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.  

The Case of the Melted McFarmer.

I arrived at our driveway, after driving through a torrential downpour, to find nothing left of him.

Nothing but his muddy farm clothes.

www.moondogfarms.com

The minute he'd left the farm, only 2 hours earlier, I'd felt it. Something was amiss.

He didn't like being sent home without me, but that was too bad--when you have a foot healing from minor surgery and the sky begins to open up cats and dogs, you gotta deal with your lady sending you home and out of the wet. He was lucky I'd even let him come out that morning, but we've been under the gun and dancing with the weather trying to put our Summer One field to bed in time to till it under, add amendments and get it ready for the Fall plantings.

We're so relieved this will be the last time we have such a rushed turn-around. By the end of this Fall, we'll have prepared enough acreage we can do proper seasonal crop rotations. Good thing, too. The weather always steps on your feet when you waltz, especially when she's armed.  

And so, off McFarmer went. I don't have a healing foot, so I wasn't too concerned about the rain. I stayed to roll up the last three 100-ft plastic fabrics we'd used as mulch for our tomatoes. I also stayed so I could fall in the mud half a dozen times. No one was there to hear me curse the squelchy ground, my puny muscles or  the unpredictability of nature. I squashed each black widow I spotted as they scrambled out from their rudely removed home of the last several months. I began to roll the final fabric.

And then lightning. Crash of thunder. More downpour. Way more cats and dogs.


After taking cover for about 20 minutes at our wash station, I finally decided I was eeked out enough by the constant claps and blazes of lightning to head on home myself. It was a hairy 25 minute drive or so, lengthened by a resistance to drive anything but 15 under the speed limit. I'm not a huge fan of driving in a classic Texas gullywasher. 

But then I was home. Safe. Close to an opportunity of dryness.

But then I saw my melted partner. Nothing but sleeves. He just hadn't been able to make it. A whole life of emptiness swam through my head, void of any beard hair whatsoever.

I trudged inside, pealing off sopping clothes. I stepped gingerly through the kitchen on my way to the shower, to ponder my loneliness, and who did I see, lounging on the couch? 

 My McFarmer! It was him!

He looked up at me, smiled sweetly and said,

"Hey!  If you're wondering why my clothes are in the driveway, I left them on the ground there so the rain would wash off all the mud. I thought that was probably the best way to get them clean." 

McFarmer. It was definitely him. 

That funny month of September...

A funny month, September.

Farms across the country all find themselves with one foot in Autumn, one foot in Summer, pulling in harvests that straddle the seasons. Farmers in the North are often scrambling to protect their summer bounty from the first freezes, while at the same time we down here on the Gulf have only dreams of Fall to keep us sated for the next 2 months until temperatures finally begin to drop.  

There's a frantic run to tend to your kales and cabbages, dry the garlics, and savor what is both exhausting and exciting about summer. I'm sure I don't speak for myself in saying that September calls for a big, big sigh. It's just for us, that sigh is a long exhale stretching 'till to Halloween. Maybe Thanksgiving. Sometimes Christmas.

Although that isn't to say that we've had nothing but sweltering heat since May. 

Prepping an uncontrollably weedy lettuce bed, perfectly adorned in mosquito net and multiple layers as storms roll in.

This summer, while just as humid as ever, was far more mild than the Texas standard. We've had many days in the 80's and 90's, and we were even blessed with a cool front last weekend. Our harvest Saturday was a cause for joy, and reminded us how fun harvest can be (when you're just hoping to avoid brain meltdown and dodging the mosquito throngs). The farmers' market was downright electric with folks energized by a refreshing Fall-like day.

And then it was back to normal. :) 

Here are some snapshots of the farm pace from the last few weeks--from thunderstorms to spider-watching, it's been as summer as summer can be.  

McFarmer manning the booth at last week's market. Ain't he cute?

It's been so good to have lettuce back again-- we're starting to think we might begin to have lettuce all year with a little luck!

