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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 pesticides (3)


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



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?


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.


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´╗┐


Fried Green July

Dr. Wyches Yellow and Brandywine heirloom tomatoes prematurely pulled but ripening on their own.
In an unprecedented summer season of rain and cool temperatures combined with the ubiquitous distribution of Bonnie tomato plants sold from big box stores, the northeast and mid-atlantic states have been hit with a fungal disease called Late Blight.  Known to affect tomatoes (and more recently potatoes) it is virtually making it impossible for people to find locally grown organic tomatoes. This is the same disease that caused the Irish potato famine in the 1840’s and its virulence is unparalleled in agriculture and in medicine. I cannot come up with a similar human infectious disease except maybe the plague. There are no modern infections that I know of that can take hold of its host and essentially decimate it within days while being incredibly contagious. It’s been described as a “nuclear bomb” in its rapid widespread destruction. The only thing that can stop it is a long spell of dry, hot sunny weather. As I write this entry, it is raining and it has rained 6 of the last 7 days. The future is grim as I look upon the 10 day forecast, each day with a picture of thunderstorms.

However present it is on my mind, most people are still unaware of how bad the situation is. Since June, there have been a scattering of reports online, in local newspapers and briefly on 15 second sound bites on the 11:00 news. The New York Times finally reported the situation on July 18th and on July 28th they ran another article, this time on the severe impact blight is having on upstate New York organic farms. Typically, tomatoes are a tremendous cash crop and for a profession that pays very little, this is a devastating blow. For those organic farmers who have not yet been hit, the use of copper as a preventative fungicide is not without significant costs. One farmer noted that it costs her $1000 to spray her crop and each spray has to be reapplied after it rains. Adding insult to injury, blight has most recently made the jump to potatoes.

Because of globalization of agriculture, many people may not notice a change in availability in their grocery stores. They’ll still be able to purchase tomatoes. I went to a local farm stand in New Jersey last weekend to find that the tomatoes they were selling were produced in a hothouse in Pennsylvania and they were not organic. Greenmarkets in the city, usually abundant with heirloom tomatoes at this time, fill their tables with other produce. What about us? We first found out we had blight on the tomatoes on July 10th and pulled a section of 15 tomatoes out and laid down black plastic to sterilize the soil. Since then it has been a frenzy of research and daily time consuming maintenance. We had evidence of blight in some of the other beds and usually, if it’s there, there’s not much you can do but pull out the plants. We used a creative combination of biodynamic preparations, organic seaweed fertilizer with humic acid to strengthen the plants resistance, and a foliar spray made with a New Zealand herb called horopito. I even talked to the plants, yes I did. We did this intensively for 2 weeks and it seemed like we were winning the battle. I planned on broadcasting the news to every interested farmer and gardener but then the rains returned and they have been relentless. Two days ago we had a flash flood rainstorm. That nailed the coffin as it enabled any spores to jump to other plants or to reach higher leaves. This time a whole bed of Russian fingerling and Blue Adirondack potatoes had to be pulled as well. I pulled plants, trimmed leaves just trying to buy time so that the large plentiful green fruit would just start to ripen. I spent at least 2-3 hours daily managing and spraying my herbal teas on the plants,so much so, that when I’d close my eyes, I’d see the characteristic olive colored lesions on leaves and stems like they were pasted to the back of my eyelids. Much of the rest of the farm has been put on hold and weeds are starting to become more present than I’d like them to be. As it stands I expect almost all of the 109 tomato plants we planted to be gone by the end of this week. My shift has now got to be fall plantings and the bounty that awaits us in the fall and winter.

In the meantime I think it’s also important to explore the potential health hazards from blight as well. As a preventative measure, non-organic conventional farms are using large amounts of fungicides - particularly chlorothalonil, also known as Daconil or Bravo. No doubt, this will be heavily sprayed this season. Many of you who choose to eat organically understand the implications of pesticide laden foods and it’s even more important in this upcoming season to buy organic tomatoes and potatoes. And if you have children this becomes of paramount importance. Recently, a team of UC Berkeley researchers discovered an enzyme called paraoxonase which is produced in the body and helps break down organophosphate pesticides; children under seven do not produces nearly as much as adults do and levels deemed safe by the FDA may be quite different for young kids and toddlers. Though not technically an organophosphate, chlorothalonil is a “probable” carcinogen, a ground water contaminant highly toxic to aquatic life, a likely endocrine disruptor and reproductive toxin. It is also implicated in “colony collapse disorder” -- the die-off of honey bees across the country. What is even more frightening is that the breakdown products of chlorothalonil are 30 times more acutely toxic than chlorothalonil itself and is more persistent in the environment.

What can one do when the urge for a great salsa or a pasta caprese hits you this summer? Certainly, one option is to buy organic tomatoes although they likely travelled a great distance to get to your market. My commitment to eating locally has made this decision difficult. Beets can be a nice sweet substitute but what I plan on doing is to freeze the small bounty of Sungolds, Sweet Millions and Double Rich tomatoes that started coming in before we were hit. The cherry tomatoes can be frozen on an cookie sheet for an hour, then put into a sealed plastic bag like little marbles and stored away for use later in the season. If you think blight has hit your plants, you can harvest as soon as there is a hint of color in the tomato, wash it off and keep it out in a bright area to fully ripen on its own. We started doing this when we knew we lost the battle.  If the disease is severe and can't be maintained by pruning, pull the plant and either burn it or put it into the garbage as spores can remain in the soil and affect next year's crop.

Black From Tula - a Russian Heirloom which seemed to be the most susceptible. Here, they happily ripened on their ownAny green tomatoes that don’t turn or have a small amount of blight on it can be used in delicious creative ways (just cut off any affected parts and never compost blight infected plants or fruits). Interestingly, the Department of Agriculture has studied and reported that tomatine, an alkaloid found in higher concentrations in green tomatoes binds to cholesterol and lowers undesirable LDL levels in the body (based on animal testing). Dr. Mendel Friedman, involved in the research also found that “an extract of green tomato lowers the incidence of cancer in animals, and last month he reported that both this extract and purified tomatine inhibit the growth of various human cancer cells. Other studies have found that purified tomatine seems to stimulate the immune system in desirable ways.”

In any case, only momentarily in the midst of a 3 hour pruning and spraying episode yesterday, did I contemplate not wanting to ever growing anything again. That, of course, passed quickly and I’ve used this as a meditative exercise in letting go of attachments and went back inside to figure out which seeds I need to sow for the fall. 


Fried Green Tomatoes (Gluten-Free!)


My husband noted that this dish had a meaty consistency - like eating veal. I thought it tasted similar to eggplant parmesan (without the cheese). Either way, it was truly delicious.

4 medium unripe tomatoes
3/4 cup fine cornmeal
3-4 Tbs vegetable oil or clarified butter (ghee)
Salt and freshly milled pepper
3 Tbs chopped basil, tarragon or parsley (I used a combo or purple, cinnamon and lemon basil)

Slice tomatoes crosswise 1/4-1/2” thick. Press each piece into a plate of cornmeal to coat on both sides.
Heat oil in a wide skillet over high heat until hot enough to sizzle a drop of water.
Add tomatoes, reduce heat to medium and fry on both sides until golden. Remove to plate and season with salt and pepper and serve with the chopped herbs on top.

From Deborah Madison’s indispensable book “Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.”


Farmer Pam, MD