Located at the base of Buckhorn Mountain at 6700' elevation, Buckhorn Gardens is a small, organic vegetable farm 13mi. south of Montrose, Colorado. Our farm is an active part of a 12,000 acre ranch; however, we only manage 3 acres with intensive vegetable gardening.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Summer has arrived here on the farm. We've been sweating buckets out in the fields, and normally we would be harvesting tomatoes, peppers and potatoes right about now. Unfortunately, our hot-season bounty will be considerably lighter this year, as we believe many of our crops were contaminated with herbicide drift.

About a month ago, we started noticing that the leaves on our tomatoes and potatoes were curling inward. This is one of the signs of a virus known as curly top, so, with much sadness, we pulled up the affected plants. Still, something seemed fishy; curly top usually doesn't show up this early in the season, and it seemed weird that it was spreading so rapidly. So Breigh sent in a few plants to be tested. When the tests came back negative and two soil scientists said the plants looked like they had chemical residue, we started doing some heavy detective work.

It turns out the ranch next door sprays an herbicide called Milestone to control thistle in the pastures that surround the farm. They use hand sprayers and only spray targeted plants, but it's been extremely windy this year, and we believe the herbicide drifted onto our farm. The active ingredient in Milestone, aminopyralid, is a hormonal herbicide that affects broad-leaf plants. It is effective in extremely small concentrations, and tomatoes, potatoes, beans and peppers are especially susceptible. The herbicide also shows up in manure of cattle who have eaten sprayed plants, and aminopyralid is released when the manure is dug into the soil and microorganisms start to break it down. The chemical can then prevent seed germination.

We have pulled up all of the plants that showed signs of contamination, but since we do use manure from the ranch, the question now is whether our soil is contaminated as well. We have sent plant and soil samples in for testing and we are anxiously awaiting the results. Until then, there is a little good news. Studies have found that aminopyralid is not metabolized by humans (that's why it shows up in manure -- it goes right through). It is also not present in milk or eggs of animals that eat contaminated plants.

It's scary that this could happen here at Buckhorn, where we thought we were part of such a safe, closed system. If you care about healthy, chemical-free food, spread the word. This particular herbicide was banned for a period in England and is currently illegal in the state of New York. There is no reason we should be using it here in Colorado. I just talked to a friend of mine who is spending the summer on a ranch in Montana. Her farm rents out goats to graze pastures and take care of thistle. No chemicals needed.

We'll touch base again when we get our test results back. On a happier note, some of us interns made enormous quantities of pesto yesterday with of our genovese basil. At least we have a couple summery crops on the farm. Here's our recipe:

- 1 clove garlic
- 1 large handful pinenuts (or you can use almonds or walnuts)
- pinch of salt
- splash of lemon juice
- zest of half a lemon
- about 2 cups of basil leaves
- olive oil

Process the garlic and the nuts in the food processor until ground up. Add the salt, the basil the lemon juice and the lemon zest and process again. While the food processor is running, add the olive oil until you reach the consistency you like. Enjoy!


  1. Herbicides should not be applied when the wind is blowing toward an adjoining susceptible crop or a crop in a vulnerable stage of growth.

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  2. Personally I don't think herbicides or pesticides should be used at all!