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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

 

 

 

 

 

THE DAILY BROADFORK

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

Entries in flea beetle (2)

Saturday
Aug112012

An Afternoon with Food Legend Joan Gussow

Every growing season brings its successes and failures.  What was easy to grow last year for us was much more difficult this year but on the upside what we've struggled with last year grew beautifully this year.  When the New York Times wrote about the "bumper crop" of tomatoes this season a few days ago, I became angsty since that hasn't been our experience.  Our tomato "trees" filled with large gorgeous fruit early in the season became a big hit with seemingly all the squirrels and chipmunks in Rockland county.  Some furry creature must have spread the word.  We were all but stripped of our fruit until we took action with 1) Predator netting 2) Fox urine (Shake Away: A product Eliot Coleman uses) and 3) a solar powered owl perched on one of the raised beds.  Our eggplant were also under attack by flea beetles but on a very positive note, we somehow dropped off the radar for the squash vine borers and all of our brassica veggies grew strong, healthy and abundant.  We are always keeping an ear open to hear about how our neighbors and other farmers compete with the pests and bugs and this past weekend we had a special visit with local and global food legend Joan Gussow to hear about her experiences.

Sitting on the second floor balcony of her home overlooking her garden and the Hudson River, we began comparing notes for this growing season.  Even with decades of growing experience, gardeners like Joan are always surprised at new discoveries.  And the best gardeners are the ones that assume very little.  What Joan found was that when she planted her tomatoes in a bed that still had last season's brussels sprouts stalks intact, they grew vigorously and prolifically!  I wonder if the deep undisturbed root structures allowed beneficial microbes and mycorrhizal fungi to stay intact in the soil ready for spring's tomato seedlings...

LEFT: Eggplant with one singular flea beetle.We were thrilled to learn some tricks that have worked for Joan.  Our Japanese eggplant suffered much this summer from the flea beetles.  I'm usually on top of this with a little organic neem spray but alas Farmer Gabriel kept me inside most of the summer.  Joan plants radishes at the end of the eggplant row as a trap crop and it will be a definite trial here next year.

Other discoveries included Joan's white clover groundcover.  I knew about this from our permaculture studies as a nitrogen fixer but never knew it could be so beautiful and so steppable.  She said the trick is to make sure you pull all other weeds out early on as it starts to grow in.RIGHT: White Clover: Ground cover and nitrogen fixer

Two new varieties really caught our attention. One is a pepper called "Puerto Rican No Burn Pepper."  It looks like a habeñero, has the smoky unique taste of one but there is NO burn.  I was hesitant when Joan asked me to bite into one but it was truly a surprising taste.

The other variety that excited us was a basil that does not flower.  As I was behind with the flea beetles this year, I was also behind trimming off the flowers on my Genovese basil.  This variety not only does not flower, you can save it as a cutting over winter and then just replant the flower in the spring.  It has a more sweet cinnamon taste and grows in a columnar fashion.

Aussie Basil

And if you've read Joan's two books: This Organic Life: Confessions of a Suburban Homesteader and Growing Older: A Chronicle of Death, Life and Vegetables, you will know this famous fig tree that is thriving very well.

 

And here is a shot of seasoned farmer Joan and our new farmer Gabriel who attentively basked in all of Joan's stories as we sat there...

 

 

Recipe: Burnt Okra with Potatoes, Garlic and Basil

Our intern Pippa requested Okra to be grown this year.  We had little experience cooking/eating okra and heard it was slimy.  The trick is to harvest when young (less than 4" long).  From a greenhouse bed measuring 4 x 6, we've been getting 1/2 lb every 2 days.  Here is a delicious way to serve them...

Peanut Oil

2 cups Okra tops discarded sliced 3/8"

2 cups small dice potato

1 Tbs minced garlic

2 Tbs minced basil

salt and pepper

 

Using a cast iron skillet, coat the bottom with peanut oil and heat to medium.  Add okra in one layer and cook until browned.  Stir and then add potatoes, salt and pepper.

Stir and cook until potatoes have browned adjusting heat or adding more oil if necessary.  Once they have browned, add garlic and stir.  Then add basil and stir once more.

Serve immediately!

Adapted from a recipe from Food52

Friday
Sep242010

Eggplant vs. Flea Beetle: Viva La Aubergine

It’s Fall.  For most people who grow, this is the last stretch for the heat-loving plants such as tomatoes, peppers and eggplant.  At this point, I think I’ve eaten enough fresh tomatoes to last me through the winter.  One thing I haven’t grown tired of are eggplants.  I never thought too much of them until I grew them and was forced to find creative ways to cook them; now I’m an addict.  We grew a few different eggplants here but my favorites are a Japanese and Tuscan variety.  The Japanese come in early and continue to produce and the Tuscan Globe comes in later in the summer and are prolific with heavy, strikingly violaceous fruits.

