Category Archives: Organic Farming

specifically around benefits and challenges of organic farming

The Impact of Organic Farming

One of the greatest aspects of working at the CSA is the opportunity to meet so many interesting people who feel the need to support the production of locally sourced food. In my mind, one of the main incentives for being a part of a CSA  is the benefits that truly “organically run” agriculture provides to the environment and to public health. I have been reading a lot about soil science lately and the numerous effects that quality soil (or not so quality) can have on not just the nutritional value of our veggies, but also on the ecology of the entire surrounding environment.

There are numerous elements and compounds that good soil must be composed of in order for a variety of micro-organisms to survive. When certain organisms such as the all-important earthworm are either over-populated, or under-populated in soil, this can severely affect the bio-diversity of soil and a plant’s immune system. Plants usually contain certain “anti-microbial substances” that are produced when they receive any sign that they are under attack by a pest. This phenomenon is called “induced resistance,” in which the plant will create hormones and proteins that help defend itself and enhance its immune system. These hormones have also shown to be stimulated when exposed to a variety of both harmful and harmless entities that are more abundant in soils high in organic matter. Thus the more natural and diversified the makeup of your compost is, the stronger your’s plants entire system will be, and the better it will taste!

In terms of what our farm crew has been witnessing in the fields, we have seen certain beneficial insects preying on the Colorado potato beetle pest in our eggplant. These insects can also be “signaled” by a crop releasing certain chemicals into the air which alert them that it’s prey is here. The corn rootworm is another common pest (which some of you may have seen already at pickup), that can be controlled when the roots of certain varieties of corn release a chemical that attracts nematodes, which can infect and kill rootworm larvae. Unfortunately, during the process of breeding certain varieties of corn over the past century in the U.S, this ability to signal the beneficial nematode has been all but lost.

Here are the eggs of the Colorado Potato Beetle pest on our eggplant. Grrrrrr

A look at the remains of colorado potato beetle eggs after being decimated by possibly the stink bug or lady beetle – 2 common predators that feed on these eggs.

Optimal soil health not only contributes to stronger, and much more nutritious vegetables, but it can be much more cost-effective in the long run when a plant’s resistance abilities act as a form of pest management. Various pesticides may eliminate the immediate threat of a pest, but they can consequently affect the health of a variety of other organisms within the soil, which can drastically change soil structure and plant health in a negative way. A reactionary “quick-fix” approach to growing food may help increase production, yet in the long-run in can actually be much more expensive due to the heavy reliance on pesticides and fertilizers.

When running an organic operation, the survival of our crops, and thus the entire CSA, truly depend on the ecological conditions to function well. If there isn’t a sufficient amount of organic matter integrated into the soil, then chances of extreme weather such as heavy rain or long droughts weakening and eroding the soil are much higher. Last year for example, we still managed to produce high amounts of produce during a drought which caused numerous farms in Massachusetts to suffer tremendously. This is truly a testament to the strength of our soil and quality, nutrient layden compost tha Wards Berry farm is producing. Moreover, one of the most striking differences between soil that has higher amounts of organic matter versus soil that doesn’t, is the amount of carbon that can be stored in it. Not often mentioned in relation to the carbon cycle, is the fact that there is as much carbon in six inches of topsoil with 1% organic matter as there is in the atmosphere above a field. If organic matter decreases by 1%, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could double. In fact, carbon stored in all the worlds soils is over three times the amount in the atmosphere. The way in which we deforest our land or farm the soil, has had and will continue to have drastic impacts on climate change and the quality of the air that we breathe. While we may not always think about some of these issues when going food shopping, the impacts that our buying-decisions have are consequential and real!



Building Soils For Better Crops, 2009, 3rd edition

Drying Chili Peppers

Drying chili peppers is a great way to store them for the long-term. You don’t want to waste any of those chili peppers picked from that huge harvest this year. Here are a few ways to dry them so they don’t go to waste.

The Basic Method for Drying Chili Peppers

Wash your chili peppers thoroughly after picking to remove any dirt, then dry.

Place on a plate or a wire rack in a dry, well ventilated room. You can also string the chilies up on string or thread and hang to dry. Within several weeks, you will have dried chili peppers and you can grind them up or use them as ornaments as desired.

