Monday, December 1, 2014

All About that Herb

Howdy Howdy,

Today I think we'll spice things up a bit! I'd like to share some of the fun I've had with herbs here on the farm. When I began my internship I was given the opportunity to work on a specific project. Since there are many herbs planted at Howdy Farm, the idea of selling herbs along with the produce sold was considered. There was no way I wanted to pass up the chance to learn more about growing, harvesting, drying, and packaging herbs to be sold.  As my time as an intern continues, my specific internship project involves some flavorful plants!  Because we're talking herbs, I would like to share a bit about the process we go through in order to get this:

Final Product (Dill & Rosemary)

Compared to many areas of Texas, College Station has a typically warm, humid climate. Although it is not extremely humid, the level of humidity can affect herb drying.  One common method used to dry herbs is the hang-dry method.  That probably isn't the technical name for the method but it works for me (and hopefully you as well!).  The hang-dry method involves harvesting the herbs, cleaning them, and then hanging them from a ceiling to dry.  Herbs need a dark, warm environment free of humidity to dry correctly.  Unfortunately College Station does not have the best environment for this method.  I did experiment with it though and it took about 2 weeks while the weather was still warm to dry rosemary!  This method definitely wasn't time-efficient.  Thus, I researched other methods of drying herbs and determined that using a dehydrator would be best to use for drying.  I really should have listening to the farm manager who suggested this in the first place!  Researching dehydrators was one of the first things I did to begin my project with the herbs (after I had all of that fun 'hang drying').

Hang-dry Method (Attempt)

After some extensive research on dehydrators, I sent the information I gathered along with some suggestions on dehydrators to the farm manager, who made an executive decision in selecting the model.  He then ordered the machine and we waited what seemed an agonizing amount of time for it to arrive at the farm.  Now that the dehydrator is here, I've been putting it to use!  We use the lowest setting on the dehydrator to dry herbs - this is done in order to preserve flavor while keeping the shape and texture of the herbs intact.  The amount of time it takes to dry herbs depends on the specific type of herb, as well as the amount of humidity in the air.  Some herbs can take a few hours to dry, and some take around 24 hours.  Although I quickly learned that with the humidity in College Station, what should take 1 hour to dry takes 2, this many of the times must be doubled.  




The Dehydrator!

Here are some pictures of some of the herbs we've been drying with our new dehydrator! 


Bay Leaves

That's all for now folks!  In my next blog I'll let everyone know a bit more about all of the different herbs we have growing around the farm.  Until then, keep calm and chive on!  









Saturday, November 8, 2014

Don't Forget the Little Things


Howdy y'all!

Or, 'Hello you guys', whichever you prefer.  Today I'd like to share a few fun projects I've been involved with at the farm.  Time has been flying by and I can't believe I'm already in the third month of my internship.  The cool thing about being three months in is that (besides the fact that it's November and it's getting cooler) just enough time has passed for me to see visible progress in some of the projects I've worked on.  I don't know about you, but I get pretty darn excited about before-and-after pictures; I thought I'd share a few with you today.

As my internship progresses I am often encouraged with positive mindsets which are reinforced through my projects and work.  There is something amazing in taking pleasure from the simple things in life - a flower in bloom, a breathe of fresh air, or watching a seedling grow.  This first set of images remind me of this important principle.  Although the acts of clearing out a bed, transplanting seedlings, and waiting for them to grow are simple, after a bit of time when that space has transformed it's hard not to notice.  It's also hard not to be excited and proud that you helped with that transformation.  If you take the time to enjoy the little things in life it may happily surprise you.

In the first bed shown, we planted marigolds and chamomile.  Watching the bed go from nothing to maturing plants that are ready to harvest has been rewarding.  Some of our chamomile flowers are now in bloom and ready to be harvested and then dried and stored to make teas.  Hopefully we will be selling our dried chamomile in upcoming farmers markets.   

Here's another before-and-after picture of a raised bed I helped clear out.  When we started clearing the bed it was overwhelmed with Bermuda grass.  Apparently the Bermuda was quite happy there, and did not want to leave - it's root system gave us a work out!  Now that all of the grass is gone we've planted lemon balm, sweet marjoram, lemon basil, and a few others herbs in the bed.  Once the seedlings are better established I'll be sure to share some pictures with you.

