Friday, December 18, 2009

Robin's Best Grass-fed Beef Jerky Ever!

If you're lucky enough to be up here in the walk-in freezer that is upstate New York this weekend, you'll want to swing by the Cooperstown Farmer's Market, the last of the year, for the best Happy Hobo grass-fed beef jerky Robin's ever made.

The grass-fed Highlander's top round that this batch of jerky is made from is, as we're told, as good as they get, having spent the whole summer eating grass from the fields of Nectar Hills Farm here in central New York's leatherstocking region. When the cows have been out in the fields eating grass all summer, they fatten up and become especially delicious.

Of course, Robin thinks it's cute that I say every batch of jerky is the best. But I'm serious. She's perfected the recipe, the cows are particularly delicious this time of year. And we've switched to organic tamari to replace the soy sauce (we're making a special batch with no wheat, which soy sauce contains, for some relatives who can't eat wheat). At this point, the only wheat left in the recipe is the trace amount in the organic Worcestershire sauce, so to make a wheat-free jerky, we just leave that out.

Starting this winter, we're going to begin experimenting with other flavors of jerky. We're thinking Teriyaki, tropical, and a few others. Suggestions are certainly welcome!

We're also going to experiment with organic dog treats, but don't tell your dog yet; we want to get it just right first.

If you can't make it to the Cooperstown Farmer's Market Saturday morning, you can order our grass-fed beef jerky at the Nectar Hills Farm website.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

White House Hoops

Good looking and inexpensive hoop houses are the focus of this White House Blog post by Sam Kass, assistant chef and Food Initiative Coordinator for the WH.

Glad to see they're growing all my favorites, especially mustard greens! I wish I'd had the time to put in some hoops over my greens. Too busy of a year-end for us to get out there and do much.

I'm looking forward to seeing what lives through being mulched, buried under a blanket of snow for a few months, and then uncovered in the spring. I know the spinach plants will start up again, but I also mulched some small mustard, collards, mizuna, and miner's leaf lettuce.

So, I'll just think of not having hoops out there as an experiment into what survives the winter up here in zone 5... If you mulch it, will it come back?

in reference to: Planting the Winter Garden | The White House (view on Google Sidewiki)

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

White Hoop House

I put up some plastic last year and made a little hoop house to protect winter greens. It was hastily built just in time for a surprise snow storm around Halloween.

This year, I just picked the greens down as low as I could, and mulched them with old straw over a layer of very dry, aged horse manure. I know the spinach will come back in the spring, and I suppose the mustard, mizuna, collards, kale, onions, radishes, and other cold hearty vegies will survive as well.

If not, whatever dies will compost under all that straw, which is now under a few inches of snow. It stays pretty warm under that white blanket--warm enough for things to decompose if not actually live.

This spring, or late winter, if I have any money, I plan to build a slightly larger hoop house, something I can actually walk into instead of crawling under (I have a bad back), and that will get me started much earlier.

In the mean time, I'm going to look into these little hoops at the White House, as maybe they'll make a good low-cost alternative to the big one, and I'll just have to figure out a way to get under there more easily.

in reference to: Our Blog : 12/07/09 - The White House extends its growing season : Slow Food USA (view on Google Sidewiki)

Saturday, November 21, 2009

New New York Grass Fed Beef Pictures

New York grass fed beef
No, that's not a Futurama reference. I just posted some new pictures to her site that Sonia Sola took of her Nectar Hills Farm, where she raises New York grass fed beef. She took a bunch of great shots on one of our recent sunny (!) November days (which I'm told is rare for November up here, usually the dreariest month). As you can see, these cows (and horses) look really happy to be out in the sun getting fat for the winter.

Sonia tells us that she and Dave are working out the details for a CSA (community supported agriculture) that they will be offering soon. Nectar Hills Farm sells grass-fed free-range beef, pork, and other meats, plus farm-fresh eggs, honey, cider, and produce. You can find out about CSAs in your area at Local Harvest.

If you're bored, I recommend checking out the Nectar Hills Farm Links page, which has all kinds of fun links, like the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy and the Josephine Porter Institute for Applied Biodynamics. Fun stuff!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Would You Eat a Monkey?


As I learned growing up on a small farm in Arkansas, pigs are smart. Not just dog smart, but really smart. Like, the pigs would learn tricks so fast that they would help the dogs learn. I had pigs that would jump through hoops, roll over, play dead, and even speak on command. It broke my heart when one got sick, and I spent days hand scooping corn mash with molasses into its mouth and spraying the sores on its skin with some sort of medicine with purple dye in it.

