Thursday, June 30, 2011

R.I.P., Groundhogs

So you might be aware of our pest problem, and the fact that we have no more cilantro, broccoli, cauliflower or red cabbage plants growing in our garden. They even got to some kale, beet greens and radish tops.

Now we are less two groundhogs who were wreaking havoc on our vegetables. Without any detail, we actively got rid of one and passively got rid of another. But the big, fat, lumbering momma is still out there, although hopefully has moved her home since her presumed two offspring are gone.

It is a lot stranger to get rid of a 7-pound rodent than to squish a beetle between your fingers. We have not yet used a .22 (but are well-trained now, thanks to a very professional lesson from my father), but I can only imagine that killing an animal with one would be too easy (as long as you're a good shot)... you're physically removed from the being, pulling a trigger isn't innately violent and we've all seen it done millions of times in movies.

If only Mrs. Groundhog and her family had been feeding on the acres of grasses around us rather than our 2000-sq-ft vegetable beds, we could have all lived together.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Recipe with arugula

Arugula and prosciutto pizza

Ingredients: pizza dough, tomato sauce, cheese, prosciutto, arugula, lemon

Preparing: Make your pizza dough. Roll out dough and top with sauce, a bit of cheese, red hot pepper flakes and oregano (if desired), prosciutto, more cheese. Pop in oven at 500F for 10-ish minutes. When nearly done, completely cover pizza with fresh arugula and bake for 1 more minute.

Eating: Splash fresh lemon juice on your slice.

Dish history: This also originated for us in Argentina. Pizza Fridays were never the same once our butcher let us taste his home-salted prosciutto and we were able to cut fresh arugula from the garden.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


Now that we've reached our goal of 20 double-dug beds, we are experimenting with other ways to loosen and add fertility to our soil.

First, we're trying a no-dig method:
Place sheets of newspaper or cardboard directly on the grass/sod. Add organic material in layers, alternating browns and greens (we're adding leftover sod from other beds, leaves, grass clippings, coffee grounds, 2-year old wood chips and soil from our leaf pile that has been decomposing for years) until you've built a "raised bed." Hopefully by mid-July we'll have built up enough material so we can plant a tap-rooting cover crop in there to break up the soil even more. This method is also referred to as the "lasagna" method due to the layering of materials. I honestly don't have highest hopes for this method, since I already know there are a few large rocks just below the surface and hundreds of smaller ones, and organic decomposition doesn't help us with that. But we are assuming that by next spring we'll be able to stick our forks into loosened, highly fertile soil.

Next, we're trying single-digging:
Remove the sod. Use a pick-axe to loosen the soil, remove all of the rocks and weed debris, continue to fork and pick-axe the loosened soil until the fork goes in 12 inches. So we are saving ourselves the steps of moving the top 12 inches of soil and loosening the next 12 inches of subsoil, cutting our bed-digging time in half. I have higher hopes for this one since we are getting a lot of rocks out. We will add manure and other organic material to the loosened soil, mulch it heavily and plant a green manure crop. We're hoping the winter freezes will have heaved a few more rocks upwards into the loosened soil so we can remove them in early spring and plant some vegetable crops there.

Finally, we may experiment with some long-row, tractor-tilled space:
If a friend of ours can come in to till some 100-foot rows for us, we'll do the work of removing rocks and planting the green manure. These long rows could be a great space for main crop potatoes, carrots, corn or blueberry bushes.

In any case, all new beds will be receiving full soil fertility treatment: no more vegetable sowing, just adding organic material, cover crops, and liming in the fall when we till in the green manure.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Treated seeds

We've decided that once we pull an early crop (e.g., spinach, arugula) out of the ground, we should replant with peas while it's still early in the season. That way we supply some nitrogen to the soil (since peas are legumes) and get a vegetable to harvest in the fall. Much to my dismay, I opened up my 5-lb bag of shelling peas to find I had accidentally ordered treated peas. (The seed company we were dealing with was great and agreed to take back the bag and credit my account.)  

The red peas (L) are treated.
Treated seeds are treated with a fungicidal powder (typically Thiram or Captan) as a preventative against damping off diseases and seeds rotting in cold damp soil. The chemicals used to treat seeds can be harmful to human health, and although they are designed to have short half-lives and cling to soil particles so they erode and pollute less, they are also harmful to the environment. Many corn, bean, peas, lettuce and melon seeds, among others, are available treated. 

