alliums ameraucana Anthony Bourdain aphids Appleseed Permaculture aquaponics arthritis artichokes Asian Vegetables aussie basil baby chicks baby turnips bearss lime bee keeping beet greens beneficial insects benner tree farm Biochar Bitter Melon blight blooming hill farm boothby blonde cucumber brix broccoli brussels sprouts cabbage cabbage hill farm camp hill farm cancer caraflex celeriac chicken coop chickens children chinese tamale chives cilantro cilantro root coconut cold frames collard greens Compost coriander corn crop rotation cruciferous crucifers cucumber Dan Barber dan kittredge Dave Llewellyn detox dirty dozen dragon fruit Dutch white clover dwarf citrus eggplant Elderberries factory farms farm to table farmer's market farmers markets Fava beans ffarm to table fish oil flea beetle flowers food allergies food combining food miles founding farmers four wind growers Fred Kirschenmann french bulldog G6pd deficiency garlic garlic festival garlic scapes geese Glynwood grass-fed beef Great Outdoors Listening Tour green tomatoes greenhouse growing indoors Hanalei Hemlock Hill Farm heritage turkey heritage USA hudson valley farms hurricane Irene hyssop iced tea infections influenza Insect control isothiocyanates joan gussow jolie lampkin joong kaffir lime kale Kauai kohlrabi korean licorice mint Ladybugs late blight leeks lettuces local food locust tree maine avenue fish market menhaden meyer lemon mycelia mycorrhizal natural fertilizers nectary nightshades No Reservations Nurse cropping nutrient density okra organic Baby food organic christmas tree Organic Pest Control Parsley Paul tappenden peas Permaculture pesticides pesto petite watermelon plant sap pH plymouth barred rock pole beans potatoes preserving food purple basil qunice Radish Greens rainbeau ridge farm raised beds rampicante raw food real food campaign red hook Rockland Farm Alliance ronnybrook farm row covers salt-preserved duck eggs sambucus nigra seed saving seedlings Sheet mulching small space soil analysis soil blocks soil conductivity sorrel Squash Vine Borer star fruit sugar snap peas sustainability sustainable fishing Swiss Chard tabbouleh TEDx Manhattan terracing three sisters tomato sauce tomatoes trellis trovita orange turkana farms Tuttle Farm urban zen volt white clover winter harvest Winter Squash Young Farmers Conference
Indispensable Books and Resources
  • Edible Forest Gardens (2 volume set)
    Edible Forest Gardens (2 volume set)
    by Dave Jacke, Eric Toensmeier
  • The Winter Harvest Handbook: Year Round Vegetable Production Using Deep Organic Techniques and Unheated Greenhouses
    The Winter Harvest Handbook: Year Round Vegetable Production Using Deep Organic Techniques and Unheated Greenhouses
    by Eliot Coleman
  • The Biological Farmer: A Complete Guide to the Sustainable & Profitable Biological System of Farming
    The Biological Farmer: A Complete Guide to the Sustainable & Profitable Biological System of Farming
    by Gary F. Zimmer
  • The Garden Primer: Second Edition
    The Garden Primer: Second Edition
    by Barbara Damrosch
  • 1500 Live LadyBugs - A GOOD BUG! - Lady Bug
    1500 Live LadyBugs - A GOOD BUG! - Lady Bug
    Organic Insect Control
  • Acres U.S.A.
    Acres U.S.A.
    Acres U.S.A.

    The best farming and growing magazine money can buy!