Of course, I was a kid more obsessed with beer and girls than ethics, but later in life, after studying bio-ethics and getting a philosophy degree, the smart pigs haunted me. Eventually, when I got old enough to worry about my cholesterol and whether I was doing the right things, I really started to feel bad about eating pork. The more I learned about factory farming, the worse I felt. I never thought I would say it, but I started losing my taste cravings for bacon (I used to joke that a pile of crap would taste good with bacon and cheese on it).

Then I learned about Michael Pollan. I heard him make the argument that pigs are at least as smart as dogs (in reality, new research shows that pigs are much smarter than dogs), and you wouldn't eat your dog, so why would you eat pork?

As ethical arguments go, that's a damn good one.

After that, I was convinced. A few months later was the Chinese New Year, starting the year of the pig. I convinced my fellow prosciutto loving wife Robin to quit with me. And we've been pork free for almost three years now. Even our son has joined the cause.

Since we moved to upstate NY, we found Nectar Hills Farm where they treat their animals with respect. The pigs are free range and appear happy. To be honest, they look delicious. But I'm still not eating them. However, if you can get past the intelligence problem (I've also stopped eating octopus due to research that shows how intelligent they are), then you should at least consider only eating free-range pork. The evils of factory farming are impossible to deny, from the treatment of the animal to the effects on the environment (see the chapter on massive pig shit geysers in Senator Al Franken's Book Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them).

Recently, I had been debating around the edges with questions like eating wild pigs (which are very bad for the environment, especially in places like Hawaii) and I'm still not sure about that. Possibly. But I don't think I would eat a monkey that was messing up an ecosystem somewhere, so...

These are tough questions. We all have to come down where we decide. For me, it's a question of how smart an animal will I eat? For now, I'll stick to the oblivious seafood (but only the good stuff per the Monterey Bay Aquariums Guide to Sustainable Seafood), idiot chickens and other birds, and the only slightly smarter cows (but we're moving to only grass-fed beef as much as we can afford). The environmental choices are actually pretty easy: eat free-range, organic, grass-fed, pasture raised, keep it as local as you can, and stay away from factory farmed as much as possible.

Choosing what you eat based on the intelligence of the food? Well, I'll just have to keep thinking about that, and adjusting along the way. It's the least I can do for a species that looks, based on this new research, to be at least as smart as dolphins.


As Dr. Lawrence Schook said in yesterday's NYT article, "Pigs like to lie around, they like to drink if given the chance, they’ll smoke and watch TV." When I'm coming up with rules to live by, this one comes up near the top: I just can't eat anybody who would sit around with me watching a movie (Animal Farm?) drinking beer, and puffing on a good cigar.

Photographs of Nectar Hills Farm by Robin Supak.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

What the? Oh, go to...

You call that a summer? I find myself talking to this place. I'm not sure it's because I'm losing it due to my disability and financial situation, or what, but when the weather does something fun up here in central New York state, I want to say, hey, wait. That doesn't count as summer. That was like spring with a few warm days. Now the leaves are falling fast, like some cruel foreshadowing to what is, I kid you not, a prediction for this Friday.

Snow.

This whole cold thing is new to me. Last year, we moved in too late to have a real garden. This year, I get to go out there and see pepper plants that never really had a chance to produce more than a few token reminders of heat, now all post-frost droopy, just waiting for me to get out there and compost them.

I just don't have the energy, partly due to some bad pain days lately, but also because I'm an inherently lazy gardener, and I figure the winter will lay all the dead stuff flat and compost it under the snow anyway. If anything, I should throw some straw and leaves on there.

I'm getting damn good at growing the cold lovers: collards, mustard greens, kale, spinach, some lettuce--all doing great. I'd forgotten how much I like mustard greens--very spicy! Almost makes up for the lack of jalapenos...

We stopped on the side of the road and bought some bags of aged horse manure ($2 for a big bag from an honor cart--stuff the money in the hand-cut slot on the top of a plastic Folgers container), and I've layered it on top of some spots where I'm going to put peppers and other nitrogen hogs (my kingdom for a home grown tomato) next year. So, the soil bank deposit has been made, or at least part of it. I'll be putting more compost and manure out in the next few days, and then again in the spring.

I also have some clover seed I've scattered here and there, that I will turn in in the spring as a green manure. Clover's a good cover crop, and it keeps the rabbits busy so they'll stay away from the radicchio that's almost done. Or so the theory goes.

Kind of like that theory that it gets warm and sunny in the summer...

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A Shiny Thing from A Reader!

Top organic blogs award

Thanks for the shiny thing, reader, whoever you are. We just love recognition (never mind that that means to "think again"), especially when there's something ribbon-like involved. In the early days of the web, when we were some of the only people on line giving out organic gardening advice, peddling Mort Mather's Organic Gardening Essays to whomever would listen, we would get awards on a regular basis. Now? Not so much.

