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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

Entries in Asian Vegetables (3)


Weekly Musings: Cilantro/Coriander Root

Cilantro, also known as coriander or Chinese parsley, is a uniquely pungent herb used in many Latin and Asian dishes. Though most people use the leaves, every part of the plant - leaf, stem and root - can be eaten. Medicinally, it is used for a variety of gastrointestinal dysfunctions: indigestion, nausea, diarrhea, lack of appetite and as an antiflatulent. It is also used as a chelating agent to remove mercury in the body. It's commonly seen in many natural detoxification protocols but few clinical studies are available to support this use. Coriander has been found to have antibacterial, antifungal, and antiparasitic properties in laboratory and animal studies and has been used to prevent food poisoning.  A study from Berkeley California found that the fresh leaves possessed bacteriacidal activity against Salmonella.  No wonder it's a common addition to cuisines of many third world countries. These are all important considerations given last year’s salmonella outbreak leading the the temporary unavailability of tomatoes and jalapenos. In addition, it is a rich source of vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and iron. Use this this herb liberally!

A lot of people have difficulty growing cilantro. The summer heat often leads to bolting and the ideal growing conditions are sunny but cool days. Finding an area that gets early morning or late afternoon sun, but shaded during the hottest part of the day, may help. You can also as try seeding more closely together so that the leaves provide some shade to keep the soil cooler. If, in the end, you only get bolted cilantro, there are various applications for its use.

The lacy flowers attract beneficial insects to the garden. This is an especially important consideration when growing food organically. We use a variety of different “beneficials” flowers to do what pesticides do - get rid of damaging insects. Cilantro attracts hoverflies which prey on aphids and mealybugs. If you leave the flower to seed, the seed can be used as a culinary spice. The flowers are also beautiful in flower arrangements.

Most people discard the stems and roots of the plant.  Don't throw it away!  Commonly in Thai cooking, the roots are used in soups and curry pastes. What I do is clean and dry the roots and freeze them. Over time, I’ve amassed a nice amount of coriander root to use in my cooking throughout the year. No need to defrost the roots when you need them, they can be chopped and pounded while still frozen.




Peppercorn-Coriander Root Flavor Paste

Use this as a marinade for fish, chicken or pork. I’ve used this with grilled chicken.  Let the marinade sit for 3 hours.

2 tsp black peppercorns
5-6 large garlic cloves, coarsely chopped (about 2 Tbs)
3 Tbs coarsely chopped coriander roots
Pinch of salt
1 tsp Thai fish sauce

Place peppercorns and garlic in a mortar and pound to make a paste. Add coriander roots and salt and continue pounding to make a paste. You can use a small blender or food grinder instead. Stir in fish sauce. Makes 2-3 tablespoons of paste. Can be stored in a well-sealed jar for up to 4 days.

Adapted from the book Hot Sour Salty Sweet by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid


Farmer Pam, MD


Bitter Melon, Bitter Medicine

Some of the choices we made in the selection of vegetables and fruits to grow not only reflected what we wanted to eat on a regular basis but also how accessible is the food itself. When I decide to plan a meal and  I open an ethnic cookbook, I’m often limited by the availability of the ingredients. I’m not about to travel an hour plus to find Chinese Bitter Melon, for example, so I decided to grow it along with other esoteric produce. So what can one do with Chinese Bitter Melon?


Medicinal Uses of Bitter Melon (Momordica charantia)

First of all, this warty looking oblong melon or gourd, like it’s name implies, is quite bitter especially when eaten raw (not recommended). It is high in Vitamin C and folic acid and used in a range of different cultures known as “fu gwa” in China, “karela” in India and “nigauri” in Japan. It’s typically prepared in soups and stir-fries. Like many other bitter vegetables, bitter melon is helpful for digestion. Europeans have traditionally used “Swedish Bitters,” a mixture of bitter herbs including angelica root, aloe, myrrh, rhubarb root, camphor and saffron, for a variety of digestive ills. Its mechanism of action is thought to be through the release of digestive “juices” including saliva, bile, gastric acid and pancreatic enzymes. Angostura Bitters, made primarily from Gentian root, is used in various alcoholic beverages in addition to aiding in digestion as well.

