The 2017 growing season is off to a busy start at the Big Tex Urban Farms.
In early March, we moved the farm from its winter home on the Midway back to its original location next to the State Fair administration building. Our farm grew from an initial 100 boxes to 170, and we plan to expand it into 500 by the end of spring! In addition to the new boxes, we are installing a hydroponic tank in my greenhouse. The tank allows us to grow healthy greens around the year, and it will be an exhibit during the Fair as well. We are excited that the farm move is complete and are looking forward to our upcoming projects, which is why we feel like this is the perfect time to update you about our activities.
Before we planted anything this year, we emptied all 100 of the original planter boxes over the winter and ripped out the liners that sit at the bottom of each box. We heavily amended the soil mixture with compost to increase drainage and add fertility. The old liners were replaced with a more porous material. When we added the 70 new boxes, they too were given the same new liner and new soil mix. We saw good results last season by improving the box drainage and soil health, but we believe we can achieve even better and more consistent results this season.
After we finished our prep work, it was time to plant. The first things planted in early January were tulip bulbs. We experimented with tulips to see if they could grow well in our system and conditions – boy, did they thrive! They wasted no time in starting to grow, and since mid-February, we have been graced with wave after wave of stunning colors. We saw yellow, red, pink, salmon and several multi-colored flowers as well. Some of the cut flowers were given to various community groups with messaging about the farm, and others were used to decorate our office for meetings. We are even considering growing them in the future as a fundraiser. After the tulips finally finish blooming, they will join the compost pile and green beans will be planted in their place.
Next, we planted onions and leeks. In mid-January, we planted approximately 3,300 onions over two days! Note that we planted small onion plants called “slips.” Slips are what you want to plant in the winter. If you want to grow onions from seed, that needs to be done in October. I spent many days worrying about my onions, the strong winds out here are really tough on the baby onions. However, they quickly started rooting in and are now looking great! For more about the onion planting adventure, check out this link:
We planted potatoes in the first week of February. We started with Texas-grown, certified, seed potatoes.
The largest of the seed potatoes were cut into quarters, the medium-size potatoes were cut into thirds, and the smallest spuds were left uncut. We then spread them out on trays inside a storage room for one week to allow the cut surfaces of the potatoes to callus. Note that if potatoes are planted before they heal over, moisture can penetrate the seed pieces and cause them to rot. About two weeks after being planted, our potatoes started popping their heads out of the soil, and the plants are now flourishing.
We then planted radishes from seed, and they are just about ready to harvest. One of the quickest plants to mature in the spring, radishes are a rocket ride in the garden! They go from seed to harvest in about five weeks! We also added table grapes growing in boxes equipped with mobile trellises. In addition to everything we are growing outdoors, we have tomato plants growing inside the Errol Mckoy Greenhouse on the Midway. Growing indoors keeps the birds from pecking the tomatoes and keeps the plants out of the stressful elements. This proved to be a good system last year, and we look forward to expanding our indoor growing as well.
This season, we will plant multiple varieties of native and adapted plants for attracting pollinators. We will intersperse rows of varying plants throughout the farm so that as the pollinating insects visit the flowers, they will hopefully visit the flowers of the veggies too. We hope the flowering plants will help keep our bee and pollinating insect population healthy.
Last season, we donated most of our produce to the Diabetes Health and Wellness Institute at the Juanita J. Craft Recreational Center. Our veggies helped support their Friday farmers markets, which are a funding source of the organization. We also donated to other local organizations. This year, with the addition of new planter boxes and the hydroponic tank, we hope to significantly increase our output and find new groups to support with our fresh produce.
Fresh veggies aren’t all that the Big Tex Urban Farms has to offer. We plan to use the farm as an educational opportunity for people in the area. The farm is already used as an outdoor classroom for children who attend the State Fair summer camp. Educational tours are also given to groups who make prior arrangements. In 2017, we are strengthening ties with universities who have expressed an interest in our project and broadening our educational scope as a whole.
We are super excited about all of our expansions. With this growth, we can make an impact on the community in a bigger way. I’ll be keeping you up to speed on what we’re up to out here and how things are growing. Hopefully, we can all learn a little something in this 2017 season. Until next time, happy gardening!