So thanks, reader! It was almost as nice a present to wake up to as the organic Kona coffee my Hawaii coffee farming friend Michael keeps sending! If anyone else wants to do something nice for us, let me know! If you can't afford to help us pay the rent by supporting our advertisers (buy a poster, man, they're cheap and cool), then find a place to submit us! Supak.com! Guides to fun and free stuff like: free wallpaper, The Simpsons sounds and posters, Hawaii vacations information, entertainment shopping, and organic gardening...Put a link on your site (this little linking logo works really well for that), or your facebook, get a Supak.com tattoo, or something!

These little gifts mean a lot more to us right now, a very stressful time for us. So, seriously, thanks. A little "thinking again" goes a long way.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

It's About to Get Cold So I Think Hawaii

In this summer that wasn't, we've had some 60 degree mornings. But today, with a little breeze reminding me that Canada is right over there and the first frost is right around the corner, 60 degrees seemed a little cooler than the surprise 60 in the middle of July.

Yesterday I'm out there thinning collard seedlings* that are growing where I should be picking tomatoes, and bringing in handfuls of yellow squash, zucchini, green beans, carrots, radishes and whatnot, thinking, no tomatoes, but not so bad. And then, as if to remind me that the cold is on the way, I get this picture in my email from my Innkeeper friend Cherie, who runs the Hale Hookipa Maui bed and breakfast.

organic fruit from the garden of the Hale Hookipa Inn Maui Bed and Breakfast

That's quite a haul, all from one day she tells me... Well, put my little pile of squash in perspective, will you! Cherie also runs this volunteer on vacation in Hawaii site, and a great Maui blog. If you like tropical gardening (she also has great flowers), check it out. Or better yet, check in for a week. Maui is a gardener's paradise. But beware, in the depths of winter in upcountry, you might wake up to a cool 55 degree morning!

* Planted from the seeds from the greens I let overwinter last year, in an attempt to make them even more cold hardy. I will let some of these go over winter again, to seed in the spring, for seeds for next fall's crop. I never really learned this technique, it just seems to work well, and my theory is that anything that can stay alive over winter here deserves to be propagated. At least that way, if we keep having summers that weren't, I'll have some cold hardy greens to grow any time of year!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Rural Blight

During the 20 odd years that I lived in Los Angeles, most of it was spent living in a pretty urban area (the Valley, Hollywood, Santa Clarita), and I experienced urban blight every day. The boarded up buildings, structures in desperate need of repair (that always reminded me of the Robyn Hitchcock song My Favorite Buildings), graffitied surfaces everywhere (and not the cool kind of graffiti, which I don't mind so much, just the gang tag kind), and general filth and grime everywhere. It's one of the things I certainly don't miss since moving to the country.

So it was with great surprise that I woke up the other morning, poured my cup of organic Kona coffee, and went for my walk-through to see how much radicchio and pea sprouts the rabbits had dined on before the hot pepper spray sent them running for water (I just love imagining that, since, for Robin's sake, I'm suppressing the urge to shoot the little buggers), and low and behold, I found the dreaded rural blight, growing all over my tomato plants like some kind of brush fire that had made it's way into a neighborhood.

Late Blight on Tomato LeavesIt happened overnight, like the graffiti that wound up on a wall near our place in LA. But I couldn't just paint over this blight. This is the dreaded tomato blight that has decimated tomato gardens all over New England this summer that wasn't.

We thought we had avoided it, as it got warm and drier over the last couple of weeks... Bam! Hurricane comes up the coast, cold front comes down from Canada, and one night of cool, wet conditions, and there it was. It literally happened overnight. There may have been some signs the day before, but they weren't that noticeable, and I was being very wary.





I've ordered some copper spray for the big plant next to the house, that volunteered from the compost. It's only showing small signs, and I've been pulling off any leaf with even a speck on it. Maybe the spray will help. Or, maybe, tomorrow, I'll be pulling it up and shoving it in a plastic bag, like some murder victim on Law and Order. Bagging up all the plants yesterday looked like a battlefield...

We had a lot of tomatoes. Almost all started from seed. Many heirlooms. Much pain. Almost like losing a pet.

We have several bowls full of green tomatoes that we're going to make a nice relish with, but damn.... seriously, We're going through the seven stages of grief here.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

One way to beat a short summer: speed!

Clem, the chef at the not-far-from-Cooperstown restaurant The Rose and Kettle, told me a little joke the other day, when I picked some nerf-football sized zucchini off his plant (he's busy in the kitchen this time of year--Glimmerglass Opera season--and, yes, only one plant):

Clem: They say you should lock your car doors up here in the summer.
Me: Really? I thought no one ever locked their doors up here.
Clem: Well, in the summer, if you leave it open, someone might put a zucchini in it!