Our favorite customer of the day a few weeks ago, who just couldn't wait to don her Halloween costume, and loved our flower bouquets!

Weeding in the summer always introduces me to a new variety of native plant I'm unfamiliar with. 

Weeding in the summer always introduces me to a new variety of native plant I'm unfamiliar with. 

The hornets' nests seem to fall from the sky this time of year.

The hornets' nests seem to fall from the sky this time of year.

This green spider has eluded identification for me, but I love watching her lounge in the zinnias.

That same green spider with a yellowjacket, snatched from midair.

Cucumber moth caterpillars. They're back. Ugh.

Arigope spiders that have grown to the size of cats in some corners of the farm. Watching them spin their silks is transfixing. Unless you ask McFarmer.

A dark and cloudy afternoon.

This little girl was amazed at the size of one of our Magness pears at Galveston's Own Famers' Market.

www.moondogfarms.com

Ice in the camelbacks keep us cool and prevent brain-meltage.

McFarmer indulges an evening photo as he brings in some of the last buckets of okra harvest.

Good night, farm. 

Bugging off to Boston.

McFarmer and I have stars in our eyes. Actually, to be more accurate, these stars are edible, tender, green and very... lettuce-y.

The summer lettuce seems to be working. It looks like...gulp... we might turn into a farm that can grow lettuce in August. And that has our heads swimming with excitement. And lettuce-shaped stars.

You've heard me comment (perhaps rant) about the differences in summer growing for the seed catalog-worthy climes of Maine, California and Vermont versus the savagely hot, humid, hurricaney and buggy land of coastal Southeast Texas. There's no need to tread down that rutted path any further.

We knew of farms in the hotter zones of our continent who have regular success with growing more delicate and desirable crops like lettuce in the summer. (Here's looking at you, Jenny Jack Sun Farm and Gundermann Acres!)  

However, looking at our poor soils and the terrible time managing pests we had last summer, we were dubious.  We went ahead and made plans at the start of this year to try heat-tolerant varieties and make a go of it. And so far, so good.  

We've had to spray one round of Bt (bacillus thuringiensis--a naturally occuring bacterium often used in organic farming to combat caterpillars), but our canopy-laden darlings look as if this weekend might be the first harvest of what we previously thought would be impossible. 

Of course, it's only reasonable that this weekend will be our first Sunday off from the farmer's market and only vacation of the year. We'll be out of town, right in time to miss our first harvest of that golden-haloed summer lettuce.

We tried to plan this trip to McFarmer's sister in Boston at a time when we'd hit the perfect slope of time when we could slip away without too much hubbub, and return in time to catch up with prepping for the next season. 

There's something about best laid plans in there somewhere. It's too hot to remember what.

The lettuce will be fine, the farm will be fine. We have to remember that leaving the farm will ALWAYS feel inconvenient and impossible. We have plenty of loving help and support that will steward the crops while we're gone. 

This orb-weaver spider will be there to watch over all things tractor and crops. Thanks, you eight-legged nanny.

When your job is watching things grow, you get a little twitchy when you think about not being there to watch things grow.

(But we are excited to get a taste of summer that isn't completely sweat-laden. Here we come, Boston!)

www.moondogfarms.com

I'm reminded of my past vow to never claim to have one-up on Mother Nature, and never to tout our ability to have it all figured out. I guess that calls for a footnote, then. 

Ahem.

Official Footnote:

*While on vacation, lots of bummerific things could occur on the farm. Those damn cucumber moths from last summer could return and wipe out every single one of our prodigal lettuce sons. Furious tropical weather could sweep through, drowning every single plant in the field.  

Summer is a season filled to bursting with life and death. Everywhere you look, there's a creature or organism just born, just died, breeding, preying or encroaching on or with one another. The fields truly buzz with winged creatures. Every second of sunlight give a little more strength and a few more inches to roots, vines and blades living only to, literally, spread their seed.

