Third Annual Edible Academy Grows Garden Knowledge

The 2018 Edible Academy saw three days of garden education, culinary ideas for the classroom, and tours of various edible gardens throughout Houston. Over 30 area educators will take back to their schools and students fresh ideas on incorporating their school gardens into all learning areas.


On day one, participants experienced hands-on learning about composting, propagation, and planting in Gregory Lincoln’s Cultivated Classroom garden. Day two saw educators harvesting from the garden and preparing easy, seasonal recipes to try back at school. The last day of the Edible Academy, participants visited the Centennial Vegetable Garden (great place for field trips), and 3 gardens in underserved neighborhoods: Peck ES, Blackshear ES, and the Third Ward Multi-Service Center.


Tykisha Murphy, a participant in this year’s Edible Academy said, “I [decided to take this workshop because I] wanted to learn how to engage children effectively... Most children aren’t very connected with their environment. They don’t know where their food comes from. They don’t reallyknow anything about outside life. They know TV and video games, but when you show them where their food comes from, they want to learn how to do it and cook it, and then they want to show it to their family and friends.  And it’s just a cycle that goes crazy.”  Photos by Pilar Hernandez.





Adopt-A-Garden Kicks Off at Key Gardens

This April and May, Urban Harvest kicked off its Adopt-a-Garden Program with six volunteer days across Houston. The Adopt-a-Garden Program connects gardens in underserved areas with community partners to support gardens, build relationships in their neighborhood, and empower local growers and community members to change and improve their food system.


Adopt-A-Garden focuses on six gardens in: Acres Homes (Wesley Elementary), Third Ward (Alabama Garden), Near Northside (Avenue Place Community Garden), Gulfton (Christian Community Service Center), and Sunnyside (The Happy Place Garden & Harry Holmes Community Garden).  


Each garden provides fresh produce for their communities, many of which are located in food deserts: communities that lack access to healthy food. As a city, Houston far exceeds the national average of these food deserts. While an average 7.4% of Americans live in food deserts, an astonishing 20% of Houstonians – more than two-and-a-half times more than the national average – live in these areas.


At the Adopt-a-Garden volunteer days, over 85 volunteers, corporate partners, and community garden members joined forces to plant fruit trees, spread compost, and clean garden beds. These projects provided 36 yards of compost to five gardens (covering and building soil health in over 18,250 ft.2 of garden beds); 2 picnic benches; 26 fruit trees; and a vast and innumerable amount of gardening support in the form of weeding, pruning, and planting. In upcoming volunteer days, participating gardens and partners will engage in a wide variety of projects, including mulching, building shade structures, laying granite in pathways, and refurbishing garden sheds and shared spaces.


Save the date to come out to a garden at our next Adopt-a-Garden volunteer day on September 15! To sign up to volunteer, click here.

Our Classes Bolster Local Food Production

Educator Sherry Cruse talks about seeding during the Edible Academy 

Urban Harvest offers a robust and unique calendar of gardening classes, perfect for gardeners of all levels. Last month, we completed our 22nd annual Growing Organic Vegetables series! This 25-hour class series covers everything you need to know for growing organically in the Houston area. There is nothing quite like it. Mark, a class participant, shared, “The class has been a game-changer in my back yard…and will, forever, be the most impactful thing I’ve done to positively impact my harvests season after season…Many many thanks to Dr. Randall and Gary for their commitments to share their knowledge, wisdom and experiences.”


From classes like Basic Organic Vegetable Gardening to Edible Landscaping to our one-of-a-kind series like Fruit Tree Pruning, Designing Through Permaculture, and Growing Organic Vegetables, our classes are adapted to meet the needs of the Houston area gardener. Our classes expose Houstonians to our particular seasons, soil, and conditions, train people to work with our deluge and drought weather, and inspire everyone to give gardening a try. While more than two-thirds of participants indicate that they did not have prior experience with the class’ topics, 96% say that they feel confident that they can – and will – use the information they learned in upcoming months.


This summer, explore the classes we offer: in June, our Starting a Community or School Garden Workshop takes participants through the process of building community, setting goals, and exploring funding options, as well as introducing participants to the nuts and bolts of creating the garden and ensuring its sustainability. In July, our Fall Vegetable Gardening class will cover when and where to plant, soil preparation, seed germination and transplanting a long list of vegetables. For more classes, check out our class calendar.

How An Internship Lead To a School Garden

by Sarah Montero


Before starting my internship with Urban Harvest I had no insight what so ever as to how to start a garden and the impacts of having one. I had the mediocre understanding of gardening: getting soil, putting a seed, and watering the plant. However, my time at Urban Harvest has educated me on organic gardening and sustainability. From spending time researching seed companies as potential donors, I learned that there is different types of seeds: heirloom, hybrid, and open-pollinated seeds. A heirloom seed is time-tested and has history of being passed down within a family or community. A hybrid seed is created through a controlled method of pollination, where the pollen of one species is transferred by human intervention to fertilize the flowers of another species. Finally, an open-pollinated seeds are pollinated by insects, birds, wind, or other natural mechanisms. 