They got a late start this summer that almost wasn't, but boy do they make up for it in speed. I was right to plant so few plants (we have two). I guess that's the nature of squash. I have about 5 pumpkin plants that we use mostly for the blossoms (lightly breaded and fried), but it's amazing to me that between now and the end of October, a whole damn pumpkin will appear, grow to size, and ripen.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Doing the Right Thing

Sometimes people suggest that we should just buy corn-fed beef to make our beef jerky cheaper. While we are looking for ways to lower costs in order to make grass-fed jerky less expensive, we have a saying: you're either doing the right thing, or you're not. Corn fed beef is not the right thing. Corn finished, sure, better. But grass-fed beef is solar powered; there are not pesticides, fertilizers, herbicides, or other petroleum based agricultural ingredients in a field of grass. The resulting meat has a smaller carbon footprint, and has done less damage to the planet in many ways, including pollution.

This is why I'm an organic gardener. I want to be ethical toward the planet. It's why I stopped eating pork: it's one of the biggest industrial farming nightmares because pig shit is impossible to deal with on a large scale. Small scale pig farmers argue that they've solved that problem by, well, being small (which allows nature to deal with the waste), and maybe they have a point. But I have another ethical guide of my own to follow, which is that I don't want to eat animals that are more intelligent than a dog. That means no pigs, and no Octopus.

We have a lot of friends who share our basic ethical positions, like the grass fed beef farm down the road, the gourmet grocery in Cherry Valley, and even older friends back in Hawaii (where we lived for a year) like this organic Kona coffee farm, and Cherie Attix who has put her money and effort where her ethics are and created a new web site and discount program for her Maui bed and breakfast (where she has a wonderful organic tropical fruit garden) that encourages and rewards volunteer vacations in Hawaii. Volunteer while you're on vacation in Hawaii, and you'll get a 5% discount off your stay at her historic Inn, and she'll donate another 5% to the organization for which you volunteer. Most of the volunteer programs are environmental in nature, like eradicating invasive species and planting native ones.

So keep in mind that wherever you are, and wherever you travel, you can take a little extra time, a little extra money and save us all in the long run by doing the right thing. Buy your garden vegetable plants from a local nursery and you'll help support your local economy and help stop the spread of the late blight. Buy local and organic food and help your health and the planet's. When you camp somewhere, pack out what you pack in. When you go on vacation somewhere, volunteer while you're there. Volunteer to help your own community. Just do something that's right. It's really a lot easier than the corporate interests want you to think.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Oh, that's what those poles are for...

I thought the poles at my local Farmer's Museum (in Cooperstown, NY) were way too tall for any pole bean I ever saw. I'm looking forward to finding out how New Yorker's used hops in 1840! I thought there was only one thing to use them for. And I'm going for a frosty one now!

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Food, Inc.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Peppers Need Sun

Well, duh. Every plant needs sun, of course, but peppers need lots of it. I never really thought about it that much, growing in a place where the water has to be delivered in little drips, through tubes that I had to bury or the water would get too hot. Apparently it's not uncommon up here in Zone Five to get very wet springs--in this case wet and cold. And peppers just don't like it. The peas and the lettuce are happy and productive (and delicious), but even the early jalapeno variety of pepper just could not get a handle on it. Not enough sun.

At first I thought it was the cold (nights often in the low 40's even in July, for Chrissake), and I had some plants in starter trays that I would bring in at night or in the rain. But even on cloudy days with no rain the slugs were out and hungry, and there goes a pepper plant... and another...

Ah, the learning curve.

We've had a few days of sun in a row, and the nights look like they're going to stay above 50 for a while now, so maybe at least these "cool weather jalapenos" (oxymoron?) will have a chance.

Even with the decimation, life finds a way. Lots of water, I've discovered, means lots of weeds (even with all the early weed killing I do using the lazy man's weeding method in early spring). But it also means nice soft soil, plenty of growth in wild berries and other foragables. Oh, and now plenty of insects! It was great when the lightning bugs were going at it every night, but now I'm seeing more results of wetness: mosquitoes and other hungry bugs eying the vegies. Having the birds around is helping keep the numbers lower than they would otherwise be, so good thing I've been feeding them all winter.

My empathetic agnostic friend has a great insect game he plays while gardening that he wrote about in his latest post, What is Heaven Like?

The heaven I have found is a place where everyone loves everyone. Other than that it is pretty much just like life here on earth. I envision a party with friends and at this party there is a game that we can play. We step into this closet or put on a virtual reality suit and we are “born” into this life. Just like with games as we know them here on earth we can play the game over and over and each time we get better at it. Before stepping into the game we can think about how we will play it. We may give ourself certain goals and pick a time and place to be born. Our friends on the other side can come into our game and be characters helping us, challenging us or testing us.