  • Seed Starter Soil Block Maker Makes 4 Medium Blocks
    Seed Starter Soil Block Maker Makes 4 Medium Blocks

    2" Soil Blocker

  • Mini Soil Blocker
    Mini Soil Blocker
  • New York City Farmer & Feast: Harvesting Local Bounty
    New York City Farmer & Feast: Harvesting Local Bounty
    by Emily Brooks
  • What Doctors Eat: Tips, Recipes, and the Ultimate Eating Plan for Lasting Weight Loss and Perfect Health
    What Doctors Eat: Tips, Recipes, and the Ultimate Eating Plan for Lasting Weight Loss and Perfect Health
    by Tasneem Bhatia, Editors of Prevention







Short journal entries detailing the nuts and bolts of our ventures in growing food at our micro-farm


Growing Food to Feed Your Baby

Everything is really taking off here at Hook Mountain Growers and the new employee is beginning to demand a taste of the farm. Our new farmer Gabriel will soon be adding solid foods to his diet and we have begun to really focus on what we can grow to satisfy his needs both nutritionally and with attention to his newly developing senses.  Though just shy of 5 months, the little guy has been heavily eyeing us whenever he sees us eat and this is all good timing because in the next month, he will be facing a bounty of food choices that we've carefully planned and planted in our farm.  One thing is for certain, I am not going to start with boring rice cereal for this one. 

He's already been introduced in utero to a wide variety of food and his breast milk has had a rotating flavor menu of various spices and eclectic foods.  He's been exposed to harvesting, meal preparations and delicious aromas wafting in the kitchen.  We hope this is all preparing him to understand the importance of food in our lives. 

In his book, Feeding Baby Green, Dr Alan Greene encourages starting solids with vegetables because they are the toughest flavors to learn to enjoy. Grains and fruits, the most commonly introduced foods, take a back seat because they can be bland or too sweet.  The idea is if you start with sugary flavors, the baby will seek out that sugary taste.  If you give bland food like rice cereal, then addition of flavors and spices later on may be too foreign and not enjoyable.

So what do we have that's on the menu for Gabriel in 2012?



Purple, Yellow and Orange Carrots

Baby Japanese Turnips

Sugar Snap Peas and English Peas

Blue, red and white potatoes

Swiss Chard

Yellow Beets

Kale, Collards and Cabbage

Butternut and Rampicante Squash

Angled Luffa Gourd

Bush Beans, Long Beans, Fava Beans


Apples, pears and peaches

Blackberries, raspberries, and currants



I want to highlight HERBS because I believe baby food shouldn't be bland.  What better way to start introducing flavors than adding them either to the broth the vegetable will be steamed in, or directly pureed with the vegetable.

We're going to puree the Japanese baby turnips with tarragon and the Sugar snap peas as well for the baby, but for us...


RECIPE: Baby Turnips with Sugar Snap Peas

Serves 2 as an appetizer

1 cup sugar snap peas
1 bunch baby turnips, cut in half or quarters
1 Tbs butter or Earth Balance if dairy free
2 Tbs bread crumbs
2 Tbs chives
2 Tbs lemon zest
Siracha hot sauce

Blanch the the turnips for 3 minutes and the sugar snap peas for 2 minutes.  Heat the butter in a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat and add the turnips and peas and cook for 2 minutes.  Then add bread crumbs, chives, siracha and salt.  Cook for an additional minute.  Remove heat and add lemon zest and serve.



Reclaiming Your Own Locust Trees for Use

The Locust tree has become a common tree weed that nobody wants. It grows really tall. It often has no other branches other than the ones 60 feet up at nearly the top. It drops debris everywhere. It propagates like no other tree. And oh yeah, it is the tree most likely to fall directly on your house right from the base as the entire flat root system rips up from the ground and tips the entire tree over with no break in the actual trunk. I have seen it. It sucks.

When Hook Mountain Growers expanded the growing area it was necessary to remove 4 Locust trees from our property. The "green" part of me felt bad. Not that bad though as I realized I still had about 4 dozen other Locust on the property to prevent extinction of the species.

For the task I consulted with John Wickes arborists. They have been doing this type of work for 3 generations and are the best at it. Before having the trees removed and all proper permits lined up, I did some research on the Locust tree to see what we could do with it. At the time, I figured even firewood seemed like a good idea. I was pretty surprised at what I found.