Speaking of herbs, Howdy Farm has it's new food dehydrator and is now in the business of drying herbs to sell in its Tuesday/Thursday farmers markets.  We've mustard up all sorts of herbs and fresh produce and it's kind of a big dill.  If you don't Bay Leaf me, spice things up and stop by next week.  Cumin during shop hours or check out the new Tuesday market on North Gate!

I mint to share this earlier - if you'd like more info on the Howdy Farm farmers markets, visit this link:

http://tamuhowdyfarm.weebly.com/farmers-market.html

I really never thought drying herbs could be so fun (yeah.. I'm a plant nerd/dork)!  Running around the farm and picking what we'll dry next, as well as exploring the exact methods of how each herb should be harvested and dried has been interesting.  At the moment I can't explain, I don't have any thyme!  I promise I'll find some later -  my next update will be all about the herbs!

Until next thyme.

It's Thyme!



Monday, October 20, 2014

October Updates


Howdy all!

As promised, I'm back with some updates from the farm. This is a quick update, but I'll definitely be back with more soon – a lot is happening at Howdy Farm this month!  The weather has been lovely lately and the farmer's markets at the Howdy Farm Sustainability building are going well.

We have had quite a few customers drop by during Tuesday shop hours.  Lately we've been selling okra, an assortment of peppers, eggplant, Bok Choy, cucumbers, melons, and gourds at the market. I've been kept busy helping harvest many of the various veggies we sell at the market.  After harvesting we also wash, clean, and package some of the produce.  Another project I've been involved in as an intern was doing research on dehydrators for the farm.  A dehydrator model has been selected and we will soon be drying our own herbs at the farm! There are all sorts of different herbs planted throughout the farm and now we'll be able to harvest, dry, and store them in glass containers to sell.  Dill seed is one of the first herbs we will have harvested and ready for market.

Peppers
Packaging
 
Fresh Produce

Another recent project I helped work on was installing drip irrigation along the front of the Sustainability Building.  Howdy Farm recently landscaped around their new building and needed a method to keep the landscape irrigated.  In order to install the irrigation lines, we pre-cut the lines into desired lengths and then attached them together with connector joints.  Since part of the lines we placed passed along a walk-way, we also dug a trench across the walk-way and buried the lines to keep them out of the path.  I had no previowemfus experience installing any type of irrigation so this was a great learning experience for me!

Although the area around the Sustainability Building had already been landscaped, quite a few landscape plants were left to use in other areas around the farm.  A few raised beds around the farm were beautified by planting Knock-out Roses, perennial hibiscus, artemisia, purple coneflower, silverado sage, and other assorted perennials. 

As I mentioned previously, we've all been busy at Howdy Farm this month - I'll be back soon to share more of what's growing on! 

Until next time. 


Landscaping

 

Friday, September 26, 2014

Sweet Potato Pie and I Shut My Mouth

Howdy!

Today I would like to share a little story that has to do with my first harvest at Howdy Farm.  This took place a few weeks ago and involved the hot Texas sun, lots of soil, and a tuberous, orange root. 

Growing up, my family had a home garden almost every spring/summer.  Most of the actual work involving the garden was done by my dad but my entire family benefited from it.  We lived on about two acres of land which allowed us to have a good sized garden.  My dad was always working outside in the garden and at the time, I was probably more interested in anything but gardening.

Speaking of gardening.. this may be a bit of a rabbit trail but, aren't those part of what makes life fun?  During a recent horticulture course field trip to a retail nursery in Austin, Texas, I learned an interesting tidbit of information that pertains to gardening.  Although the city of Austin, Texas has a reputation, I haven't been in the city long enough to form a major opinion of my own.  From my visit, it seemed like a chill, pretty, and urban place (and yes, maybe a bit weird).  As an Aggie though, I feel obligated to comment on the complete lack of maroon.  Just thinking about it makes me need some maroon.  

Maroon Bluebonnet


..Okay, back to my rabbit trail.  The reason I was telling you about Austin was that while we were in Austin we visited a fabulous retail nursery where we got an exclusive tour by one of the nursery managers.  During our tour I learned that the retail nursery does not use the term 'gardening' when speaking with their customers.  Apparently the term 'gardening' has become closely associated with time and work, which many people do not want to commit to.  I thought this was interesting.  Even though gardening and farming are normally activities that involve time and work, they also reap bountiful rewards;  Interning with Howdy Farm has given me a perfect example of this lesson.
Now that I'm finally off of that rabbit trail I can get back to the main topic.  If you haven't guessed it yet, it's sweet potatoes!