Oven Drying Instructions

Wash your chili peppers thoroughly after picking to remove any dirt.
Cut them in half, lengthwise to expose the pepper innards.
Arrange the chili peppers over a baking sheet.
Bake at low heat, about 100 to 135 degrees.
There is no set time to bake the chili peppers for drying. Keep an eye on them, turning every few minutes or so. You can leave the oven door cracked for some air flow. It will take several hours with this method. Keep in the oven until the moisture has been baked out of them. Use as desired!

Drying Chili Peppers Without an Oven – Air Drying

  1. In this case, dry your chili peppers whole. Do not slice.
  2. String them together on some strong thread with a few inches between each jalapeno peppers.
  3. Hang the chili peppers in direct sunlight. Be sure it is dry and warm.

It can take several weeks for the jalapeno to completely dry with this method, but it’ll be worth it!

Last but not least, you can also consider a food dehydrator, which is a more fool-proof method of drying chili peppers.

Drying Chili Peppers with a Dehydrator

A dehydrator is probably the easiest method for drying chili peppers. A dehydrator encloses the chili peppers and dries them overnight in soft heat. Slice them up before dehydrating for faster dehydration. You can find dehydrators in stores or online.

What can you do with your dried chili peppers?

Grind them up to make your own chili powder, which is like cayenne powder, or keep them whole and use them as you might use a sun-dried tomato. They can be rehydrated with hot water and go great with many recipes!


Ultimate Guide to Drying Hot Chili Peppers

Storing Chili Peppers – How To Dry Hot Peppers

Drying Chili Peppers

CSA Pickup: Week 4

As we enter into Week 4 of CSA distribution, we are still enjoying a steady harvest of strawberries, as well as a bountiful crop of peas for Pick-Your-Own (PYO).

For this week’s pickup, look forward to…

  • Strawberries
  • Kale
  • Swiss Chard
  • Radishes
  • Lettuce
  • Spring Onions
  • Garlic Scapes
  • Peas (PYO)

Remember that Monday is fish pickup for those of you with fish.

We are now selling pasture raised beef from the Trustees of the Reservation in addition to honey, maple syrup, and spices.

Farm Lunch: June 18th

In a previous occupation, I was employed at a fairly prestigious donut shop based out of Somerville. One of the shop’s signature donuts is a raised donut covered in a brown butter glaze, which is then tossed in toasted hazelnuts. The result being one of the most edifying eating experiences available to mortals. With that said, I feel responsible for carrying on the brown butter tradition wherever I go. On this occasion, the tradition manifested itself in Strawberry Brown Butter Bars.

Now before one dismisses brown butter as overly complicated hipster necromancy, checkout this link that nicely demonstrates the process of browning butter. It is fairly straightforward; as long as you keep an eye on the butter so it doesn’t burn, keep in mind that it is brown butter, not blackened butter. The end result can add deep toffee and nutty qualities to baked goods and other dishes.

For the most part, I did not alter the original recipe very much. Instead of cherries, I used our amazing strawberries and for the crust, I threw in some sage from our raised beds while I was browning the butter. Overall, I was pleased with how the recipe turned out. I expected the strawberries to be on the juicy side, but I could not resist using them. Albeit, the end result wasn’t the prettiest, it sure was tasty.

The finished product hot from the oven.

Pouring the brown butter batter over the berries.

Farm Lunch: June 14th

Being a farm apprentice has numerous perks, one such perk is having daily access to fresh organic vegetables.  On this occasion, I capitalized on my proximity to produce and made some arugula pesto.

As far as recipes go, pesto is fairly straightforward and flexible in terms of interchanging ingredients. While the traditional pesto calls for basil, pine nuts, garlic, olive oil, salt, and Parmesan cheese, you can substitute many of the ingredients in favor of ones you find more palatable. For instance, I used arugula, raw almonds, some spring garlic, and some garlic powder from Organic Green Kitchen in place of the basil, pine nuts, and regular garlic. However, pesto can be made with any leafy green that packs a punch, like kale, mustard greens, and even radish greens. As for the cheese and nut options, try using any number of hard cheese or nut variety.

I used the recipe provided here as a guide for creating my pesto. Being without a food processor, I made do with a blender to turn the raw almond slivers into a course meal, but the same result can be achieved by using a rolling pin and a large sandwich bag to crush the nuts. As for the garlic amount specified in the recipe, I found it truly wanting and ended up using three or four medium sized bulbs and stalks. Obviously, tweak your own recipe to taste and to the amount you are making.