Locust, especially black Locust, is some of the most structurally sound wood available and has been found to last 80 years. There are stories of farmers who use the stakes in their fields for 30 years and when they wear down they turn the stakes over and use the other side.

The reason for the natural rot resistance of Locust is due to the presence of tyloses in the wood which makes the wood very water tight. There are also natural extracts present which impart an antifungal property to the logs.

So the first step in utilizing the wood on your property would be to discuss with your tree removal team what size pieces you need and if you want them to save the chip for you.
I decided on 6 foot pieces as well as 3 inch thick pieces to use for stepping areas in beds. We also had them save us about 15 yards of mulch after the remaining tree pieces were passed through the chipper.

Here is what you can do with you locust wood:

Large Bed Borders

Steps for stairs down a slope:

Wood Chips for pathway:

Raised bed border:

and if you want to sand and stain the wood:

Hope that inspires some ideas for all us Locust haters!


Biochar 101

The actual process of biochar making takes about 20 minutesWhat does a farm intern do over the winter months to keep herself busy until the beginning of spring fun begins? Other than dream of crop rotation designs and new vegetables to try I also had the opportunity to attend an all day conference about biochar! Biochar is a very old concept that is only recently getting new attention for its carbon sequestering capabilities. The biochar story begins in Brazil when anthropologists discovered what they termed as “terra preta” or dark earth. When they tested the soil they found that it had very high levels of charcoal that had been buried thousands of years earlier. The impact of the charcoal made the soil more efficient in retaining water and nutrients and it can still be seen in the soil today.
    One major question I had going into this conference was what is the difference between charcoal and biochar? Hugh McLaughlin, a scientist at Alterna Biocarbon, answered that question for me. It was explained that charcoal is fuel that is used to cook and is made at around 300 degrees Celsius. Biochar on the other hand is a soil amendment and is made at 600 degrees Celsius. The key difference is the amount of mobile vs. resident matter. When you heat the biomass (woodchips, organic waste, manure, crop residues), to such a high temperature it becomes extremely stable and also creates a very porous structure. Good biochar should have high cation exchange capacity and absorption capacity – these are what make the biochar so beneficial to the soil. The main benefits of biochar are (1) improved moisture dynamic, (2) improved nutrient retention (N, P, K for example), (3) improved microbe survival during drought, and (4) improved plant – microbe synergisms. So, the idea is that biochar will keep carbon in the soil, rather than in the atmosphere, whilst simultaneously leading to improved soil health and larger crop yields.

Lighting the feedstock using rubbing alcohol and woodchips
    The process of making biochar involves collecting your biomass (referred to as feedstock) and lighting it on fire in a sealed container with very low oxygen conditions. Ideally the feedstock you use is coming from your farm or very near by, or else it kind of defeats the whole carbon saving notion. There are many different devices to make biochar – ranging from homemade “TLUD” (Top Lit Up Draft) Ovens, to much larger scale kilns and retorts. Click HERE for instructions on building yur own TLUD.  They did a biochar making demonstration at the conference using homemade TLUDs. There are also more and more companies that are selling biochar on the web. The most reputable companies mentioned at the conference (in which the biochar has been tested and approved) were Soil Reef, Encendia and Colorado Biochar. It was also emphasized that testing your biochar is really important before using it. Now that there is a market for it, there are companies using left over wood scraps from construction sites as their feedstock. Bad biochar can actually do soil more harm than good – so it is important to know the contents of your char.
    Once you have your biochar – you need to charge it. There are no nutrients inherent to the biochar, so the most common way to charge biochar is to combine the char with compost in a 50:50 ratio. You can add the char to the compost in the early stages of the compost and let it go through the process of composting. You can also mix it with finished compost and let it sit for about 2 weeks – this process is referred to as “weathering the char”. Compost is great but the benefits only last so long, the idea with biochar is that it absorbs the nutrients and makes them available to the plants for a much longer period of time. When you are ready to apply it to the soil, you can just add it by hand and mix it with the topsoil. Application rates range from between 1-10 tons per acre depending on your soil needs.    