Of all the flavors discernable by the human tongue: salt, sugar, sour, bitter and the more recently recognized 5th taste “umami,” the western palette favors bitter flavors the least. Some examples are endive, mustard greens, broccoli rabe, and brussels sprouts. The interesting association that bitterness=medicine=good for you may hold true here, at least in the case of the family of cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, kale, brussels sprouts, mustard greens and broccoli rabe). They tend to become more bitter as they mature or when cooked and recent research is continuing to amass significant evidence showing the phytochemicals present in this family of vegetables is a crucial element in cancer prevention and may even be helpful to those with existing cancers.

There are other benefits of bitter foods aside from digestion and cancer prevention (though at this point I’m hoping you’ll be more inclined to add these into your food repertoire after hearing the health benefits), which brings me back to Chinese bitter melon. Increasing data points to this cucurbit’s ability to help with sugar metabolism. You might see it as one of the principle agents in supplements and neutraceuticals targeted to diabetes, metabolic syndrome, or glucose intolerance. Studies are small and not very vigorous so far but what evidence is currently available seems to suggest a glucose lowering benefit from consuming these fruits or their extracts. A 7 week study demonstrated significant lowering of the HbA1c (an average indicator of a person’s sugar level). You will also undoubtedly see Bitter Melon in weight loss supplements but there is no current evidence to suggest that, only a theoretical one. In addition, it seems that bitter melon can also have a cholesterol-lowering effect due to the flavonoid content and will bound to be, if not already, the next herbal addition to cholesterol lowering supplements.

From a non western medicinal viewpoint, I also want to add that bitter melon is used in traditional Chinese medicine for dispelling excess “heat.” In Ayurvedic medicine, Bitter Melon or “karela” as it’s known, can affect the Doshas (the three basic physiological principles that maintain balance in the body) specifically calming Pitta and Kapha doshas.

It is not advisable to consume this during pregnancy as recommended from traditional cultures.

How to Grow

My seed was saved from an aunt but seeds can be found online relatively easily. I’d recommend Kitazawa Seed Co. I started my seed indoors under a heat mat 2 weeks before the final frost date but these can be easily seeded directly provided the soil temperature is warm enough. I’d recommend starting indoors for those with a shorter growing season. They enjoy heat and sun. Remember, they are a sub-tropical fruit. They also need a trellis or similar type of support system as this is a vining plant. Harvest younger fruits for best taste.


Pork Filled Chinese Bitter Melon with Black Beans

1 tsp chopped garlic
1 tsp sesame oil
1/2-1 Tbs corn starch
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 cup water
Bitter Melon 1/2 lb
Ground Pork 6 ounces
1 tsp fermented black beans*
1 tsp crushed red pepper
2 scallions chopped and 2 Tbs chopped cilantro (optional)
Vegetable Oil for frying (suggestions: grapeseed, rice bran, canola oil)

Cut off ends of the bitter melon and cut 3/4”-1” thick slices and discard the seeds. Place melon in boiling salted water for 3 minutes then drain and rinse with cold water. When cooled, dry the melon.
Combine 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp sugar and 1/4 cup of water. Mix to dissolve and put aside.
Mix ground pork with the garlic, 1/2 tsp salt, sesame oil and 1 Tbs corn starch and the scallions and cilantro.
Coat the inside of the melon with a little corn starch and fill with the pork mixture.
Heat a frying pan and add approximately 2 Tbs oil. Cook both sides of the pork-filled melon around 3 minutes each then remove to a plate.
To the existing hot oil, add the red pepper flakes and black beans and cook for 1 minute. Add the pork-filled melon slices and add the the salt/sugar mixture in. Cook for 3-4 minutes longer. Serve with rice. Serves 2.