Treated seeds were developed primarily so large scale growers could benefit from an early yield: treated seeds planted in cold damp soil in early spring are less likely to rot. This increases the germination rate and future yield. But if profit's not your motive, you can just wait until the time is right, when the soil's warmed appropriately for whatever seed variety you are putting into the ground, and you don't have to worry about rotting seeds. With increasing population, high-demand global markets and rising food prices, how could we ever wean ourselves from big ag's use of treated seeds?

As a small-scale grower or home gardener, we have the choice to buy treated, untreated conventional or organic seeds. When you buy seeds online you can be sure to check the box that says "will NOT accept treated seeds" if you plan on growing organically and you will never be shipped a treated product. But another way to avoid treated seeds is to save your own and maybe eve join a seed saver exchange. That way you and your fellow exchange members control both the seed and the growing conditions, ensuring a safer, more locally-appropriate crop.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Recipe with kale

Kale chips

Ingredients: kale, olive oil, salt, pepper, red hot pepper flakes

Preparing: Wash kale and cut out tough stems. Toss with olive oil, salt, pepper and red hot pepper flakes. Grill for 10 minutes (or place under broiler) - until the edges of the leaves have crisped up nicely.

Eating: Eat with your fingers as a tasty appetizer or side dish to other grilled foods.

Dish history: We became obsessed with these "kale chips" in Argentina: there was an abundance of kale in the garden and we loved our parrilla. Simple.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The perils of public health: the case of raw milk

I'm sure many of us have tasted raw milk... years ago as small children or, more recently, fresh from a cow on a farm. Isn't it so much creamier and tastier? Don't you feel healthier after a glass?

Raw milk is milk that has not been pasteurized or homogenized. Following the Industrial Revolution, the
Our nearly gone half-gal of raw milk.
swarms of people leaving behind their cows and rural homes for urban life, the discovery of the pasteurization process, and the up-scaling of dairy production on huge industrial farms, raw milk has been harder and harder to find. For all the good the field of public health brings us, it has brought us peril in the case of milk. The turn of the twentieth century saw the spread and dominance of the germ theory, the belief that disease was spread through microorganisms, such as bacteria.* Public health professionals, of course, were correct: many diseases are indeed spread through "germs." However, where we went wrong as a profession was our unfiltered, widespread push for pasteurization. In effect, all farmer's milk is treated as potentially contagious. This gives us peace of mind in an era of not being able to connect our milk bottle to a farmer's or cow's face. But is has also created a culture that assumes all unpasteurized products are dangerous.

These days selling raw milk is illegal in over 20 states. But there is a movement afoot to bring it back into trade, albeit at the small scale. It is sometimes available at farmer's markets, as part of CSA shares or for pick-up on farms. Raw milk proponents believe their unpasteurized version has more nutritive value and health-promoting bacteria than their mass-produced, highly-heated, bland-tasting counterpart. Its producers say that as long as their practices are sanitary (which can be more easily controlled when it is a small operation, for example), their milk is healthy for you. And its fans say it just tastes better.

Too bad I live in New York State, where the sale of raw milk at farmer's markets is illegal. (Luckily, we got one delicious week's installment before the farmer was told to halt sales.)

* Admittedly, a much better theory than the previous generation of public health professionals held onto: the miasma theory, the belief that miasma, a rotten, toxic form of air, caused disease and death.

Recipe with basil

Basil pesto (I'm doing such a basic basil recipe because it's a cheaper and easier one)

Ingredients: basil, pepitas (de-hulled pumpkin or squash seeds), parmesan cheese, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice

Preparing: If you have full/tall stems of basil, remove the stem from below the bottom set of leaves and keep the rest of the stems and leaves (you don't even have to chop them). Combine in a food processor the basil (leaves and adjoining stems), parmesan, pepitas (cheapter than pine nuts) and garlic. Slowly add the olive oil (or vegetable oil, even cheaper). When you get the right consistency, squeeze in some fresh lemon juice. Store in a jar in the refrigerator.

(Note: 8 cups of very loosely packed basil made 2 cups of pesto)

Eating: Really tasty on toasted raisin bread.

Dish history: Down in Argentina we made pesto all of the time, which is where we learned the stem-and-all trick, vegetable oil trick and non-pine-nut trick (we used walnuts that we harvested from the farm).