Yes, we definitely take a risk leaving the farm. But, we're always taking a risk. It's a farm, and our fate is constantly (and physiologically) cast to the wind.  But we wanna see family, and so we do what we must.

So we'll drink our Sam Adams with McFarmer's sister, toasting the farm with fingers crossed.



Growing, growing, growing...

We've hit the stride of summer where the okra forests are nearly 10 feet tall.

It seems there are more spiders emerging and spinning than could be biologically possible. Luckily, there's still just as many stinkbugs and grasshoppers keeping the spider hordes busy.

Weedeating and mowing still feel like they deserve their own line item of daily duties, right next to teethbrushing. Maybe above.

McFarmer mowing down the old covercrop via weedeater. It's as laborious as it looks, but pretty fun, too.

We've been doubling our field production over the past week, transplanting and direct-seeding our newest summer crops while still tending to the older ones.  We're attempting some summer lettuce, experimenting with heat-tolerant varieties with the trial-by-fire approach.

If they can survive August, they'll survive anything.

Some crop production will be reinvigorated by these plantings. Hello new tomatoes, new eggplants. Others will (hopefully) get the good start they never had. The heavy rains we had for our first summer plantings back in April meant some beds of plants were cripples from the get-go. Hello tomatillos, cucumbers.

The baby lettuces in our most recent summer trials. Oh, may their shade cloth tent give them relief.

It's not only our acreage and bugs that are growing.

As those of you who follow our newsletter will know, I (Casey) took on the job of market manager at our beloved Galveston's Own Farmers Market. This assumption of more responsibility came after many talks between McFarmer and I and between me and the rest of our market board.

It came at a time when we'd decided I would cut back on fieldwork 15 hours or so a week. There's a few concerns that led us to this conclusion, most obviously our planned expansion for next year. I realize that probably sounds counterintuitive, yet as we grow in acreage and profit, there's even more officework to tend.

 

 

If you never pictured your farmer juggling an iphone and stack of spreadsheets, I'm here to tell you that they're as integral as the hoe and hammer.  

Think 'American Gothic 2.0.'

Customers at the GOFM booth, where I had the chance to teach them the names of the flowers in their Moon Dog Farms' bouquet!

As it so happens, I was part of the search team on GOFM's board hunting for a new manager. In the interim I took on some of the managerial duties and lo—I loved them. 

Turns out talking about farming and food, organizing, maintaining relationships and writing emails are skills I've already been stuffing under my farmer hat.

It's always easy to work for a boss you love, and in this case my boss, employees and co-workers are the farmers, makers and friends I look forward to seeing every Sunday.

The kiddos at Kids' Corner, our monthly GOFM event that lets kids run wild with food, paint and plants!

Seeing the same families week after week is a highlight of our week like none other. We're so thankful for their dedication!

This shift occurs at a moment when our market is growing. Nearly every week there's' a new vendor, and we're becoming more and more integral to a community of people. It feels good, this entrenching of fellowship that is one and the same with the sharing of food and knowledge. I'm happy to be a part of it, proud to claim this market as integral to my livelihood.

Only problem is, now Alex thinks he can call himself the farm boss.

I'll have to send him an email.

Sailing the wide, sunnhemp sea...

To feel present, it helps to breathe. If you can simply stop, for one moment, and take in all the sensations within you and the vibrations around you, then you've stepped into the elusive, oft-mentioned art of “being present.”

You have to listen. You have to open up to the world around you. You have to let your guard down.

And it helps if you're standing in a field of tall grass higher than your head, whooshing all around you and sounding like the ocean. It really helps.

Sure, maybe you don't have one of these fields nearby, and so my advice is moot and you'll have to go back to finding calm in a corner of your bedroom or in your kitchen or bathtub. Those are still great options, in my opinion. And I'll need them as well, for as of yesterday, my field of calm, my wide sunnhemp sea---well, it was plowed under.

