What a semester! I feel like I first started at the Howdy Farm entirely clueless on farming – I knew nothing of fertilizing or starting seeds or harvesting or rotating crops with the season. I’m sure I have only brushed the surface of the depth of things to know about farming (understandably so, considering people study 4+ years to earn a degree in this!). Regardless, I learned so much from my time at the Farm this Fall.
The Howdy Farm is an organic farm, and I realized that I never looked into what exactly that means. I have seen how we do not use synthetic chemicals or pesticides on the plants, but alternatively use microorganism sprays and powders (like Mycorrhizal fungi) to increase plant growth and improve plant health. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, organic agriculture is when a system relies on ecosystem management instead of external agricultural inputs, essentially using the existing ecosystem for agriculture rather than treating problems that come up with synthetic chemicals (i.e. synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, drugs, genetically modified seeds, etc.). Organic agriculture uses practices that promote soil fertility and improve the health of the ecosystem.
One method of optimizing nutrient competition that is practiced at the Howdy Farm is growing a variety of crops. By growing many different crops at the same time, we avoid large losses in production or widespread crop failure. We also practice soil building practices at the Howdy Farm to sustainable improve the quality of the soil. Some of these practices include planting a cover crop in between harvests, such as peas. Once the cover crop is grown up, we till in back into the soil. The nutrients and organic matter of the cover crop is returned to the soil, making it richer! This also plays a part in preventing soil erosion and improving soil formation, resulting in a more stable ecosystem. By not using synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, we are also reducing the pollution of groundwater in the area. Instead, we use compost and other organic matter to fertilize the soil.
I know that this information only brushes the surface of the advantages of organic agriculture, and there are plenty more health benefits and economic benefits! Seeing organic agriculture practiced at the Howdy Farm was a valuable experience for me to learn about our food system and the impact we can have on our environment.
Sources: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
With the coming of a couple cold fronts and the start of Winter, my flower garden is looking slightly less vibrant and more wilted. There are still some blooms, and the “**bicolor roses seem to be flourishing, but we began gathering the seeds of our celosia this week. I always wondered how Farmers/Gardeners got seeds from the current season’s plants in preparation for the next year. Something that I have learned is that the flower plants will ‘go to seed’. During the majority of this past season I would deadhead the dried up/dying flowers from each plant. This would prevent the flowers from going to seed and help them continue to make blooms. Now that it is the end of the season, many of the flowers have gone to seed, and we can collect the seeds to plant next year. It seems really simple, but I love how sustainable that is. Also, it allows us to collect seeds from the plants that thrived this season and those that had really pretty blooms so that we can continue to grow plants that will be healthy and thrive and be pretty!
To collect the seeds from the celosia, I looked for blooms that had slightly dried up. You can even start to see on the blooms the dried up seeds that are black specks covering the base of the flower. Then you just have to rub the flower between your fingers over a bucket to collect the dried up seed. I then sorted the seeds out from the dried petals and we put them into jars to store. I made sure to collect seeds from plants with various colors and shapes – pink, magenta, yellow, coral, and fire plumes, so that next year we will hopefully get plants of all colors and shapes.
I had never heard of cardoon before interning at the Farm, but this week I learned how to “blanch” cardoon. Cardoon is a thistle-type plant and is related to artichokes. It is a Mediterranean plant/vegetable that is covered with tiny, near-invisible spines. It turns out that it is also rich in many vitamins and minerals (as most vegetables are), specifically folate, magnesium, and manganese!
It also turns out that they are very high maintenance vegetables to grow. The plants require a lot of space and lots of care. They grow in a large bundle of stalks, similar in appearance to celery stalks (except for the invisible thorns mentioned above). About 3 to 4 weeks before harvesting when the bushel is about 3 feet tall, it is important to blanch the cardoon. This will make the edible stalks more tender and less bitter, improving the flavor.
Blanching the cardoon is a two-man job because the plants are pretty big and spiny. We made sure to wear gloves while working also. We began by gathering the stalks of the cardoon plant and holding them together into one large bundle. While one person held the plant, the other cut a long piece of dark, opaque cloth and wrapped it around the edible base of the plant 1-2 times. Once the cloth was wrapped, with the other person still holding the bundle together, tie 2-3 pieces of string around cloth to hold it in place.