Saturday, June 18, 2011


Pests are a part of our ecology, and for this reason, I respect them. But when they do damage to my livelihood, I don't feel so bad about taking measures to get rid of them.

A farmer battles with many forms of pests: animals, insects, bacteria, fungi, viruses and weeds. Each battle depends on the pest at hand. And some battles can take over your life... this is, presumably, why insecticides, agricultural antibiotics and herbicides were invented and are now overused. But as an organic producer, we won't use synthetic or chemical products to protect our plants. 

Instead, we use row covers, our fingers, predator urine, companion planting, beneficial insects, we make sure our soil's healthy, and some use organic sprays. And after a recent visit to a biodynamic farm, the Pfeiffer Center, I was introduced to the concept of "peppering."

You can read about this art in Rudolf Steiner's own words to understand the meaning behind the method. I'll explain briefly in the case of peppering to prevent weeds: When a weed goes to seed, collect the seeds, place them in a metal container and burn them in a hot fire. Collect the ashes from these seeds, mix them with the wood ash from the fire, and sprinkle this ash around your garden where you do not want these weeds to grow. With the case of insects you would burn the whole insect and with the case of animals you would burn the hide. You can repeat this process several times a year and you can follow Steiner's word on the appropriate times to do it (based on the moon and other cosmic forces). After three to four years, you should be virtually pest-free.

There is a lot to remark on this method. For one, if you kill the groundhog eating your broccoli and you do this in successive years, you'll have exterminated the problem and maybe the burning/sprinkling didn't do anything. Also, if it takes three to four years, what should I do in the meantime to protect my plants?!? But if you do read Steiner's lecture and study biodynamic farming, you might be led to believe in the power of peppering.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Recipe with peas

Fresh pea risotto w/ mint

Ingredients: onion, butter, olive oil, risotto rice, white wine or dry vermouth, stock, fresh peas, parmesan cheese, fresh mint, pepper

Preparing: Prepare as any risotto dish. Saute the onions in butter and olive oil. Then add and slightly toast the rice (we use 1 cup rice for a 2-person meal with a little leftovers). Add a hefty amount of white wine (or dry vermouth) and let the alcohol boil off. Then start adding the hot stock in small quantities, stirring often. When you add your last installment of broth, add the peas and fresh mint. Then stir in parmesan cheese and crack a lot of black pepper in it.

Eating: Sprinkle with some fresh lemon juice. A tasty main course or side for duck breast.

Dish history: If you are not going to eat fresh peas right out of the pod, this is a nice way to present them, still crispy and paired with their companion herb. Made this for the first time a few years back with a good friend who had the habit of only eating things when they were in season and this dish made such a fresh impression.

Looking out

One of the most amazing parts of starting Longhaul Farm has been family, friends and neighbors looking out for us. A good number of people are genuinely interested in what we do, they feel bad when our broccolis are beheaded, they are psyched to share a home-grown salad and they are eager to haul rocks and dig beds with us.

Just the other day a young couple from across the river dropped by, the old-fashioned way, so they say, to see what we were up to. It was so refreshing and informative and calming to have two new neighbors take a random interest in what we were doing... not to mention they know a lot about native plants in our area and are seemingly equally obsessed with my arch nemesis, the black swallow wort, as I am.

And we received messages from a few good friends saying "sorry about those pests - have you tried coyote urine?," a neighbor down the road dropped off supplies for us to harvest with and Jason's father helped us weed after the rains we had the past few days. A community that is looking out is a very comfortable thing.

On a related-but-not-so-related note about this "looking out" concept... I think people are capable of looking out... but a corporation?!? And even worse, a bank? Scenario: Jason is up in Canada on a week-long trip in the wilderness of Restoule Lake. He's buying groceries (presumably) at the local supermarket, tries to use his <bank name> debit card to pay for it, and it gets denied. So <bank name>'s Fraud Department calls our HOME phone to check that this "activity" is approved.

Sparing many of the details of what went through my mind and the conversation that ensued... I called back this <bank name> Fraud Department and because I am not on Jason's account, couldn't approve his purchase, but as an angry partner and angry <bank name> customer, could complain. This whole fraud-prevention-thing is billed as "consumer protection," but in this case I see it as a serious inconvenience and a way for <bank name> to be sure it doesn't have to lose money on any fraudulent activity on an account. Seriously... he's in Canada! Can't we go for a vacation and have our money work for us? (No, we can't: according to the <bank name> supervisor I spoke with: he said it is the consumer's responsibility to notify <bank name> of any impending unusual activity. Relatedly, Jason's account was hacked while we lived in Argentina and <bank name> didn't pick up on it for 6 days and $2,500 later, once Jason caught it and put in a call.)

