Farm Visits: Greenhouses

Once a month I take a day to visit a couple of farms who sell or plan to sell at our Farmers Market. These farm visits help us to ensure that vendors are selling what they grow and growing their products the way they have advertised. More importantly, the visits allow us to connect one-on-one with the farmers we serve, to learn about how they grow, their plans for the future, and the struggles they've encountered along the way.

On Friday, July 12th I visited two farms. The first is Millican Farms in Millican, TX. Tiffany and Steve have been selling at our Sunday market since the market opened at the end of April. Their farm is comprised of one large greenhouse and a few traditional plots.

Rows of tomato plants in the greenhouse. 

The primary cooling system for the greenhouse is essentially a closed loop "water wall". The roots are cooled by a series of underground pipes that pull water from a pond on the property.

Tomatoes and pepper starts for the Fall. 

The skeletal structure of a future greenhouse. In the foreground are overgrown rows of tomatoes.


Check back on Thursday when I'll post the second half of my trip: an aquaponics farm in Hockley.

Check out what's growing at Urban Harvest in our new e-newsletter!

I go through phases with technology. Some days, I find myself praising its functionality and many uses. Other days, it is my worst enemy. Surely, many of you could describe your relationship with technology in a similar manner. Well, this week, Urban Harvest is hoping to improve that relationship a bit and make your lives easier, as we launch our newly formatted newsletter. If you've already received it, we hope you like the new design!


In the past, each Urban Harvest department sent out its own newsletter.  However, in an effort to synthesize and unify our work as a whole, we are moving to one all-embracing newsletter. For those of you who are loyal to a particular area, not to worry: each department will be highlighted with the latest news.


A feature we are particularly proud of will be the ability to hyperlink to pages on our website. For instance, when reading the Community Gardens section of the newsletter, you will be able to click on our hyperlinks and visit the new Community Gardens Resource page. In this way, all the information readers used to get will still be available; it will just be presented in a new format.

Whether you are interested in Classes, Education, Farmer’s Markets or Community Gardens, this new format will address each area. For those who used to subscribe to multiple newsletters, we hope this will help with your inbox management.

As always, Urban Harvest wants to thank you all for accompanying us on the launch of our new website and, now, new newsletter. Subscribe to our newsletter at the bottom of the screen.

- Erin Eriksen, Community Gardens Coordinator 


Summer Squash

Family: Curcurbitacae

Relatives: Cucumber, melon, pumpkin

Summer squash can be found in many colors and varieties, but most common are the green Zucchini and yellow Crookneck. As summer squash thrives in hot and sunny climates, Houston provides an excellent growing ground for squash. And if you’re going to grow it, you should eat it too. Steamed, boiled, pureed, baked, fried, grilled, sautéd and raw...summer squash is great anyway you cook it.

Currently, students participating in the 21st Century Community Learning Center program are learning just exactly how tasty squash can be. This week, students at Bonham and Whittier Elementary School used pizza box solar ovens to make mini squash pizzas. When the students first saw the Crookneck squash, some knew what it was and others looked at it strangely and said, “What’s that yellow thing?”

As Urban Harvest garden educators explained what summer squash is and let the students prepare their individual pizzas, the students began to catch on to this funny looking yellow vegetable. When it was time to eat their creations, their eyes lit up. A series of exclamations could be heard:

“Mmmmmmm. This is good.”

“Whoa! I never knew you could eat this!”

“I like this! Can I have another piece?”

Another generation is learning how to appreciate local and fresh flavors. Better yet, they are bringing what they learn home with them.

The squash family may be one of the most extensive plant families. Each of the four seasons highlights a different squash. In anticipation for the fall, Urban Harvest youth garden educators are planting winter squash (storage squash) tropical Seminole pumpkin seeds. As seeds sprout, the squashes are fruiting well, and our school gardens are experiencing the benefits.

Kid-friendly, Easy
Summer Squash Mini Pizza


4 slices of squash

4 slices of tomato

4 pieces of a green leaf
(for example: kale, swiss chard, basil, arugula, your favorite green leaf. The kids at Bonham really enjoyed kale.)

1 piece of whole wheat bread, quartered

Assemble the vegetables on the bread as you would like. Bake it in the oven on 350०F for 10 minutes, or you can use a solar oven and bake it for 45 minutes.