The first food I helped harvest at Howdy Farm was the delicious (and nutritious!) sweet potato.  In order to harvest the crop, we first had to remove all of the vines that that sweet potato plant produces.  All of the vine we removed was gathered up and added to Howdy Farm's compost bin.  To get the portion of the sweet potato that we eat, which is the vegetative root of the plant, the root must be dug out of the ground.  Once we cut all of the sweet potato vines back to the soil, we began the excavation.  Many of the tubers were large and it definitely took some effort to get them out of the ground.  

After all of the sweet potatoes were gathered in plastic bins, we moved them to an area to cure.  Freshly dug sweet potatoes don't live up to their name - in order to develop proper sugar levels, sweet potatoes must go through a specific curing process that can take over two weeks. 

Here are a few pictures of our work:

After




Before






Sweet Potatoes!

 I'm learning that there is never a dull moment on the farm.  If I could go back to my childhood, I would tell myself how much fun gardening can be.  Although it takes time, hard work, and patience, the reward makes it worthwhile.  Today our society is focused on the fast, easy, instant gratification.  But when I invest my time and effort in something, and then get to watch it grow and flourish, I begin to see the benefits of delayed gratification.  Who knew a sweet potato could lead to such realization!

 Time has passed since this harvest and I have since been involved in quite a few more.  Our sweet potatoes have also been to market.  In my next blog I will be sure to update you on the market as well as other harvests, plantings, and even some irrigation work.  I hope you don't get too excited because I don't think my future blogs can get any sweeter!  Stay tuned and keep growing with me because I have all sorts of fun farm stories in the near future!

Until next time.  












Friday, September 19, 2014

On the Farm - First Market at Howdy Farm's New Sustainabilty Building!


Howdy!  

My name is Sarah Swofford and I am a senior Horticulture major at Texas A&M University.  This fall I am interning at Howdy Farm, a sustainable, student run farm on the West campus of Texas A&M University.  As I spend time on the farm I plan to share my experiences in this blog.  Stay tuned as I share my story at Howdy Farm, grain by grain (metaphorically - I don't think we're growing any grain at the farm right now!).  

I'm excited to be an intern here at Howdy Farm because I have the opportunity to learn more about sustainability, farming, and to simply get outside and get my hands dirty.  As an intern I help with many different tasks and projects happening around the farm - and there's always something going on at Howdy Farm!  I am also helping with the farmer's market held at Howdy Farm's new Sustainability Building on Tuesdays.  I may have a few other special projects going on as well and will definitely keep you updated!  

Now it's time for the fun stuff!.. this past Tuesday, September 16th, I helped out with Howdy Farm's first farmer's market held at their new Sustainability Building.  The market had a great turnout and its visitors were excited to buy the fresh produce we were selling as well as tour the new building.  Some of the market offerings included a variety of peppers, herbs, okra, and black-eyed peas.  As I helped with market I also helped shell black-eyed peas. For those of you who haven't had this experience, shelling peas by hand can be a tedious task.  I was fortunate to be in good company though;  working with other volunteers and interns at Howdy Farm made the work fun.  We all took a seat on the Sustainability Building's front porch and talked while we shelled -  as the saying goes, "many hands made light work."

And that concludes my first Howdy Farm market experience.  Stay tuned for more blogs about my adventures as an intern at Howdy Farm.  My hands are about to get a lot dirtier!  My next blog will be about a recent harvest at the farm.  Here's a hint on what we harvested - it's mentioned in a classic song in which a few of the chorus lyrics are:

Gone, gone with the wind
There ain't nobody looking back again


 That hint was way too easy - better shut my mouth.

Oh, before I forget - I've posted a few pictures from the first market at the new Sustainability Building at the end of this blog if you'd like to check them out.  These pics should be reason enough for you to stop by on a Tuesday and check out what yummy things are growing on the farm!  

If you'd like more info about Howdy Farm, here is a link to their website:
http://tamuhowdyfarm.weebly.com/ 

And, if you would like to check out my intern Bio on the website click here:
http://tamuhowdyfarm.weebly.com/the-interns.html

Until next time - Thanks and gig'em! 


First Market

Black-eyed Peas









Okra

Peppers