Just recently I had to call <bank name> to ask that my daily ATM withdrawal limit be increased to a reasonable level. Yes, there are "consumer protection" reasons to put a limit on this, but, digging deeper, my email request to them stated, "Dear Sir or Madam, Please increase my daily ATM withdrawal limit. I would prefer $X00. I have no idea why it is set at $Y00, other than so you, <bank name>, can keep more of my money for your own investments. Cordially, Jocelyn."

So if you haven't read our posts on moving your money into a local bank, you might consider now (or not, because I understand many people like the comfort of fraud prevention at the expense of your privacy and daily purchasing being monitored by a computer program and then flagged and sent to some employee of the <bank name> Fraud Department who is overworked now from the inane daily checks they do on their hundreds of thousands of customers and is responsible for trying to get in touch with you while you are unreachable and on your vacation and in the end you can't even buy your groceries or pay for gas). I'm getting back on the task of finding an institution I respect to put my money into... and enjoying small personal pleasures in life of real live individuals just dropping by and looking out for us.

Please excuse the rant.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Black gold, made on-site

Since we launched our compost collective in mid-March, we collect organic matter from 10 families on our road, a deli on route 9 and a local supermarket in Peekskill. We now have 2 heaps of finished compost... about 4 cubic yards worth of black gold.

Sifting the compost
Black gold
Every week for the past 3 months we have layered our browns and greens, throwing in a little horse manure and lime here and there, and turned each pile to encourage the microorganisms to do their job. We have two more heaps that we've been working on for the past month. We sift the compost through a screen to separate out rocks, sticks and things that are not fully broken down and then apply it to our vegetable beds. Our tomato plants and asparagus seem to be starving for some nutrients, so we know they'll be happy.

Thanks to all of our neighbors who are participating!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Why we're double-digging (part II)

We are celebrating our hitting the 20-double-dug bed mark: 2,000 square feet of 24-inch-deep soft, aerated, amended soil.

Even though people still think we're crazy for doing it, we have a slow-and-steady-to-develop garden, we've got our own plans to experiment with the next few beds using newspaper sheets, organic matter, green manure crops and tap rooters, and Jason's muscles are bursting and his back is aching, we have a really, really, really good answer for "why double-dig?"


No matter how much you build up your beds, there's no escaping the huge boulders we pull out just a few inches below the surface. These rocks are impenetrable barriers to plant roots, never to be dealt with unless we get into the ground.

And hopefully we will never have to dig this deep again.

Recipe with chard

Acelga (Swiss chard) pie

Ingredients: pie crust, onions, garlic, Swiss chard, bechamel sauce (butter, milk, flour, nutmeg), s+p

Preparing: Prepare and roll out any savory pie crust. Saute onions and garlic in olive oil. Add lots of chopped Swiss chard (or any other juicy green in season... spinach, bok choy, tatsoi cabbage) and cook down. Stir in bechamel sauce that has been flavored with nutmeg, salt and pepper. Pour the greens mixture into the pie crust and bake at 375 for about 45 minutes (or until crust is browned).

Eating: We top the pie with spicy tomato sauce.

Dish history: This is a classic Argentinian dish that we made so many times on the farm because they had the most booming crop of acelga.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

F'er weed update

Now that I'm obsessed with this invasive plant, I figured I'd share it's official name:  

Black or Louis' Swallow Wort (Cynanchum louiseae). 
FKA: F***er weed.

Pun intended: it's in for a long-haul chemical-free, cultural, mechanical and biodynamical control battle.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


We've got pests. And they come in insect and mammal form.

How many little green wormy things can you count?
Our brassicas, for now, are taking the biggest hit. The flea beetles have turned our Chinese cabbage into swiss cheese. The cabbage loopers (not really sure what they're called) have eaten away at our broccoli and cabbage leaves. And a loafy gopher has beheaded many a broccoli and collard plant.

I'm sure there's more to come.