Here is an example of how it works.

I am an organic gardener and one of the things that takes up a fair amount of my time is chasing stripped cucumber beetles (CBs) on my squash plants. I have decided that the cucumber beetles are some of my friends from the party. They were hanging around the punch bowl watching me and…

CB 1 Let’s play hide and seek with Mort in the squash patch.

CB2 I’m game. Let’s make a side bet on who lasts the longest.

CB3 I know what I’m going to do. When he spots me I’m going to drop off the leaf.

CB1 Yeah, that works pretty well where he has mulch but he can spot you on the ground.

CB 2 I’m going to fly.

CB 4 How are you going to fly out of a blossom?

CB2 I’ll be on a leaf and keep my eye out for him.

CB 4 If I know you, you’ll be in a blossom screwing and when he comes along you will be oblivious. Your lady friend will probably start running and you won’t even get off her.

CB2 I guess you’re right. I’m not going to waste a life just hanging out. Maybe I’ll get lucky and he won’t see me.

This dialogue goes on as I mercilessly move down the row of squash plants picking off CBs, chasing those who drop onto the mulch and tunnel in, who drop and play dead or who drop and run. The blossoms will frequently have several mating couples making me think of a luridly painted yellow motel. Sometimes they will see me coming and watch me ready to fly if I move toward them. These I have learned to catch with a swift grab but others fly immediately and escape. This heaven I have invented helps me get through a job that might otherwise frustrate me perhaps to the point of anger. Instead of anger I am feeling playful and forgiving.


I've always wondered about you north easterners. But, hey, whatever gets you through the night beatles...

Friday, June 19, 2009

Less weeds means more work?

Happy Hobo Grass Fed Beef Jerky Logo
Well, different work. Because I use the lazy man's weeding strategy, once things get going in the garden, I only have to weed the few blow-ins occasionally, and that means I get to help out with the fun stuff, like making and bagging our Happy Hobo Grass-fed Beef Jerky. Grass-fed beef is better for you, the animal, and the planet. Our latest batch is mostly the very popular Ommegang Hennepin Ale and Jalapeno Jerky, which is available today at the Nectar Hills Farm Store in Cherry Valley, and tomorrow at the Cooperstown Farmer's Market. You can, of course, purchase our grass-fed beef jerky on-line through the Nectar Hills Farm site for now, until I finish working on the jerky web site. Good thing there aren't too many weeds!

Indeed. Then there's Robin's Biscotti, which is now just one of the deserts by Robin that are available at the Rose and Kettle Restaurant here in Cherry Valley, a great restaurant for Cooperstown folks--only a short drive to the NE of Cooperstown. The organic version of the Biscotti, which are made with eggs from Nectar Hills Farm, are also sold by Sonia at the Cooperstown Farmer's Market tomorrow, and at the Nectar Hills Farm Store in Cherry Valley.

Also starting today, the organic Biscotti and our regular (not quite as spicy as the Beer Jerky) grass-fed beef jerky are available at It's All Good Grocery in Cherry Valley.

See? Damn good thing those weeds are under control!

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Gourmet Grass-fed Beef Jerky Now on Sale!

Oh so many years ago, we got a food dehydrator and Robin started making beef jerky. Over the years, it evolved into this perfect recipe. Just ask anyone who's tasted it: this is gourmet grass-fed beef jerky.

When we moved back east last year, we started hunting around for grass-fed beef that would make the best jerky. And we found it! Nectar Hills Farm grass-fed beef comes from Highlander cattle, which, because their hair keeps them warm, are naturally lower in fat than other breeds. And, because they're grass-fed, the fat they do have is much healthier--higher in Omega 3's, for one thing.

But the taste! It's the perfect beef for Robin's beef jerky recipes, which now include the regular (which is anything but) and the spice beef jerky made with Ommegang Hennepin Ale (a local brew from Cooperstown) and jalapeƱo! We use as many organic and/or local ingredients as we possibly can. Please, give it a try! You'll love every bite!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Grass-fed Beef from Nectar Hills Farm

Grass-fed beef jerky sign
Robin makes the best beef jerky ever. Now that we're moving to grass-fed beef, we've found a new source of delicious top round for our jerky (and sometimes flank steak): Nectar Hills Farm, just a few miles down the road from us. You can buy Robin's jerky at the Cooperstown Farmer's Market on Saturdays, and it will soon be available in several other locations.