 

Our experimentation with sunnhemp grass as a cover crop was wildly successful. This tall, graceful plant performed beautifully in our gumbo-clay soils and brain-melting humidity and heat. And it was a sight to behold. Some of the stalks grew nearly 7 feet tall, stretching their soft, silvery blue leaves upward and outward, until our Summer 2 field looked marvelously impenetrable—a jungle fortress of soil-improving foliage that absolutely pleaded you to come and hide in the middle.

And that I did.

Standing in the midst of those tree-like plants and listening to them sway and bend in the wind was like tapping a pause button on the rest of the world. It's good to sail away on an ocean in the middle of your farm, if only for a few moments.

The sunnhemp covercrop in bloom. Looks a bit like orchids.

Yet, like I said, the Crotolaria juncea couldn't stick around. A few of the stalks had burst into blossom, a sure sign that it was time to turn them under into the soil. At the point before bloom, the plant has its maximum amount of nutrients and energy stored up, and those will either end up expressing themselves in the flowers or—if we time it right---by decomposing into our soil once they're cut down. The flowers are gorgeous, but we'd much prefer that they give us a hand in building up our dirt.

McFarmer strapped on his handy backpack weedeater and went to town, laying down each stalk. Normally this would be done with a mower implement on the tractor, but ours is out of commission at the moment. Sigh, farming means so many broken tools.

And so the hours-long weedeating of the sunnhemp wall commenced.


Apart from standing in a tall field of grass, this week also brought us some other joys...

After many days of recovering from pounding rains and a heavy pruning, our cherry tomatoes are back! I can't tell you how exciting it is to arrive at the farm in the morning and spot tasty little red dots adorning your trellises.

The hosui pears are still putting on heavily, and we had the good fortune of an extra hand to help us with harvest. Alex's sister Beth, always a mensch, donned her mosquito gear and sweat alongside us the entire harvest day, without so much as a peep of dissent or frustration. And she let us pay her in okra.

While harvesting that okra, I stumbled upon some little pals conducting their business in the expired sunflower beds. An arigope spider had strung her web across the aisle, which I proceeded to barrel into like a clumsy goal-keeper. Amazingly, it held fast. Once I had disentangled myself from the hand-sized madam, I saw that she had not one but two meaty grasshoppers wriggling in her net. Apart from how beautiful this spider is, we appreciate her for playing for our team.

This little guy better watch out for the spiders!

And perhaps the most exciting bit of news comes from a completely empty field. We've decided to expand in 2015, and this week we mowed and plotted out two new fields which will soon go into covercrop . After that, they'll go into production for Spring. It's very ambitious, as these fields will triple the amount of acreage we maintain. We've intentionally grown very slowly up to this point, careful not to overextend ourselves. But we think this is a good choice, and we will still continue to move cautiously. The time is ripe, and we want to grow more food. Wish us luck.  

And wish luck to the sunnhemp seeds we'll be seeding here, and to the future wooshing sea in the middle of the farm.

Thank you, Sea Camp!

Our final gaggle of teenagers of the summer have come and gone, leaving in their wake two very sweaty farmers and an external hard drive laden with brilliant photos.

When local photographer Robert Mihovil asked us last year if we'd be interested in allowing his Texas A& M Sea Camp groups to use the farm and its many critters and plants as subjects, we had no idea what a phenomenally good end of the stick we'd end up with. 

Let me tell ya, it's the really good end.

(c) Seth Clark, 2014

(c) Kayla Davis, 2014

(c) Alysse Balmer

In only an hour's visit, we scatter kids with cameras amongst the basil, sunflowers and pear trees, give them just enough time in the heat and humidity (and enough whiffs of eau de farmer) to question our chosen line of work, and then we scoot them back out in their large passenger van, on to new photogenic heights.  