A healthy broccoli plant
Dealing with pests in an organic way includes diverse techniques. There are still organic sprays you can purchase that will kill the pest, such as garlic barrier, rotenone copper dust, hot pepper wax or neem oil. For now, we are trying two methods: row cover and picking the pests off the plant and killing them ourselves.**

Row cover is a lightweight fabric that many organic gardeners use to prevent insects and other pests from getting to their crops. It is so light that you can put the fabric directly on your plants. The trick is to put the cover on them immediately after you transplant them out. We did not do this, which is why so many of our leaves have been victim to the flea beetle. But it's never too late to try: if we put the row cover on now we'll at least prevent more flea beetles from feasting on our future food.

Be-headed broccoli plants
As for picking the pests off ourselves... I've started inspecting all of our brassica plants daily, pulling off the little green caterpillar things and squashing them. It's kind of easy to find them: just look for eaten leaves.

Now we have to figure out what to do with the gopher we've seen lumbering across our pasture. He prefers the brassicas, too, although I have seen a few lettuce heads chopped off. We're hoping the row covers help with him. Last night we put out a radio in the garden and left it on, hoping to scare him off with noise. We plan to buy a motion detector light or noise maker to also scare him off. Otherwise, we'll have to find his gopher hole and smoke him out.

The row cover
** After a visit to a local biodynamic farm, I have stumbled upon another long haul method for ridding your garden of pests. More on this in an upcoming post.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Recipe with Tatsoi cabbage

Pasta with Tatsoi cabbage

Ingredients: olive oil, garlic, Tatsoi cabbage (small leaves like baby spinach), zucchini (or any other vegetable you'd like), parmesan cheese, lemon, pasta

Preparing: Prepare the pasta as you normally do. To prepare the "sauce": Cook up the garlic in olive oil. (Add some white wine or herbs at this point if you'd like.) Add the Tatsoi cabbage leaves and other vegetable and saute for just 2-3 minutes. The Tatsoi will be just wilted and the other vegetable will still be crunchy and fresh.

Eating: Serve the greens over the pasta with shaved parmesan and fresh lemon juice.

Dish history: You figure out lots of ways to eat Tatsoi cabbage when you planted 200 plants of it and they are all ready for harvest within two weeks. We use it in any recipe you'd use spinach.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

F***er weed

They're everywhere. And so aptly named by an 82-year-old gentleman farmer friend who recently toured our farm and has been farming in the Hudson Valley his whole life.

The roots
These weeds have the most intense root system I've ever seen, can grow without light, and apparently thrive in our acidic soil. I've seriously found the roots of these weeds at the bottom of compost piles and a plant has grown in the dark, for two feet, until it emerges on top of the pile. We find the roots everywhere in our sod when we dig beds. And now we find the plant everywhere in our vegetable beds, sprouting from roots we missed. You can't just pull them out; their roots are always so deep you have to dig them out. If you get lazy and just pull, I swear, three pop up for each one you've angrily teared away at.

What to do with these f'er weeds?
The weed

The other day we visited Glynwood Farm here in Putnam County. It is a non-profit farm whose mission is to help small- and mid-sized farmers to thrive. The farm has a long history, but its current non-profit status means that it is always willing to advise anyone on how to improve soil, raise livestock, build irrigation systems and so much more, all in the spirit of self-sufficiency. So we took a tour with the lead livestock farmer to learn about how they sustainably raise chickens, goats, sheep, pigs, cows and horses. What does livestock at Glynwood have to do with our weeds?

The livestock farmer has a nemesis as well: they are an invasive rose bush. You see them almost everywhere at Glynwood. He received a grant from the USDA to raise goats in an attempt to control this invasive weed (rather than excavate all of the land). Goats will eat anything, so he sets them out to graze in these fields of grass and the invasive rose bush. They can't take down the entire bush because the branches are actually quite thick and brambly. But they do eat the leaves and small twigs. And what he's found, and I've seen with my own eyes, is that in the fields where he set the goats out in last year, the rose bushes are much smaller and more compact than in fields where the goats have yet to graze. So after a harsh winter where everything dies back, these rose bushes grow back smaller the following spring after having been nibbled on the previous season.

It got me thinking...

We need animals. BUT, before we bite off more than we can chew, we did decide to cut back all of the f'er weeds we could see. They were starting to get little flowers, so it was almost getting too late (we don't want their seeds dropping anywhere). Maybe if we continually cut them this season, we'll start stunting their growth. Although I'd really just prefer them to cease to exist.