    There is still a lot of research to be done in this field to determine the lasting benefits of biochar. But there are certainly a lot of exciting prospects and research projects being done. One farmer at the conference brought his own biochar to give out to fellow farmers as long as they promised to report back their experience with the char. The community of biochar users is still relatively small and there remains a need for more information on the use of biochar on small and large scales. I am happy to report that we have a bag of this precious biochar to experiment with this season at the farm. We will continue to report on our findings and hopefully will have some record yields!  

 Voila! Biochar created!



Organic Yuletide: The No Pesticide Tree

In maintaining a pesticide-free body, a logical extension would be a chemical-free abode.  While it has become quite easy to do that with cleaning products, fabrics and other materials, I have found it extremely difficult to find an organically grown Christmas tree each season.  Even amidst the Hudson Valley where organic or certified naturally grown food from the small farm has become easier to find, Christmas trees grown without pesticides are a rare find.  Most people don't realize that keeping a tree or other holiday greenery in the home can be potentially hazardous.  Holiday greenery is commonly sprayed with over 25 different pesticides known to be dangerous to either the environment or human health. 

This year's web search was successful.  In Dutchess County in the town of Red Hook, New York we found Benner Tree Farm owned by Bernadette Knopfli which she maintains as a side business with the help of her 3 children and 1 year old blue Doberman Max.  Though not organically certified, no pesticides whatsoever are used in killing weeds or in preventing various diseases or predators (deer and insect) from attacking the trees.  Her six acre property grows Colorado blue spruce, White fir, Douglas fir and White spruce trees of different sizes and shapes.  You pick the tree and cut it down yourself ensuring that you have the freshest, longest lasting tree. Bernadette tells us that she plants anywhere from 500-1000 saplings each spring. 

We chose a 7 foot Colorado blue spruce which took six years to grow.  This year's rains were actually beneficial to the growth of these trees even though neighboring food farms suffered, spruce trees instead suffer from droughts.  


Much of the work during the year is cutting the grass around the trees constantly and Bernadette is entertaining the idea of keep a resident goat to do the work while fertilizing the trees but the big question is, do goats eat the trees?

Our chosen Colorado Blue Spruce Charlie cut himself finds a home at Hook Mountain Growers Wherever you live, we hope you do a little investigating on your own and support any number of farms that may grow either organically or without the use of pesticides.  Not only will it benefit you and your family's health, but a local organic tree is beneficial to the environment and the local economy.


Visit Benner Tree Farm and enjoy some hot apple cider from Mignorelli Farm with Bernadette and Max at 179 Benner Road, Red Hook, NY 12571.

Phone: 845-835-8220. Alternate Phone: 914-466-5722. Open: Saturday and Sundays from 9am to 5pm



What Survives After a Freak Snow Storm in October? 

The lamenting continues about how this season was one of the worst growing seasons in Northeast coast memory.  Yes, the incessant flooding rains, then hurricane Irene in September and last weekend, we had 10-12" of snow before Halloween.  What's next?  Doesn't quite matter since the damage is done.  We've typically harvested until the end of November.  Thanks to our buddies at Nazunya Designs we were able to have our high tunnel up and operational 16 hours before the storm hit. The high tunnel protects our 4 main beds that will enable us to grow our lettuces, mustard greens and kale though the fall and early winter. However,  looking outside of that tunnel, not a lot has survived...except: our gorgeous leeks, parsley, cilantro, fennel and some bok choy that happened to be under a fabric cover and rebounded once the snow melted.  Other things that are salvagable are some root veggies.  Though the green tops of our turnips, beets and celeriac have been hit, the roots are stable enough to harvest.  My saddest loss was the rainbow swiss chard.  A true trooper of a vegetable that has fed us and our neighbors from late spring to just before the snow storm.  Thankfully, I blanched and froze 15 lbs of it this summer.