Why grass-fed beef? In short, it's better for our health, our environment, and the animal. But from a beef jerky point of view, it just plain tastes better! We highly recommend that if you're looking for grass-fed beef in central New York (say you're on vacation and staying at a Cooperstown vacation rental with a grill), you should contact Sonia, or just stop by her Cherry Valley store while you're over this way (maybe out for a nice dinner at a local gourmet restaurant). Robin's grass-fed beef jerky and hand-made chocolate-dipped organic biscotti are also on sale at the Nectar Hills Farm store.

Another reason we love our new friends Dave and Sonia? They have an awesome pile of not-too-composted manure that includes chicken, horse, and steer manures! It's got a lot of field grass seeds in it, but that's not a big worry. I just spread the manure out, water it, come back in a week and rake--killing thousands of little weeds. Water, wait, and a week later, kill hundreds. Ta Da! No (well, almost no) more weeds!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Busy Building Raised Beds, Making Deposits in the Soil Bank


My friend and organic gardening Guru Mort Mather likes to say that the soil is like a bank account, you can't withdraw unless you make deposits. So, in case you've all been wondering what the hell I've been up to these last few weeks, there you go.

Our new friends, Sonia and Dave of Nectar Hills Farm (web site coming soon), who sell grass-fed meats have a great pile of composted manure (steer, chicken, lamb, goat...) that we've been shoveling into bags and hauling home, where we mix it into the soil in the new raised beds we've been building. I've been meaning to post about this, but after working all day and doing all the other internet work (ironically, also organic) I have to do, I just never had the energy left. Looking at this picture now, it doesn't seem like much, but I don't have a tiller, so I've been turning over chunks of lawn with a straight hoe, chopping them up and mixing with compost, manure, and peat moss. Due to my arthritis, I have to go slow, and let Robin and Spencer do the heavy work. So, it's slow going.

But as you can see from the picture, it's going well. The soil is very clay-like, and the pH is really high (8), so it takes a lot of work to get the pH and the drainage right. Under every bed is a layer of gravel, topped with sand, topped with soil that is almost all peat at the top inch.

One advantage to slow going (and early starting) is that once a bed is prepared, I don't plant in it right away. I water and wait a week to see what weeds can shoot up through an inch of peat moss, then I hoe them under and rake again, repeating the process, and killing all kinds of weeds before they can get going well enough to sap resources from my veggies. This is Mort's weed control trick that I have used ever since I learned it, because I, like Mort, am essentially a lazy person. I don't want to be pulling weeds this summer that I could have killed now, while they're still just babies.

All the cold hardy plants are in and up already: lots of spinach, greens, lettuce, arugula, peas, radishes, carrots and other cold tolerant veggies. I did put some beans and early spring toms in, and then had to cover them for last night and tonight's frost that may or may not happen (didn't happen last night). For some odd reason, the spinach plant I let our little nephew Luca plant is much bigger than all the rest... Must be the something about the enzymes on his little hands!

It's been a while since I had a garden this size, and I'd forgotten how much work it is! Plus, we've been getting started on a grass-fed beef jerky and various baked goods business (yes, we hope to sell the jerky on-line once we've established a local addicted population following. So, I'm exhausted and, in an odd way, happy that it's too cold to even haul the seed starter trays outside today. I'll just stay here with my cold feet in a heating pad and catch up on all the web work I have to do!

Thursday, April 09, 2009

The Facts about HR 875

I've heard a lot of worried emails about HR 875, and would like to make sure we all have the facts straight on this bill. So, please read this fact sheet on HR 875 from La Vida Locavore.

Readers of the late great Molly Ivins will note that she often would point out to anyone who said Republicans and Democrats are all alike that food policy is one place where there is a stark difference between the parties. Big corporations are not going to like this bill, and it's not going to hurt farmer's markets or organic standards. But this kind of tough bill on food safety is exactly the kind of thing Ivins would have predicted, what with Democrats in charge and all.

There's an organic "recession" garden on the White House lawn, people! We are going in the right direction for a change. Now get out there and put some manure out! Get your soil tested (our results just came back and I had to get some green sand because I don't have enough K in the soil, and the pH is 8). Sign up for those farmer's markets. Trade veggies for grass fed meat! Join a CSA (or start one)!

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Too Organic for Republicans

We moved in here last fall and never really got a good foundation in for the garden. So that's what we're doing now. Since this soil is very clay like (I'm still waiting for the results of my soil test from Cornell), I'm adding a lot of organic matter. But first, since there's a perfect little incline, I'm putting in some terracing (using concrete blocks), back-filled with sand over gravel, so I have great drainage. Hauling composted horse manure from a stable nearby is a lot of fun for Robin, who has to do all the heavy lifting these days.

Reminds me of a cartoon my Uncle Danny drew of Grandpa Turf, saying "What a stroke of luck! Myrt got a job loading concrete blocks!"

