Moon Dog Farms

A Certified Naturally Grown fruit orchard and vegetable farm.

MoonDog Farms is dedicated to stewardship of the land, reinforcing a healthy community and producing great food.  

From the Plastic Purses of Babes: A Diehard Locavore Story

There was a lovely story recently shared on facebook by one of our regular farmer's market customers.  She's the mother of an adorable young girl—a little lady who never arrives at market without the proper shoulderbag and matching sunglasses— and she always makes a point to give her daughter some money at the start of their shopping, allowing her to pick their purchases and handle all transactions.

Not only is the cute quotient completely overwhelming, I'm always struck by what seems to me a fine way of teaching money management, confidence and an underlying appreciation for local food.

 "...Friends, just wanted to let you know how special this little market has become to us!  When we arrived home, several neighbors saw my daughter. They said, “ Oh, you must have just got home from  the grocery! She then replied, "No silly, vegetables come from the farmers, not the grocery store. They grow them." Then my sweet 2.5yr old said, "Bye, bye friends" and walked away to take her market purchases inside. I was beaming with pride! Thanks Galveston's Own Farmers Market! Score!"

I'm always tickled when our little customer with the plastic pink purse shows up. After that story, it'll be a struggle to resist hugging her tearfully and offering to go halfsies on her college education everytime she prances into market asking for kale.

When a preschooler skips over to your table and points at the pyramid of bok choy asking for one of the 'big, white things' and proudly hands over a fist of money, you can't help but marvel at the encouraging darlingness of it all. Little girls lugging asian vegetables exactly their same size like some alternate crunchy version of "My Size Barbie" is enough to make anyone beam with pride.

 I'm sure Mattel's got the focus groups lined up already.

 

Growing food as a lifestyle is hard work. Growing food as a means to support oneself is far from the easiest way to go about it. We run into hardships and obstacles, foreseen and unforeseen, every single day.

The wonder of watching life emerge and transform in real time is one big fat reason why we're trying our darndest to make this adventure work.

Another is freedom—the kind that comes from knowing what went into the growing of our fruits and vegetables, and freedom from guilt because we do our best to do no harm to our environment and its future.

Those two year olds with 3 foot bok choys are another reason.

Truly horrible fashion. Hat cut into visor, the strawberry rhubarb color palette and those terminator sunglasses...

Truly horrible fashion. Hat cut into visor, the strawberry rhubarb color palette and those terminator sunglasses...

Or rather, the sharing of food which helps in making others healthy and happy. We can do very little to improve other people's lives. It's presumptuous to think we would even be suitable for that job—I mean, I've seen how bad our farmfashion is—but we can provide a memory of what good, honest food is. And hopefully reinforce the value of putting community, quality and accountability before fast, cheap and anonymous.

 

All we have to do now is keep it up until our produce toddles away in the arms of two year olds of all backgrounds and all classes. Thanks, Plastic Purse.

Now, if we can just convince her to bring a bok choy to show and tell...

 

Working it. Or, how we yell "Phooey" and eat strawberries.

Work can hold so much promise.

Or so much dismay.

These scallions needed to be weeded much earlier than they were. Of course, we also needed to plant nearly 1,000 plants. They'l be fiiine.

The rolling tide of work, chores, duties or whatever moniker you like for your Necessary Tasks is a rhythm I find often has me swimming between several states of mind.

A frothy, struggle-filled drift further and further out  to sea as I watch the shoreline slip away is often preceded by a sometimes-frantic, sometimes-gleeful treading with chin barely above water. And at times, there's even moments of purely contented floating with no awareness of what's beyond the near horizon, unless its to enjoy the hiss of sunset melting into the waves.

But enough with the water metaphors. We live close to the ocean, so it seems appropriate to toss them in every so often—and I have always had a knack for treading—but we grow vegetables and fruit, so I'll coast back into soil-based talk.

Okay, now no more.

McFarmer mulls tilling options with our neighbor.