Of course, you can always eat it raw. For instructions on making a pizza box solar oven, you can refer to this site:

 Sarah Puffers
Urban Harvest ExxonMobil CSJP
Garden Educator


Fruit Matters – Get Kids Involved

If you are a parent, you know what an important part fruit plays in the healthy growth and development of your child. And you recognize the value of encouraging healthy eating habits at an early age. Let's face it,  Fruit Matters. 

Looking for ways to get your kids to eat more fruit? The solution may be right in your backyard. Involving your children in planting and growing fruit is a fun way to spend family time and it encourages them to eat more fruit. Research from a study, in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, found that children who grow up eating fresh-from-the-garden produce also prefer the taste of fruits and vegetables to other foods. In addition, the study found the garden-fed children were more likely to see their parents eating fruits and vegetables. And you may even get them to try types they wouldn't normally eat. Giving your kids hands-on experience of growing, harvesting and eating fresh off the tree fruit, also gives them an appreciation for their food and how it's grown. Planting fruit trees with your kids offers you a unique chance to teach them the importance of healthy foods and nutrition.

One way to get your kids involved is to make an apple pie or peach cobbler out of fresh fruit and let them know that these desserts can be made with fruit from their own tree.

Then introduce your kids to growing fruit trees by bringing them to the Urban Harvest Fruit Tree Sale and letting them pick their own trees. Letting them decide what type of fruit they would like to grow creates a connection. Urban Harvest has done all the leg work to bring you appropriate trees for metro Houston.

Some of the trees available at the Urban Harvest fruit tree sale include oranges, grapefruit, pummelo, tangerines, lemons, limes, limequats, kumquats, satsumas, peaches, nectarines, plums, cherries, pears, apples, pomegranates, persimmons, grapes, muscadines, jujubes, figs, blackberries, blueberries, mulberries, pecans, olives, avocados, mangoes, Jaboticaba, star fruit, dragon fruit, lychee, sugar apple, grumichama and banana.

Urban Harvest holds pre-sale talks that describe all the fruit trees that will be at the sale, as well as how to plant and care for the trees.

Avocado trees for Houston

Years ago, I would plant seeds from avocados that I purchased at grocery stores. Avocado trees would easily sprout from the seeds and begin to grow. If I was lucky and winters were not too cold, I could get the tree to live through winters. No matter how hard I tried, or how old the tree became, it never flowered or fruited.

I learned very early that Hass and other varieties that are sold in groceries would not produce in Houston. And year in and year out, I hear stories of people growing from seed and wondering why the tree didn't produce.

The answer is simple. Most avocado varieties do not like freezes or frosts, and some require pollinators.

And then came the Mexican avocado varieties that are cold hardy and actually produce good tasting fruit. Bill Schneider of Devine Avocados near San Antonio starting raising Mexican avocados and produced a couple of really cold hardy varieties named Wilma and Opal. This was the start of a renaissance of growing avocado trees in metro Houston. Other varieties are also cold hardy such as Poncho and Fantastic.

The trees can grow quite large over time taking up 15' or more in diameter and 25' or more tall. They can be pruned to keep at a manageable height.

There is a little care needed the first year after purchasing one of these beauties. The trunk, which is green the first year outside of cold frame, has to be protected from the summer sun, and the tree has to be protected from winter freezes. After the first year of protection, they will thrive in all temperatures.

To protect from the summer sun the first year, the trunk can be wrapped in burlap or other cloth, or a tent of your own making can protect from the southern and western sun. To protect from freezes, place a 5-gallon bucket of water next to the trunk. When there is going to be a frost or freeze, wrap the tree in a blanket or two with the bucket inside of the blanket. This will keep the temperature around 32 degrees rather than lower.

My Opal avocado tree has produced for two years, but didn't this year, I think because of the exceedingly cold weather, but still looks great and has grown a lot. It is now about 10' tall and 7' wide and ready to put on lots of flowers during the winter and fruit in the spring.

I'm still experimenting on when to pick the fruit, for it matures on the tree, but needs to sit on a kitchen counter top for a few days to ripen.

The trees need to be purchased when they are available which is usually during the winter fruit tree sales, and then planted in the ground in early April. The tree can be planted in a slightly raised bed to insure good drainage. I built up a mound, planted the tree and then mulched heavily with leaves over the soil.

I fertilized the first year in May, and subsequent years in late February and May, with an organic granular fertilizer. I sprinkled about 4 cups under the canopy of the tree, and watered. You definitely need to keep this tree watered during the summer, but make sure the roots don't stay wet all the time.

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