In the end, I combined my pesto with tri-colored radiatori, the fins of which hold the pesto nicely, and topped it all with some rough cut radish for an added crunch.

Green Grows The Berry

Strawberries are fickle and ephemeral. In one day, strawberries can pop from a field of green on green, to one afloat with the deep red of ripe berries. In the same amount of time, these tender berries can be picked over by birds, bugs, beasts, and berry mad farmers.

If the anxiety of waiting for the berries to ripen is overwhelming, then try this preemptive recipe to alleviate the tension.

Pickled Green Berries


  • 1 pint of green strawberries, washed and hulled
  • 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ½ teaspoon celery seed
  • ½ teaspoon caraway seeds
  • 1 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
  • pinch of red pepper flakes (if you want add a little heat)
  • ½ cup apple cider vinegar
  • ½ cup white vinegar
  • ½ cup water
  • 2 tablespoons honey or sugar
  • 1 ½ teaspoon coarse sea salt or pickling salt


  1. Clean and dry a jar big enough to hold all the strawberries. Fill the jar with the washed and hulled green strawberries, packing them tightly together. Add the black peppercorns, bay leaves, celery seeds, caraway seeds, yellow mustard seeds and red pepper flakes (if using) over the top of the strawberries. Set the jar aside while you prepare the brine.
  2. In a saucepan over low heat add the vinegars, water, honey and sea salt. Gently simmer until the honey and salt has dissolved. Set the mixture aside until it has cooled completely. Pour the mixture over the green strawberries (if it doesn’t completely cover the strawberries you will need to make more brine). Cover the jar and give it a few gentle shakes to move all the spices around a bit. Refrigerate the green strawberries for at least a few days before using.
  3. NOTE: Normally you would add the brine while it was still hot, but for this recipe you want it to cool down so the strawberries don’t become mushy and chewy.


Shared Appetite 

Smithsonian Magazine

New Herbs On The Block

With the rain falling on the fields, we were busy weeding the crops, planting an assortment of herbs in our raised beds, and generally getting soaked.

Saturation aside, we planted several new varieties of herbs in our raised beds. With two established plantings of sage and thyme already residing in the beds, we added roasting rosemary, licorice vine French tarragon, spearmint, chocolate ganache mint, English lavender, pizza night oregano, regular oregano, Greek oregano, chives, fairest of all sage, twist of lemon thyme, and fine curled parsley.

Once these new herbs are established in the beds, we will let our shareholders know when they can take a few fresh sprigs to compliment their weekly vegetables shares.

For those still interested in joining our CSA, there is still time to register! Click here to visit the Moose Hill Community Farm CSA registration page.

Matt adding compost to a raised bed.

Recently sprouted beans.

Roasting rosemary.

Licorice vine French tarragon.









Pizza night oregano.

English lavender.









Greek oregano.

Regular oregano.









Fine-curled parsley.










Twist of lemon thyme.

Fairest of all sage.








The Fields In May

The first CSA pickup is nearly upon us and the crops are looking great for our shareholders! There are still a few spaces in our CSA for Monday, Friday and Saturday distributions; 18 weeks of fresh, local, organic vegetables! Learn more and register today.

Here are is a sample of whats growing in our fields so far.

Strawberries getting ready for June.

Carrots growing in our lower fields.

Cucumbers basking in the sun.


Rows of radish.














Another row of radish.

A predated robin egg found in the field.









Garlic ready for the CSA – new this year!

Farm apprentice and weeding dynamo Matt Eiland working in the carrots.

Lettuce beneath the row cover.

Sharon Green Day !

Join us tomorrow, Saturday May 6 from noon to 4pm, for Sharon Green Day!

Sharon Green Day is a local sustainability festival that is free and family oriented. Come learn about sustainable practices and how you can make a positive difference in your community.

The event will feature local environmental organizations, renewable energy exhibitors, local crafts, recycling, sustainable transportation, water conservation, green farming, kid’s activities, live music, and free food.

For more information on Sharon Green Day click here.

Remember to visit our table to learn more about Moose Hill Wildlife Sanctuary and to register for the Moose Hill Community Farm CSA. Our CSA provides 18 weeks of fresh, locally grown, organic vegetables. CSA shares are still available for this season, so register today and help support local sustainable agriculture.