Soil is one of the topics that we jabber over everyday. It's the most basic building block for farming, and thus a Necessary Task that we analyze nearly everything about it. It's a Necessary Element to Growing Wholesome And Delicious Food.

In putting our field together for Summer One (the period of time we've designated spanning from now until June) we've had more talk than ever about soil. Because of timing with rain, the field's previous Winter crops production cycle and the generally-agreed upon 24 hours in a day, we have less-than-optimal beds with which to nurture our first round of young summer crops.

I've mentioned the gumbo clay before, and indeed, it strikes again. One large downfall of the use of a tractor is that while tilling/discing the dirt to make a more plant-able material in your field, it also compacts and smooshes the field as well. Tractors are mighty heavy.

Jericho romaine lettuce, planted on a blustery March day. Hold on, babies!

Jericho romaine lettuce, planted on a blustery March day. Hold on, babies!

And in our case, after pushing our till-day back over a week, we opted to use the tractor on soil that wasn't perfectly dry in order to avoid an additional wait of another 10 days because of the likelihood of more rain the following days. Therefore, we have beds of very smooshed, very compacted soil made up of dirt that's already something you might want to throw on the potter's wheel.

All this means that our baby plants are having a time of it. And that Alex begged me not to share too many photos of said plants that may or may not make it in the following weeks, growing as they are in unfavorable conditions that might choke off their tiny hairlike roots. Not to mention that Moon Dog Farms is located in a windtunnel. 

(We almost forgot from last year how much the Wind likes to show off in Spring. We definitely remember now.)

A tomato here and a pepper there have bit the dust. And then a few more.  Direct-seeding anything requires both the annihilation of your cuticles from tunneling into our crusty soil and an hour of preparation spreading softer-bodied compost across the entire bed before laying down one single seed. And we worry about our field's viability, her fertility. The next window to plant cover crop as a green manure in that field won't occur until after summer.

 

Perhaps publicly displaying our anxieties isn't  an award-winning marketing plan. But I say "phooey."  We aim to share the good and the bad. The triumphs and travails of a tiny Texas farm.

And the thing is, so much around here is still pretty damn good. Berries ripen.  We've got more fingerling potatoes to plant than we know what to do with. Wildflowers have begun to dot hills surrounding our barns and roads.There's a gopher in the Spring field. Clearly, this is a potential travail, but presently he's simply amusing and funny-looking. Bok choy continues to break all our expectations and grow like a champ. And lately, people don't act so scared of bok choy at market. That's a true plus.

 

And so, while not all things are smooth-sailing, we're absolutely not lost at sea.

 

Sweetness.

I rise, arching the small of my back as I slowly draw my shoulder blades together and extend the fingers of each hand, like soil-blackened starfishes.

It's a well-practiced ritual of a grower, this dance of transition from stooped toiler with eyes focused groundwise into an unfolding where face, spine and awareness open skyward, much like the blooms of our ceaseless attentions.

Snapdragons in bloom in our flower bouquet beds.


Often—too often—we forget to take that integral break in lieu of working a little longer, a little harder. Water, a snack, a wiggle, they can all be pushed minutes further down my imagined schedule until lunchtime is 3:00 pm and a thirsty headache has been my planting companion for the past hundred feet of sown corn.

The farmer's calendar fills to the brim just as the Indian paintbrushes began to fill the roadsides, and just when it's most important to stop and marvel at the flowers (and pause for a rest) it's also time to make the most of the daylight.

McFarmer works on seeding cucumbers in the new Summer One field.


There are days however, moments, when the light is right and the bird's calls are just too sweet to not notice, and I pause.


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During these moments, the word 'sweet' always comes to mind. Michael Pollan writes of the origins of this now constantly-used word in his book, The Botany of Desire. I loved this plunge into the histories of people's relationships to certain plants (apples, tulips, cannabis, potato) and how each curious dynamic elucidates a need or quirk of our human nature. He writes of a time before artificial sweeteners, corn syrups and using the adjective 'sweet' as a hum-drum way to say something about someone without saying anything.