In the days and minutes before their arrival, McFarmer and I always lament the unfortunate timing of summer camp occurring in the summer. If their passenger van rolled up come November or April, there'd be no end to weed-free, photo-worthy tableaus adorned with slender carrots and robust heads of broccoli. Not to mention, there's be far less shiny foreheads and soaked shirts.

But, summer camp is just that---camp that happens during the summer, and we've no cause for lamentation once we see the lovely pictures these campers turn out.

Here's photos from our campers of 2 weeks ago (be sure to read each of their names-- you'll want to remember these talented folks):

(c) Joei Bailey, 2014

(c) Katherine Eisen, 2014

(c) Trevor Roach, 2014

(c) Joei Bailey, 2014

(c) Anna Downing, 2014

(c) Anna Downing, 2014

(c) Anna Downing, 2014

(c) Anna Downing, 2014

(c) Isabel Grudowski, 2014

(c) Katherine Eisen, 2014

And here's photos from this week's talented group:

(c) Ashley Walsh, 2014

(c) Nylala Jenkins, 2014

(c) Mary Cate Love, 2014

(c) Pablo Pinilla, 2014

(c) Caitlin Middleton, 2014

(c) Caitlin Middleton, 2014

Aren't these amazing? I'm flabbergasted by both adolescent talent and whiz-bang cameras...

(c) Abbie Martin, 2014

(c) Dante Muniz, 2014

(c) Kirsten Covington, 2014

(c) Kelsey Covington, 2014

And so it is...we'll have to wait until next year for a round of photographic excellence quite like what we've shared here. And trust me, there were many more beautiful compositions. 

A final thank you to Robert Mihovil, Texas A&M at Galveston's Sea Camp and all of the gracious campers (and their parents) who put up with pesky liability waivers, hungry mosquitoes and myriad bad puns told by this couple of stinky jokers.

We appreciate working with you, we're grateful for your generosity and we wish you all the best!

(C) Abbie Martin, 2014

Hot off the presses. But seriously, it's really hot.

When you take a week off from writing a weekly farmblog, it's because there's lots going on.          

Or, it's because there's little going on.

Or, behind door number three, the writer is loathe to write only of how hot she is and how she wishes it would stop raining 5 inches in 3 days and drowning her tomatoes.

Indeed, in this farmblog's case, it's the latter option. With the summer solstice here and gone, it truly—officially—is the time of year where I am in danger of discussing (lamenting, really) the heat. And I promise not to do that to you—after this initial paragraph, that is.

McFarmer running irrigation lines through one of the pear rows in the orchard. To the left are the blackberries.

 

It seems antiethtical to the idea most of us have about farming and the world of overall-clad agriculturalists, but down here, summer means a slower pace.

We've found ourselves in the newest orchard additions lately, tending to our blackberries and muscadine grapes. Here's hoping they are ready to bear heavily for us next year!

We arrive at the farm early, walk the fields and get down to business weeding, pruning, building, harvesting, mowing and sucking up stinkbugs with a dustbuster. (That last one is a recent addition to our list of chores and the best by far.)

By one o' clock we're off to have lunch back at home, in the safe bosom of an air-conditioned house. It's back to work a couple hours later for more tasks until the soft haze of dusk.

In the cooler months, we're able to work straight through from morning until evening, with a short break for lunch in the shade. Longer hours are a boon for us then, as those more hospitable temperatures also allow us to grow more crops than we can now. I would love to grow lettuce in July like the seed catalogs say we can, but that just won't fly in our climate. As with last summer, we're finding ourselves with a relentless supply of okra instead.

After finding me jealously scrolling through the colorful photos of broccoli and lettuce of other northern farms' instagram accounts, Alex put down the decree that while I may continue to post photos of bumblebees and sunflowers, I'm banned from lingering on any social media that makes me feel bad about our sweaty Texan roots.