Besides spending time in the office, I was 

able to get hands on experience at one of their gardening sites, at Gregory Lincoln Education Center. It was there that I learned useful gardening tips, such as using orange oil to keep fire ants away and that coffee can be used for compost because of the Nitrogen it adds into the pile. I had such a great time gardening, it inspired me to commence a school garden on my school campus, East Early College High School. This school year I will be working with my Biology teacher, Ms. Diaz, to initiate a gardening and yoga club. Students at East Early have physically and verbally demonstrated their stress due to the rigorous courses, and we thought this would be a perfect way for students to relax.


Having taken a class on how to start a garden, I believe I know enough to help set the foundation for the club. To build a school garden one of the most critical things to do is to run effective meetings, assign plots, create schedules, and keep recruiting people. Knowing how humble and hard-working my peers are, I have no doubt that we will not struggle in recruitment. 


Planning the Early Fall Vegetable Garden

Bob Randall 

We vegetable gardeners face many months yet of blistering hot weather. With the passing of the solstice June 21, summer has officially just begun. And it won’t be below AC thresholds in the middle of the day until late October. Long days and the predominant south easterlies off the Gulf, are heating up the sea, the soil, our roadways and buildings. This heat re-radiates back into our air at night. So the hottest weather of the year will almost certainly be in late July or August. 

Nevertheless if we are gardeners, we also need to start thinking about the fall. In the north, gardeners spend the winter mulling and planning. Here, we need to use the summer to think, plan, research, study, and even dream. As well, the shortening days gradually increase the number of hours without sun, so there is less heat absorbed to re-radiate. Sometime in late August, average hourly temperatures for 24 hours will begin to drop both because there are more hours of night and because there is less sun to build up heat. The result is a rapidly declining soil temperature, and renewed growth of many vegetables that struggle or die in nineties heat. 

If you have kept your peppers alive through the heat, you will be rewarded with new flushes of flowers that by November will provide buckets of tasty fruit. Squashes too that have made it to September will set large numbers of fruits both because they like warm rather than hot temperatures, and because the vine borers stop feeding. Those of you who get small tomato plants established in July or big ones in August will have great crops in November. Pole snap beans too should be planted In July. 

By August, warmth-loving quick-growing veggies can go in the ground. Plant bush snap bean seeds, Edamame edible soy seeds, and summer squash seeds. In early August, you can even get a new crop of sweet potatoes if you choose a 90-day variety like Beauregard. As well, there are many kinds of Cabbage family relatives (Brassicas) suitable for August seed planting or September transplanting. I mainly grow heirloom cabbages like Early Jersey Wakefield or some of the beautiful blue – purple Savoy varieties. We can also grow early and later broccolis, and both the gorgeous violet cauliflowers and the ordinary white ones. Brussels spouts are also possible, especially north of FM1960, but July planting from seed is best. Collards and kales (both European and Siberian) by contrast are very easy, and by far the most nutritious of any vegetable. I especially like the heirloom Green Glaze. All of these, however, need very good soil fertility. Use a balanced organic fertilizer about 1⁄2 cup per square foot or more, and re-fertilize especially if you see yellow or reddish leaves. 

As with many fall vegetables, the difficult choice is between planting the seeds where they will grow and using transplants. If you plant the seeds, you will need to water daily for a while, and protect them from snails and their kin. I use shears to cut the bottoms off gallon nursery pots and circle the area where three seeds or so are planted. This keeps off birds and most snails, and tells me where to water in the searing heat. Later I cut off all but the best one. 

If you grow transplants, you can keep them away from pests easily, but will need to transplant them at some point. It is not at all easy to move plants in September, so the care if anything will increase at that point. If you will be gone in late August, your only option is to try to buy quality transplants in September. Although you will have less variety choice, this option works especially if you find healthy green plants without wiry stems in three-inch wide pots. 

Whether you buy or grow transplants, be careful to do the following:
1. Keep small plastic pots out of direct sun, since they heat up.
2. Plant late in the day or on a rare rainy day.
3. Construct light shade over newly planted plants and keep there until the plants are growing well. 

There are many other Brassicas you can direct seed in September or October. Salad greens like arugula and mizuna can be seed started anytime, but they will taste much better in the fall than in the summer. Kohlrabi is a wonderful crunchy veggie. You eat the peeled bulbous stem, and use it like cucumber in a salad. Plant them in September or October. Daikon radishes can be used this way too, but they are much better in soups. 

Finally, consider carrots for your early September garden. Get a lot of fresh seed and broadcast them thinly on top of loose soil. Pat firmly and then water every day at least until the plants are an inch or more. Thin to one-inch spacings and keep weeded.

Although planting the fall garden is because of the heat and often the mosquitoes and weeds, one of the least enjoyable tasks I do in the garden every year, its reward in September to May is incalculable. We have months on end of delicious, easy to care for, healthful produce.

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