The biggest issue in growing eggplants are keeping flea beetles from making swiss cheese from the leaves.  This annoying poppy seed-sized pest shows up early in the season and continues to eat away the leaves of the eggplant.  I am surprised that eggplant is not considered one of the “dirty dozen” fruits - the vegetables that contain the highest levels of pesticides even after being washed and peeled.  The list, compiled by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), lists celery, kale, and bell peppers as among the most contaminated.  Obviously, with organic growing techniques this is not an issue.  

Part of our organic practices to reduce pests and disease is to use Nutrient Density growing techniques that address the quality and health of the soil which will then translate to a healthier plant.  The same reason a strong healthy immune system is integral to a healthy human being, the same logic applies for the plant.  Last year our eggplants had flea beetles but the plants were so strong that they could still grow lush and produce a nice bounty of fruit in spite of the bugs.  This year, the flea beetles became more of a nuisance and the plants were not able to compete with them.  They did not succumb to the bugs but they were certainly not the optimum and productive plants we saw last year.  Click HERE  to see an example of plant stress and evidence of how a strong plant is your best defense against disease and pests.  Please note how the plants at the left of the bed received optimal light and are healthy and pest free and how the plants towards the right were partially shaded and have evidence of insect damage to the leaf.  The Nutrient Density growing method can take 3-4 years to really change the mineral and microbial content of the soil so we didn’t expect to see a dramatic change right away.  Every season, we re-test soil and re-amend the soil and much of the amendments take seasons to break down to be utilized by plants and soil microbes.  So what did we do besides watch the flea beetles have a hey day?

CONTROLLING FLEA BEETLES - ORGANICALLY

In the long term, addressing the soil health should obviate the need for “control” but in the meantime, I’m not going to sit around letting a little army of flea beetles dine on my eggplant.

1. Crop rotation.  This is essential since the adults can overwinter in the soil and in plant debris.   However, if your area is small, you are likely not able to plant them far enough from last season’s planting area. They emerge in the spring waiting for you to put your healthy seedlings in the ground.  If your seedlings are stressed they will take this opportunity to defoliate and kill your plant.  You definitely want the healthiest seedling possible and you don’t want to plant these seedlings too early since eggplants LOVE heat.  Using a row-cover in the spring until the population of flea beetles die down is also helpful.  It’s just a physical barrier between the plant and the environment.

2. Trap Crops - this is more applicable to farms, but the idea is to plant a more desirable plant for the flea beetles to feed on so they leave the eggplant alone.  This includes planting Chinese mustard greens nearby or to interplant radishes like “Chinese daikon” or “Snow Belle.”

3. Manual Removal - There are reports that physically removing beetles can be effective.  The flea beetle is so small that some people report using a small portable vacuum to literally just suck them off the plants.  We have not tried it but plan on doing it next year if continues to be a problem.  Time to find the old Dust Buster.

4. Botanical controls - the last option.  The only one that we would advise using is a very diluted spray of organic neem oil  Apply this only on a cloudy day.

Tuscan "Prosperosa" Eggplant. Note the leaves.

COOKING WITH EGGPLANT

A few of our favorites dishes that use eggplant include a Baba Ganoush, Roasted Vietnamese Eggplant with Scallion Oil, breading and frying the slices of eggplant, grilling slices, and using them in stir-fry dishes.  When laziness creeps in, we bring our Japanese eggplant to our local sushi master, Ume, at Murasaki in Nyack, New York.  The first time we did this, Ume looked at the eggplant thoughtfully, brought them back to the kitchen to broil and minutes later presented us with a simple dish from his childhood in Japan.  How cool is that?  Here’s the recipe he used.  It’s simple and sublime.  It is so refreshing to find a chef that is so excited by the challenge of using local ingredients on the spot.  Murasaki has become one of our favorite restaurants in town and we high recommend it to anyone who enjoys traditional artisanal sushi.


RECIPE: Yaki Nasu (Ume’s Eggplant)

4 Japanese Eggplant
3 Tbs sesame paste
1 Tbs soy sauce
1 Tbs brown sugar
2 Tbs Dashi (this is a bonito and seaweed broth).  You can substitute with dashi powder which is sold in Asian markets.
garnish with 2 Tbs bonito flakes and/or thinly sliced scallions (optional)

Broil eggplant until soft (5-10 minutes).  Peel off skin and cut into sections
Blend the remaining ingredients together
Spoon sauce over eggplant and garnish with bonito flakes and scallions´╗┐