And the truth of it is, while we may have scant to offer during the peak summer months, we've got the advantage of mild winters that will allow us the enviable position of advertising all our delicious rainbow-colored bounty when other farms' are covered in knee-deep snow. Not that I would do such a thing. :)

I will respectably and quietly revel in our 12 month growing season, bragging to no one (but loudly bemoaning the mosquitoes) and whispering thanks for carrots in February.

 

I suppose it all comes back to balance, as life seems always wont to do. For even though this week the mosquitoes have finally reared their blood-sucking heads, some truly great things have come about as well.

www.moondogfarms.com

Dear McFarmer finally finished the hole-digging, t-post hammering work of running out irrigation to the pear trees in the orchard. We've received the okay to expand our growing fields, and will soon put 3 more acres into cover crop to be used as vegetable fields next year. (!!!)

And, a super lovely article was written about our hardscrabble farm in the Galveston County Daily News. It made us look photogenic (despite the farm attire and sweaty brows) and imparted some great information about our business.

Special thanks to Bronwyn Turner and Jennifer Reynolds for their word and photos !

When you next find yourself drooling over photos of cauliflower and arugula-adorned farm picnics in Oregon, keep in mind you'll never have trouble sourcing okra for your award-winning gumbo around these parts. And send some good thoughts to those poor, poor Pacific Coasters and their okra-less gumbo.

 

 

Farming, through the teenage lens.

We told the campers they'd have to stay out of the strawberries for a bit because we'd just found 3 rat snakes tangled in the bird netting.  None of them blinked an eye. 

Or at least, they did it while our backs were turned, busy cutting snakes out of bird netting. 

Regardless, this week's highlight was a visit from Texas A&M at Galveston's SeaCamp.  A vanload of teenagers arrived at the farm with cameras in hand, just as they did last year, and spent a good hour roaming around taking photos of whatever caught their eye. (Read the post from last year's photo visit here.)

(c) SeaCamp 2014

A cicada in the orchard. (c) Reese 2014

This relationship with the summer camp is a real boon for us, and we hope the campers get something out of it as well. We're happy to give them an environment in which to practice their skills, allow them a look into the reality of local agriculture and give a few botany lessons to boot.

I particularly enjoyed the chance to demonstrate the hidden talent of swallowtail caterpillars and the magical design of a tomatillo plant. Nothing like teaching a batch of 14 year olds the beautiful beginnings of a plate of enchiladas verdes. 

And, as they did last year, these kids took some brilliant photos. Opening their photo files a few days later is an exciting moment.  I get a unique glimpse into the microcosm that is our farm that I'd never see without 20 separate pairs of eyes trained. All these photos are taken in the same hour, and they all borrow a moment of this particular summer.  

Thanks, SeaCampers of 2014!

(oh, and in case you were wondering--no one had any further adventures with snakes. Plenty of stinkbugs, but no encounters with the legless.)

(c) Kathryn Barrington, 2014

(c) MacKenna Greenwalt, 2014

The asian pears plumping up in the orchard. (c) Sara Barrington, 2014

Honeybee mid-tasting. (c) Emily Hedrick 2014

Zinnia! (c) Kathryn Barrington, 2014

The Black Swallowtail caterpillar shows off its scary orange 'horns' if provoked. In this case, we gently poked its back.  (c) Emily Hedrick, 2014

A bug's eye view of the growing edamame. (c) Emily Hedrick, 2014

(c) Isabelle 2014

Lucky for us, we're having two more visits from SeaCamp this summer, which means we're looking forward to more photo montages and stories of talented teenagers! 

Special thanks to Robert Mihovil, local photographer and engineer behind our camp partnership, and to Tray Wright, the excellent chaperone who stepped in like a champ to help steward the young photographers on their visit! 

We're grateful to the campers and to Texas A&M at Galveston for such a lovely and photographic farmday!

(c) Reese, 2014




Remembering Potatoes in the Gilded Lobby.

This morning I received a newsletter from a farm located on the other side of the country.