Once you have harvested the stalks, peel off the leaves and thorns using a vegetable peeler. After cleaning off the spines, you can cut the stalks into 3 inch pieces and soak them with vinegar for 30 minutes to get rid of some of the bitterness. Now your cardoons are ready for cooking!
I can’t believe Thanksgiving break is already here! The semester flew by and I only have a few more weeks left as an intern at the Howdy Farm. I’ve been busy at the Farm harvesting veggies, tending the flowers, and helping out with our Thursday market. One thing that I have loved about spending time at the Farm is trying produce that I have never even seen before and learning new ways to prepare it. The past few weeks we have had lots of daikon radishes for sale. Now, I have eaten many radishes, but I had never seen/heard of this type. They are so pretty – the inside looks like magenta tie-dye. Corey is a cooking guru, and after picking his brain about what to do with the radishes, I decided to learn how to pickle them. My grandma always made her own pickles and sauerkraut (YUM), and I was excited to try it out. Also, how homestead/renaissance-woman-esque is pickling your own veggies?
There are lots of different ways to pickle, but I didn’t have the time (or patience) to do a long pickling process, so I found a recipe for an ‘overnight pickle’. I ended up making 2 jars, and I added jalapenos to one for a little extra spice. I used them as a garnish/topping for fish tacos and plan on eating it on top of fish. I’m not usually a fan of sweet pickles, but the combination of sweeter carrots with the sharp daikon radishes turned out pretty tasty!
Vietnamese Daikon and Carrot Pickles
3 daikon radishes
Handful of cilantro
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons salt
2 ½ cups white vinegar (but from what I have read online, other types of vinegar will work J )
2 cups water
Jars (I used 2 and had a little bit of carrot and daikon leftover)
Many moons ago, Amelia from Yellow Thistle Designs led a little workshop for some of us at the Howdy Farm on preparing flower arrangements for the Howdy Farm Plant Sale on October 15th. I have a very science-mind, and I like when there is a step-by-step formula for how to do something, but I learned that floral design is far from formulaic. When I thought that I might be done, I was told to keep adding more to the arrangement!
One of the most fun parts of making our arrangements was finding plants/stems/vines from random plants around the farm and incorporating them into an arrangement – not just flowers from the flower garden! We would cut branches off of trees along the walkways or bushes by the house to fill in an arrangement. I would say that by two arrangements in I was starting to get the hang of it. (1) Add lots of wild green leafy branches that make a ‘background’. (2) Poke in lots of flowers (and take most of the leaves/branches off the stems). Add some big ones, some bright ones. Add some smaller ones. (3) Add some wispy-er flowers (i.e. Celosia, Amaranth). And that is basically it. There really isn’t a set method, which almost made it harder to learn, but it is fun letting the creative juices flow and make something pretty and wild!
It was so much fun getting to learn from Amelia, and she is so encouraging. She is in school and started her own floral design company (What?! So cool!) and does weddings/events. The word ‘whimsy’ comes to my mind when I see her arrangements; they are both classy and joyful and wild. If you (or any of your friends) are getting married, definitely check out her company!
A few weeks ago we had a jalapeño plant die at the farm. There were still lots of young jalapeños on the plant, so we harvested them and I took them home to make homemade salsa. The recipe is super quick and easy, and all you need is a blender and microwave! Be careful on the salt, because the canned tomatoes already have some salt added to them. Also, my jalapeños were very small so I used more than 3. I also cut them up after microwaving to remove some of the seeds. I poured my salsa into jars and stored it in the refrigerator. Enjoy with some fajitas or corn chips!
Quick and Easy Homemade Salsa
1 can whole peeled tomatoes
1 can stewed tomatoes
1 handful cilantro
1 tsp garlic powder
Salt (as needed)
The past few weeks were busy, busy at the Farm! We’ve gone to the market twice, and we have been eating tons of melon out at the Farm. I spend most of my time at the farm now deadheading flowers, weeding, and planting winter crops and flowers. It seems like the hottest part of the year is over, and the plants are doing really well with the cooler weather.
We have now mulched nearly the entire rain garden and it will be finished soon. In the back-most row we have planted sweet pea seeds, however they still had not sprung up by the end of last week. We transplanted two rows of bachelor buttons, but most of them have died, and last week we transplanted two more rows of snap dragons. It has not been a great year so far for the flowers. In both the cut flower garden and the rain garden we have dealt with a lot of crop failure. Finally, we planted two Lantanas and transplanted a Canna in the front row, and those seem to be doing well.