Once upon a time, sweetness was near heavenly. To find something that tasted sweet (like an apple) was a special occasion, one to be cherished and held close in one's memory. To call it sweet was closer to divining what made it a little magic rather than a bland name for the packaged thousands lining an entire aisle at the supermarket.


It was yesterday, near 5:00 in the evening, and after hours of tending a fire of prunings from the old orchard, I hurriedly attempted to sow 400 ft of lettuce and mesclun on our last empty crop bed in the Spring field. Sitting back on my haunches, I shuffled down the bed scattering thick layers of tiny seeds along four rows atop the bed. The weather was cool, with a pregnant stillness the sky had borne all day.

Dark rainclouds skirted our farm's horizon all day, allowing us glimpses of showers miles away to the West and an overall quiet that somehow made the greens of lettuce, rapini and arugula even greener. The gossipy squawks of overhead geese and testy goading of mockingbirds echoed through the field.

Newly sown lettuce and mesclun flanked by arugula, more greens, carrots, potatoes, rapini and more.

 

I looked around, appreciating how the farm is at a perfect moment. It's the very cusp of when these fields full of abundance look their best before tipping into the happy mania of Spring, where growth of weeds and prolific tasks overwhelm us and we're in a months-long tug of war for “who's in control.”

And that 's just it. We're never in control.

I talk about it incessantly, it seems, but it's never something for us to lament. Sometimes we do, of course. (Often we do. I seem to remember somebody calling the wind a motherless wretch, but who can be sure?) But we always know-- although that knowledge might get tucked away in a back fold of the brain hidden by a few hundred stacks of books and baseball gloves and a chipped teacup or five--we know that's exactly the point.

The joy of successful teamwork with me and Mother Nature.

We're here by the grace of nature, not because we know how to tame her. The fact that I refer to those powerful forces unseen as “her” is only to help me grasp the wonder of corn silks pollinated by the breeze, and help me cope when hopes pinned on something as changeable as that wind simply blow away.

The other side of that partnership.

And so it was at 5:00pm yesterday that I stood between the lettuces and stretched.

I looked beyond our fences at a seashell sky, fading from lavender and canteloupe. To the other direction, beyond our ponds, an impossible blue dotted strewn with soft clouds. Our rows of vegetables, that a year ago barely existed and two years ago were only excitement and a few scratches on drawing paper, are real and beautiful. Each one we placed into the ground with our own hands, not in order to hew order out of dirt, water and chemistry, but as an act of faith as we work alongside and as a part of nature.


Spring is here. We juggle the ambitions of our young tomatoes with tending delicate lettuces and guiding sugarsnap vines to their trellis. Our work is hard. We need to remember to take breaks. New babies of all species are born every instant. The sky above our farm is endless.


Life is sweet.

Everything but the kitchen sink (which is full of dirty radishes).

To recount the bustle of the last few weeks would be an exhausting and confusing tale, requiring far too many words.

“Did we find a home for Skeletor and Ruby before or after we made that pile of rotting cauliflower stems? And when did I show those kids that grubs won't bite you, but they will poop in your hand?”

 

The “to-do's” undone and “done-that's” crossed off the list have been, in one way or another: frenetic, disappointing, mirthful,  grateful and  forehead-slapping, hand-clapping, hand-wringing and brain-squeezing.

So, in order to avoid using any more adjectives than a normal person should employ in polite company, I choose to stick to the good ol' adage of a picture being worth a thousand words.

 

With that in mind, here's about 3 million of 'em.

My adventures in the school garden at Early Childhood University on Galveston Island got grungier and even more fun when I took them transplants of veggies and flowers. Every kid got a chance to steward their "own" plant, and we talked about food, using "gentle" hands and how much fun it is to get dirty.

Oh, and a grub did poop in my hand. 

The grandmaster behind all this garden magic is Jessica Antonelli, resident art teacher and fun guru. These kids are sooo lucky.

The grandmaster behind all this garden magic is Jessica Antonelli, resident art teacher and fun guru. These kids are sooo lucky.