A few years ago we left some leeks outside to overwinter without mulching or protection and surprisingly once the ground thawed, we were able to enjoy them well into mid spring.  Anytime storage can happen without jars and outside of the freezer is a nice plus.  Less work.  Once a staple vegetable in Europe, leeks are enjoying a "comeback" in the culinary world.  They can be used in place of onions although they are more pungent.  As part of the allium family (garlic, onions, chives, scallions), leeks have not been as rigorously studied as garlic in the medical studies.  However, because of the similarity of compounds, one can extrapolate the health benefits found in its relatives nutritional profile.  Leeks are high in manganese, folic acid, vitamins C and B6.  This year in a meta-analysis published in the journal Gastroenterolgy, it was found that large consumption of allium vegetables reduced the risk for gastric cancer.  To reduce the risk, one would need to consume 20 grams per day or the equivalent of a head of garlic.  That's really not much at all.  That study looked at prevention of disease but there are many non-clinical studies that support the organosulfur constituents in garlic have activity against certain cancerous cells.  That means treatment not just prevention.



When I was a cooking novice, I used to follow recipe instructions like a chemistry textbook.  I would literally use just the white parts of the leeks and discard the rest.  Now I know better!

1. Use leeks from the white to the pale green portion.  The dark green tops can be used to flavor stocks but tend to be more cabbage-like rather than onion-like in flavor.

2. Buy leeks with some of their tops on, if you can.  The tops will indicate how fresh your leeks are.

3. Don't stress about washing leeks.  The way they are grown cause grit and dirt to accumulate between some of the leaf layers.  Instead of some suggestions that tell you to soak the vegetable in water to loose the dirt, I just chop up what I need, place it in a colander and rinse.

 Just chop and rinse


RECIPE: Creamy Leek Soup

This soup is best made 1-3 days ahead so that the flavors can develop.  It can be also frozen (just don't add the cream) and reheated on a lazy winter's night.  Serve with some crusty bread and a head of roasted garlic to increase your allium intake!

  • Leeks 3 pounds, trimmed and chopped, using white and pale green parts only
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 large carrot, chopped
  • 1 small celeriac root plus tops OR 2 celery ribs
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
  • 1 small boiling potato (6 ounces)
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 3 cups chicken stock or vegetable stock
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour**
  • 1/2 cup creme fraiche

To make gluten free, omit the instructions for roux (butter and flour) and add an additional large potato instead.

The beautiful thing when you grow food is to realize how much of what you've grown is going into the pot of food you're cooking. Either from the ground or from storage everything in this colander including the yellow carrots, celeriac and celeriac tops, to the leeks are all grown here. The rest of the recipe we provided the potatoes, parsley and even a fresh bay leaf! Rewards indeed.


Wash sliced leeks in a large bowl of cold water, agitating them, then lift out and drain well in a colander.

Cook leeks, onion, carrot, celery, salt, and pepper in 4 tablespoons butter in a 5- to 6-quart heavy pot over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 8 minutes. Peel potato and cut into 1/2-inch cubes, then add to onion mixture along with wine, stock, water, and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, until vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes.

Stir in parsley and simmer soup, uncovered, 5 minutes. Discard bay leaf and keep soup at a bare simmer.

Melt remaining 4 tablespoons butter in a 1-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat, then add flour and cook roux, whisking, until golden, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and add 2 cups simmering stock (from soup), whisking vigorously (mixture will be thick), then whisk mixture into remaining soup and return to a simmer, whisking.

If you have time, let the soup cool then blend it depending on the consistency you like.  I find a immersion hand blender works beautifully without all the mess.  Reheat soup, then season with salt and pepper.

Serve soup topped with a large dollop of cream fraiche.

Adapted from Gourmet Magazine May 2007