I’m learning that a lot of farming is fun observational science. If we plant a variety and it does really well, we will take notes on what we did/where it was planted/what it looks like and plant it again next season. When something does not grow well, we do not always know why, but we will take a note of it and not try it again next year.
We have been very busy at the Farm the past two weeks! We have started planting our new permanent flower garden in the back of the Farm, harvested lots of beans, cucumbers, melons, and squash, and gone to the Farmer’s Market. The current flower garden has also taken off, with our Amaranth plants reaching almost 4 feet in height.
The flower garden is getting colorful! I am so excited for each new day at the farm to see the progress my flowers have made. The rain over the past weekend seemed to give them a boost, and the Amaranth, Celosia, and Marigolds in particular are thriving. The Amaranth have not bloomed yet, but the stems are very thick and they are getting very tall. The Celosia is my favorite – there is such a variety in colors and shapes of the bloom! The majority of the plants are flame shaped, but we have some that have bloomed and are coral shaped. The colors range from magenta/fuschia to bright-sunshine yellow.
While the majority of what is alive in the flower garden is alive and well, we lost a lot of plants last week to root rot. An entire section of Amaranth and some of the Celosia were affected. Root rot can be caused by extended periods of exposure to water or from fungus in the soil. We aren’t sure exactly what caused the rotting, but the stems were rotted around the base of the plants at the top layer of soil.
At the back of the Farm is a rain garden, and Corey set up rows that we will mulch and plant flowers on. This will be a permanent flower garden! The rain garden is a low spot on the farm near other vegetable gardens where rain runoff will flow into, and at the “bottom” of the rain garden are hibiscus and other plants that like lots of water to grow. The garden will planted with taller plants at the back, and each row will have flowers decreasing in height, so that from the bottom of the rain garden you will be able to see all of the rows. So far we have planted Sweet Pea at the back that will grow up a trellis, Bachelor Buttons in the second to last row, and transplanted a Canna into the front right side of the garden. It will be so beautiful when everything starts blooming!
We have been busy planting and building things around the farm in the past two weeks. Our crops and the flowers have sprung up high in the past couple of weeks, and we are taking produce to the market for the first time this semester on Saturday!
Cut Flower Garden after mulching & laying irrigation system
Some other Farm-tivities from the week…
We built a shade cover for our seedlings for when they come of the greenhouse this week. We have also installed an irrigation system in the cut flower bed. We cut and laid slow-drip tubing along each row of the bed, and attached them a main hose from which they can be removed for cutting and tilling the bed later. Finally, I transplanted our cabbages at the end of the week.
I learned how to tell when a watermelon is ready for picking. You can look at the vine where the watermelon is attached, and if the tendrils growing out of that area are brown, that means the plant has stopped feeding nutrients to that part of the vine, so the watermelon is ready! You can also see a large yellow spot on one side of the melon where it was laying on the ground. Now you know which watermelons are ready when you go to the grocery store (or farmer’s market)!
Week One at the Farm is done and I am already blown away by how much I have learned! I transplanted flowers into the cut flower garden, learned how to start seeds in seed trays for the greenhouse, pulled lots of weeds, and learned about fungi. Each time I showed up, I did something I had never done before (except for pulling weeds) and learned something new. The other Farmers know so much about soil and varietals and keeping plants alive, so I have been trying to learn from them.
Each Intern chooses a project to focus on for the semester. I have chosen Cut Flower Production as my project. I will plant and tend to the cut flower garden. Our cut flowers are sold to the Floral Design department at A&M and Ronin Cooking, a local farm to table restaurant. We also make flower arrangements to sell on Thursdays at the Farm and Saturdays at the Farmers Market in Downtown Bryan. I will learn about cutting flowers for arrangements and creating arrangements! We transplanted seedlings from the greenhouse into the flowerbed this week, but a downpour pummeled the young plants. Some of them died and had to be pulled, but the majority seem like they will make it.
Finally, I spent my last day working at the Farm pulling lots of weeds from the soybean beds and planting radishes between the rows. I also watered the pepper plants (planted earlier in the week) with a solution mixed with Mycorrhizal fungi. The fungi have a symbiotic relationship with the plants and colonize the plants’ root systems. The fungi increase water and nutrient intake for the plant, in exchange for some of the carbohydrates the plant produces. The fungi also act as an extension to the root system, allowing the plant’s roots to go deeper to get more nutrients for the plant.