands to the soil a handful of hours each week. I am very excited to be starting this work in the Spring semester as the Winter dissolves into Spring, making way for new growth. Ex Agris Vita!