It's the kind of farmish newsletter much like the one I myself send out every week, decorated with anecdotes of bees and the joy of a strawberry picked straight from the fields. We fall into the same kinds of rhythms of appreciating life, enduring sun and planning for rain, working very hard.

A ripe husk cherry, just plucked and unwrapped. (They're one of our absolute favorite treats.)

This operation is the full-time child of another pair of young farmers, very similar to ours in ideals and growing practices. But in other arenas, this far-flung farm and our own hardscrabble joint couldn't be more different.

McFarmer uses the subsoiler to break up some of the hardpan clay in the former Spring field. Spreading cover crop is next...

Obvious elements like weather and climate are entirely opposite, and I can tell you from every photo I've seen of the fluffy cake they call soil that the ground beneath our feet is quite dissimilar as well.

Part of the distinction is also thanks to a difference in experience—they've been farming their own land for a full 5 years longer, and overall bear more sun-baked notches in their belts.

There's also the attitude of farmers in different parts of the world and their approach to what is possible, what is expected. I'm reminded of seed catalogs that advertise summer broccolis and cabbage and the eruptive guffaws they elicit from McFarmer and me, scoffing at folks above the Mason Dixon line and their idea of 'summer.' In Southeast Texas, we don't do July cabbage.

The Arigope spiders and their love of anything trellised are back!

I like learning of others doing work with the earth all over the globe. I gobble up their news and literature, eager to follow and learn from these young stalwarts and each of their individual soil-laden stories.

It feels good to get pointers from those succeeding at what we're trying our darndest to do. We're big fans of surrounding ourselves with people waaay better at doing things than we are so we can absorb through osmosis their knowledge and skill.

In exchange, we earnestly hope they like hugs, cold beer and lots and lots of salad and flowers.

 

And as was the case with this newsletter, I often find that by taking in the thoughts of other growers I'm constantly relearning this life I've fallen in love with. They remind me.

There was a line in this morning's newsletter that struck me. The talk was of farming as a craft constituted of intuition, determination and science.

The seasons bring new opportunities every time they come around, and as a farmer you're hopeful to make the most of it-- seizing those opportunities depends on equal parts gumption and careful planning.

The sunflowers and okra are covered in gorgeous spiderwebs this time of year. The fog of this week helped us to see just how beautiful.

I believe this must be true for anyone who ever stuck a seed in soil, year after year, no matter their climate zone. Yet, the newsletter then went on to discuss how this particular farm gets about 2-4 chances a season to grow potatoes, and how that adds up to about 30-40 chances to grow the best potatoes over their lifetime. 30-40 chances. And to be sure, these calculations make sense. If you're aiming to carry out the stooping, sweating work of a farmer for a certain number of years, then your growing days--those precious seasons in which to obtain the best yield, the best flavor, the best color--well, those days are numbered.

But I'd like to add an asterisk to that truism.   For me, for our farm, it's a fool's game to think of every season as another chance gone for growing our best potatoes. There's too much that can interfere, and inevitably it sometimes will.  

Fate can arrive in heavy cloud, toss your plans to the wind and say, “ No Potatoes.”

We only get this wonder of growing food and tending plants and trees by the grace of nature. So, there's got to be some balance struck between seeing each growing season as a "Seize This!" moment and a "What Will Be, Will Be" state. 

Allie the farmcat gazes into the great gray beyond.

Deadlines and countdowns are a part of farming, bottom line.

Farmers constantly think in terms of 2-5 months (and 2-3 years) ahead, understanding that a plan not made is a plant not grown. But this is exactly why viewing those potato-growing seasons as a cycle is far more appealing to me.  The chance for the best potatoes comes again and again, allowing you to appreciate what you've got right now AND look forward to what's next, to where optimism reigns supreme.

In my mind, the growing seasons are a gilded revolving door in some sumptuous hotel lobby from the 20's, with opportunities opening and closing again and again in delicious, mirrored Art Nouveau glory. And they always circle back. Always.