* available at Asian markets

Farmer Pam, MD




I grew up in Queens, New York in the 1970’s. The quintessential NYC suburburban-like borough attracted large amounts of middle class immigrant populations changing the standard white landscape into a myriad of colors.  My friends were either Greek, Italian, Korean, Chinese, or Indian.  Today, much of Queens has become neighborhoods of small ethnic enclaves where one can find a vast culinary palette and as authentic as the real travel to those countries.  But back then, the ease of finding certain ingredients for cooking your particular ethnic food would be more than a short walk to Key Foods, our neighborhood market.  Bok choy, a common vegetable now even at large chain grocery stores, were far from readily available, so growing your own unusual foods became a routine event every spring at my home and on the smallest patch of land.  As I try and think of utilizing the comparatively larger space I now have to grow food, my Chinese grandmother had already figured out how to trellis all sort of heavy Chinese melons, grow the requisite tomato -- for Tomato Beef of course, not marinara, and yard long asparagus beans for wok-charred beans. All in a 2 1/2’x5’ plot and enough to supplement feeding a family of five.  And she never spent a penny on buying a trellis.  It was constructed from saved bakery string, bamboo sticks reused from year to year and branches and twigs which she’d collect.  We lived in a development at the time, a step up from Jackson Heights, where one could have a small patch of grass and look out onto virtually treeless lawnscapes and poorly placed rock formations desperately trying to look like they were there forever.  There were no forests or lush landscapes where one can pick up twigs or branches so grandma was always on the lookout for these things wherever she walked.  And she always saved seed so I suppose I was always eating heirloom varieties as a child.


My grandmother raised her family in a small village near Canton, China and had a few acres of rice fields.  I recently spoke to my father about his recollection of how food was grown in his village.  He said, in a cautious voice, “Well, it was very disgusting.”  “What do you mean?” I asked knowing full well this would entail something unsanitary and shocking.  “People used poop, like cow, pig and...” “Human manure?!”  I interjected.  Apparently, pigs and cows had a presence on the farm but it was not enough to fertilize all of the rice fields and human waste products made up for the rest.  “We all went to the toilet at the edge of the town.”  This immediately conjured up the outhouse scene from Slumdog Millionaire and my stomach started to churn.  But our modern-day revulsion aside, the use of human manure for fertilizer has been a centuries old tradition in many countries and this practice of using both human manure and urine continues in poor developing world cities.   But as far fetched as this may sound, right here in the US, Milwaukee has been using “night soil,” the euphemism for treated human feces, as dried and bagged fertilizer for more than 60 years and Duluth, Minnesota had also caught on to the free crop boosting from sludge aka human poop, in 2003. (Incidentally Duluth is 60 miles south of where my grandma emigrated to from China and where my Dad went to college).  Aside from the usual worries of bacterial, protozoal and viral pathogens, I’d worry about all the potential medication residue from our pharmaceutical excesses.

So naturally, I wondered whether or not any of these practices made it back to Queens, New York.  “So Dad, Grandma didn’t use any chemicals right?” After all grandma started sounding like an eco-conscious, seed-saving organic farmer before it was all popular.  “Urine” was my Dad’s reply.  “Huh?” I said.  “Bernie’s baby urine” he uttered, hoping not disgust me by making the unpalatable more palatable by making it come from a baby.  I fully knew that Bernie, my brother, was no baby when I was started to become aware of grandma gardening.  And as it turned out, the two males in the family, my brother and my dad were the ones that could easily contribute from time to time.  Now, as I realize I am starting to sound like I come from one seriously backwards (or at least backwoods) family, I want to point out that urine is a great source of nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus and some other trace minerals.  Researchers in Finland reported the use of human urine as fertilizer in a 2007 study showing that cabbage showed better growth and biomass when grown with urine compared to conventional fertilizers and without any nutritional compromise.  And keep in mind that urine is sterile, in fact, it was used during war to help wash off wounds when there was no available water source.  It has become a topic of eco-conscious gardeners who truly want to reduce, reuse and recycle!  And, as long as my dog takes a short piss on the lawn, it'll make the grass grow beautifully in that one spot; too much of it, like any other fertilizer, will kill the grass.  I asked my dogs if they’d consider drinking more water to dilute their urine and perhaps making a conscious effort to spread the love over the entire lawn, but to no avail.


After consideration of my family farming methods, as an organic homesteader, I am taking a different direction and turning to compost (sans animal or human waste, mind you) as the main method of supplying soil fertility.  And like grandma, I will seed save and use my creative imagination to put together what I already have lying around (not in the toilet!) to continue to keep up the farm.

Farmer Pam, MD