We were amping ourselves up for BOTANY!!!!

We were amping ourselves up for BOTANY!!!!

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And then there were the rains.

So, so much rain. It postponed and cancelled nearly all of our planting plans for a week. But nature does what nature wants, and we're just her fanclub.

www.moondogfarms.com
www.moondogfarms.com

The snapdragons at last began to bud and finally--FINALLY--the nigella began to bloom. 

This might not sound like a whoop-de-doo, but DAMN! we've been waiting for these beauties to flower for what felt like an eternity. 

The green beans continue to pop and stretch their limbs. Hooray!

This sweet fella was affectionately dubbed Skeletor, and his lovely girlfriend was Ruby. McFarmer begs me not to name them, but I continue to happily ignore him. We were so glad they found a happy home. 

We had our very own brush with matchmaking.

Tragic as it was to drive up to the farm one morning and find two lost and dreadfully malnourished pups, it was tremendous to find them homes by sunset of the same day.  All thanks to the curious, wonderful world of facebook

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Large machine work ensued.

McFarmer dug another trench for irrigation (this time to the herb garden) and took pains to properly care for his equipment (he was ever-so-thankful to forgo the manual digging this go-round).

www.moondogfarms.com
www.moondogfarms.com

We began our final harvests of the Fall field, saying "ciao" to broccolis, brussels sprouts, cabbages and more. 

A rainy farmer's market last Sunday was the official farewell to our colder-weather crops until next Fall. 

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More and more restaurant deliveries kept us busy and thankful. Hooray for Brennan's and Gaidos!

We marveled at the crazy beauty that is life. And lettuce.

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Flower arrangements were made for our good friends (and farmer's market manager), Cate and Brian.

 

We contemplated going very earthy for the bride's bouquet...

 

 

....but ended up a bit more traditional.

Of course, how can you go wrong with a few Texas wildflowers thrown in?

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Family came for a visit, and they were put right to work. ( Turns out, fathers have a penchant for expertly washing market produce. Who knew?) 

 

Oh, and we marveled some more at some more beauty of life. 

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And yes, more family came, and we put them to even MORE work. 

My sister Julia and brother-in-law Jerry never cease to impress us with their willingness and effectiveness when it comes to tackling any job we throw at them. 

This time, it was removing the stumps of the older brassicas from the field before tilling.

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Here's the thrilling action shot of spent vegetables finding their place in a large compost pile. Can you read the determination on their faces?

Here's the thrilling action shot of spent vegetables finding their place in a large compost pile. Can you read the determination on their faces?

Of course, some family members took a more laid-back approach to the farmwork. Luckily, they make up for a lack of thumbs with an excess of sweetness.

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The strawberry study has begun to yield small green fruits! Here's hoping we get to their little gems before others do when the time comes...

And then, the big daddy of all tasks this week: transplanting.

Family helped transform the Fall field into our Summer One field, requiring the installation of tomato/cucumber trellises, black fabric as an experiment in combating weeds, and loads and loads of T-posts. Sore shoulders were felt all around.  

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Three varieties of tomatoes were moved from our greenhouse to the ground this week: Sakura, Goldies and Black Cherries. All are cherry tomatoes, for they're our favorite and no one can tell us not to.

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Mass transplantings always give us ample time to bemoan the state of our gumbo clay soil here in the Gulf.  I mean, look at that stuff.  All we need is a kiln and a different business model.

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We scheduled another dirt delivery this week as part of our "Fix the Bowl In The Middle Of the Field" mission. Where once the lettuce of Fall was growing, we will now spread the topsoil and set it in cover crop until this year's Fall. 

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Can you smell that basil?

Setting those little babes in the ground is a truly reaffirming act.  They're so delicate and tender at this age, but you know that in only a matter of days they grow strong, grateful for the chance to root deep. They give and give, stretching our harvest for months and becoming a staple in both our diet and our incomes until late summer.

And of course, we do a little more marveling.

After all, we're lucky to stare natural beauty in the face everyday--it's the least we can do to go on and on about it. :)

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