So, that's been sucking up our time.

I couldn't resist, though, posting this little story about Republicans worried that Obama's choice for the number two position at USDA is too organic.

Republican lawmakers expressed concern that Merrigan, a Clinton administration official who helped develop USDA rules on what can be sold as organic food, has been too closely associated with organic farming.


What's the matter, GOP? Worried that your chemical company campaign donors won't have enough money to pave your road back to power? Afraid the Monsanto piggy bank is going to dry up? Afraid your anti-green portfolio is going to lose even more value before you can buy that little private island where John Galt lives?

Now that I've had my little laugh, I'm going back outside to shovel my solar powered, mammal generated, composted fertilizer into the new raised beds.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Organic Gardening at The White House

Digging up grass! Step one to any garden going onto your lawn....



What an amazing sight: the first lady out there digging up the White House lawn to put in an organic victory garden. Digging up grass that's well established is hard work. Of course, I'm waiting for the pictures from after the ground-breaking ceremony. I'm sure the staff got in there and prepared the raised bed soil properly. For an 1100 sq. ft. garden, it takes some work. Unless you're looking to get exercise, like I am, just bring in the damn tiller. Here's the NY Times story on the White House garden. I'll keep an eye out for the follow up. I can't think of anything better for the organic food movement to have happen than the President pulling weeds.

I'm terracing my way up the little hill side now. I prefer it, as I can have better drainage near the terrace walls, and plant a better variety of things in a smaller area. I take my time with a little shovel and a big ice scraper, and I cut the hillside out in a brick, which I flip over and rake level.



But this will be the last time I bust my butt turning that former grass patch. My disability limits me, but I always was a lazy gardener. That's why I like to read Mort Mather's organic gardening articles. Once you're established, no-till is the way to go. I just layer on new compost every year, maybe poke it a little with a pitch fork.

Funny, our seeds and starter trays showed up today, and I've been planting this afternoon, watching birds show up so fat with eggs that they won't fly away when I go out there. I got a chance to think back over the years, all the gardening I've done in different places like the mountains near LA, Hawaii, and now here in Zone 5a. All the years of advocating organic agriculture (my organic gardening web site was one of the first), and here we are, a first lady starting an organic food garden on the White House lawn.

Amazing.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Organic no-till agriculture will save the world!

A story in the Christian Science Monitor about no-till organic agriculture caught my eye:

New way to farm boosts climate, too

Once I've established my raised or terraced beds (a muddy job that I'm currently devoting a couple of hours a day on--as much as my arthritis will allow), I follow an organic no-till method on a micro-scale. This is my first year up here in zone 5, but the parts of the garden that I didn't make into a cold frame were covered in leaves. This fall, I'll plant a cover crop that I can just knock down, use as mulch, or rake away. I'm a little worried about seeds becoming weeds in my planting area, but I figure using Mort's method of weed control (water, rake, wait, repeat) will help. Plus, I'll be adding manure and compost on top of last years soil, so that will help too.

If a cover crop is too much work, I recommend just covering your whole garden in layers of manure and straw. The worms will do a lot of the "tilling" for you, coming up to get the decomposing organic matter which they eat as they tunnel back down, leaving pathways for water to get deep into the spongy soil they leave behind.

In this article, the guys who developed the tractor attachment discovered the process by accident, as doing this kind of thing on a large scale is a whole different animal than what we small scale home gardeners have been doing for a long time now. As far as reducing one's carbon footprint goes, gardening at home is hard to beat. The only oil used is to get the seeds and manure to my house. No tractors. No trucks full of food. Just a big garden full of fresh vegies waiting for me to go out and pick! And, it forces me to do my garden yoga exercises!

It is good to see these farmers doing their best to help the world, though. The fact that this method stops runoff and topsoil erosion is enough to make me want to support it. The carbon sequestering is a bonus!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Eat Your Organic Vegetables

My friend Mort Mather grows organic vegetables for his son's southern Maine restaurant. Mort and his wife Barbara do a lot of eating. Who wouldn't? Delicious organic food is central to their lives. And yet they are slim and fit, and will probably live to be a hundred.

In his recent post, How to Lose Weight to his Happy Blog, Mort explains his theory of eating well, and staying fit.


Our theory is that if the body is not getting something it needs, it will send out a signal asking for more food until the deficient nutrient is ingested. Since our body is not specific in its request we just keep eating. Actually we have found that we sometimes crave something that we figure our body needs, but it is safer to just provide the body with complex food regularly.