Some science behind sustainable farming

Lately I have been reading about certain small-scale farmers who have demonstrated ways of growing food without the use of a a single chemical fertilizer, animal inputs, and with minimal use of fossil fuels. What I find most interesting about some of these farmers is the amount of knowledge and resourcefulness they demonstrate by spending less money, yet still producing large and diverse quantities of produce for themselves, and in some cases, a smaller surrounding community.

When I compare our CSA to some of these small scale farms, I realize how difficult it would be for larger operations to prevent crop loss — due to disease, pests, weather conditions — without burning any fuel. When weeding one acre of land, or applying organic pesticides to such a small area, it is certainly possible to do this without the need of tractors or large basket weeders (machines that Ward’s Berry Farm uses to weed some of our 400 feet rows of corn when their young). This could be done by hand and with few laborers, therefore more “eco-efficient” since less money is spent and less fuel is burned compared to a larger CSA. Yet some of the most important aspects of organic farming, and some of the key similarities between smaller sustainable operations and larger organic farms, are the way that soil and the abundant minerals within it are recycled and managed.

Healthy and arable soil (soil which can be used to grow crops) is ultimately what the human population depends on for it’s survival. We breathe from the trees and eat from the crops that come from well developed soil. In fact, roughly 10% of the world’s landmass is considered arable, yet much of this arable land is dedicated to animal pasture and growing food for livestock. Because our planet is inhabited by almost 8 billion people, more and more land suitable for growing is instead being developed on.

On a positive note, the more awareness we have about the affects of carbon emission and climate change, the more likely people will change the way they live and eat. A common phrase I like very much: vote with your fork! Yet in speaking from experience, this phrase seems to resonate with me a little more after learning about and directly witnessing the effects of sustainable farming on the surrounding community. The questions I receive from shareholders about how our compost is made, or the eagerness of some to hold a cooking and canning class, are all based (in my opinion) on a collective appreciation for organic food and the way it is grown.

So it all comes back to soil. Or dirt if you prefer, which is made up of a mixture of rocks, sand, clay, and organic matter – all of which are composed of different kinds of minerals. Geologically speaking, these minerals originate from different types of igneous rocks – rocks that are formed from the cooling and solidification of magma and lava –  which break down overtime due to chemical erosion and the extremely slow and gradual movement of glaciers (glaciation). Overtime these primary rocks  become sedimentary rocks, such as sandstone and limestone which contain essential minerals that soil requires to support growth. When an area of soil lacks certain minerals, or if vegetable plants cannot access them, it is most often not because this soil is devoid of nutrients, rather these minerals lay deep below the soil surface, or they exist in more concentrated forms – needing to be “digested” and dissolved in order for the roots of vegetables to access them. The mineral silica for example, is the most abundant element in the earth’s crust, and many plant species use it as a defense against pests and disease. Yet because silica is one of the least soluble minerals, many plants need it to be “pre-digested” for them. Ferns and sedges are succulent plants that are able to do this. In terms of “bringing up” some of those latent minerals located deep below topsoil, trees are able to do this the best, yet so can various green manure crops such as winter pea, which we actually plant in our upper field! By not planting any vegetables in this designated area of our field, we allow the soil to “replenish” itself through the help of this cover crop.


Though difficult to see, winter peas are abundant in this area of our field.  A large compost pile lays here as well, which is continuously breaking down into more “accessible” forms of nutrients for vegetables to benefit from.


Our spaghetti squash as well as our tomatoes, are able to grow and access the nutrients from a much “rougher” form of young compost. Other crops such as carrots or beets for example, require a finer form of soil.

Some other methods that we use to replenish our soil without having to buy additional minerals, are by harrowing, or “blending” up dead and decaying crops into the soil. By attaching drag harrows to the back of their tractors, Ward’s Berry farm is able to churn up our soil, thus recycling the nutrients that originated from it. Though our methods are not “100% green,” it is nonetheless worth noting how our soil is formed and developed from a series of natural events. From the surrounding trees that bring up valuable minerals deep below the surface, to the recycling of nutrients into the soil via harrowing and composting…a co-dependent Eco-system. Considering the manner in which larger corporations produce and ship food by the masses, I can’t think of a better cause to support than something that recycles the resources it produces instead of solely consuming it.


Will Bonsall’s Essential Guide to Radical, Self-Reliant Gardening

This post is by Matt Eiland who is in his first year as one of the Farm Apprentices at Moose Hill. In addition to the weekly pick-up posts, Matt has been sharing stories from the fields, ways to care and store for the crops, and other helpful insights.