Complex food includes whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and honey or maple syrup instead of sugar. I'm guessing they avoid high fructose corn syrup.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Investing in an Organic Pest Control System

This summer, our slightly inclined backyard will become a terraced, raised bed, intensive organic garden, producing enough food to keep our family, and friends, in fresh produce as early as mid-spring, through the summer, and into next winter. The small area I managed to build up when we moved in in August will be quadrupled, or more if you count the pumpkin patch I'm planning. I'm already making arrangements to get a load of manure dumped right onto the snow, as I've seen the local corn farmers doing already.

Of course, this sudden transformation of yard will be a beacon to the local insect population, especially if any of my plants are weakened by cold weather, drought, or nutrient deficiency. I'll try to protect them, plant them at the right time, water if I have to, and make sure I've put enough manure and compost in the soil to keep them healthy. But if you grow it, the bugs will come try to eat it.

Black-capped ChickadeeSo, this winter, I've been investing in a locally integrated and organic pest control system: birds. I've spent about $10 so far on suet and seeds (avoiding thistle, which the finches love, but often pass whole, leading to more weeds to pull). The most numerous species by far are the intelligent state bird of Maine and Massachusetts, the Black-capped Chickadee. They are voracious insect eaters in summer, when I will stop providing suet for their protein source. The Chickadees especially love mosquitoes, which won't really hurt plants, but do hurt the gardener.White Breasted Nuthatch

Birds are an elegant solution to pest control, but humans, of course, screw up the system. Pesticides are bad news for many reasons, not the least of which is that they harm bird populations. When I was young, I had an organic epiphany when I saw dead lady bugs that would have eaten the aphids we were trying to kill with the stuff that killed the lady bugs. Now I wonder why anyone would want to spray a synthetic, petroleum derived chemical that depletes bird populations in order to kill the bugs that the birds would eat: yet another interminable succession of absurdities.Blue Jays

Other birds that will provide organic pest control in our garden include the American Goldfinch, the slate-colored Juncos, the Blue Jays, the White-breasted Nuthatch, the Northern Cardinals, and various sparrows. I'll still put out some black oil sunflower seeds (maybe even plant some black oil sunflowers) to keep them all hanging around, but if they want some protein, they'll have to eat my bugs.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Think Local, Buy Local


One of the great things about moving to the central leatherstocking region of New York (we're near Cooperstown) is great, local, fresh food, like the local eggs that we love so much that Robin sent a card to the lady who gathers them. We buy those eggs, and lots of other terrific fresh, local, organic food at It's All Good Grocery in Cherry Valley.

I grew up in rural Arkansas. We had a big garden, a horse, a cow sometimes, pigs most of the time (and seeing how smart they are is a big reason I don't eat pork anymore, but that's another post for another day). Of all the great food we get from Cindy, Terry, and Bill, it's the eggs I love the most. They carry local eggs from several different places, but we really love Coralee's...

In these hard times, when people are tightening their belts, staying home to eat more meals, I sure hope that small, local organic groceries become more popular. Eating out is so expensive that you could eat all organic, if you cooked at home, for the same money as a dinner out would cost. In these times of concern for sustainability and a green economy, remember that all of those concerns are already being addressed by your local organic, natural, and sustainable grocery.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Sustainable Agriculture in an Obama Administration

With the selection of Tom Vilsack as Secretary of Agriculture, I expect Monsanto to be well represented in the highest echelons of Obama's administration. But there are a lot of positions left to fill at the USDA, and we can help make sure that at least a few of them are filled by champions of the sustainable food movement.

At Food Democracy Now, you can make a stink by signing their petition to:

...get serious about sustainable change at the USDA. As a result, here at Food Democracy Now! we’ve come up with a list of twelve candidates for Under Secretary positions at the USDA. And we’re calling them the Sustainable Dozen.


Then you can tell your friends through an easy interface with chat, blogs, email, social networking, and bookmarking sites.

As someone who now has been eating from a zone 5 victory garden since August (now cold framed and more of a life support system for suspended animation), my dedication to sustainable food is a matter of record. I've had an organic gardening site at supak.com since 1996. Many of my clients have been, or are, into sustainable agriculture, including a sustainable organic Kona coffee farm on the big island of Hawaii. I've spent my life studying how important this topic is.

If we don't start making our food more sustainable, we will pay a huge price. From crop failures due to monoculture to seed diversity to erosion, pollution, loss of soil tilth, and greenhouse gases due to lack of composting and dependence on fossil fuels, sustainable food is a serious topic that is often denied or short-changed in a very bi-partisan fashion in this country. Industrial agriculture interests are well represented by high paid lobbyists to both political parties, and only a movement like the one that swept Obama into power will make them pay attention to the seriousness of this subject at this time.

So, please, sign the petition, and then tell your friends and readers. If you love to eat as much as I do, you'll do it now!