 To think of those same seasons like calendar on a wall or a sifting hourglass puts the pressure on big time, and in a situation where you're not even remotely in control. A red “x” for every year gone and grains falling swiftly mark not what's to come but all that's already gone.  And I find that neither helpful nor the whole truth.  Cycles continue, and eventually you won't grow potatoes, but somebody else will.  

I am certain that our newsletter-writing farmer friends across the way understand these ideas to their very overall-donning core. Reading their wise thoughts gets me thinking, and allows me to reacquaint myself every week on why is it that we love this work, this completely unpredictable way of life?  Today, I like how it reminds me that all things are in a state of coming and going. We grab chances and we watch them go. The seasons will come again and again, farmers will plan carefully every year, and sometimes they will reap success and other times they will fail. 

But in the meantime, we're gonna enjoy our time looking around that gorgeous lobby. Maybe we'll even eat some potatoes while we stroll.


If Only Nut Sedges Were Gourmet...

I crouched in the barn, perched atop a trusty orange Home Depot bucket, going through the basics. The 25 or so children sprawled on dirty blankets at my feet helped me suss it all out.

www.moondogfarms.com

“Plants grow from.....?”

“SEEDS!”

“Right! And seeds need...?”

“WATER!”

“And...?”

“DIRT!”

“Yes! They need soil, water, aaannnnd...?”

“SUN!!!!!”

Those kids had it down. At its most rudimentary, plants grow from seed, using soil, water and sun to make it all happen.

Gathered in the barn before heading out to brave the mud!


Kiddos and chaperones watch as I demonstrate pulling a carrot. 

Kiddos and chaperones watch as I demonstrate pulling a carrot. 

I wonder if, while our fieldtrippers happily trudged through the mud to pick their own carrots and taste old bolted lettuce (their idea, not mine), it ever occurred to them how close to the plant-growing process they actually were.

Sure, they saw bell peppers and cherry tomatoes and they helped wash newly-dug potatoes, but we didn't talk much about one of the fastest-growing plants around.

Well, group of plants anyway.

 

Buried in all that galoshes-tromped mud, there were trillions of seeds waiting for their moment.

Oh, the weeds.

I'd nearly let memories of the Weed Onslaught of Summer fade from my awareness.  Don't worry, I have been reminded. 

After a week of almost 10 inches of rain followed by this week of sunny, sunny days-- well, you know the equation.

The thing is, Alex and I had ardently tried to stay on top of our Spring weeding situation. And we'd been fairly successful. We're never going to eradicate weeds. That's not our aim in the slightest. That's what RoundUp is for, and that's just not for us. We're interested in keeping plants we're not intentionally growing from out-competing our intentionals.

No strangers to pigweed and carolina geraniums, purslane, ragweed or any number of other common weeds known to the continental U.S, it's the truth that those aren't the weeds that make our fingers ache and our eyes cross.  For us, well... we spend most our time pulling grass.

McFarmer works on getting the curly kale bed free and clear. This and the pole beans are the last vegetable crops in our Spring field. 

You can see the remains of Bahia and Johnson grasses tossed from the freshly-weeded eggplants.

Look at that root system! This Bahia was meant to STAY PUT.

The Bermuda grasses can spread for multiple feet via runners. Eh.

Some of the most common 'grasses' around our farm are those used for haying, which are even better formulated to grow fast, thick and tall. If the Bermuda, Bahia or Johnson grasses are allowed to swallow up young seedlings—which they will do quickly—they'll choke 'em out. It's headspinning how fast we can transition from farming tomatillos to nutsedges. Perhaps easier, but far less tasty.

Nobody really pays for bundles of locally-grown, organic nutsedge. 

The alfalfa and vetch are going to TOWN in the aisles here between french fingerling potatoes and okra. Hooray!

The alfalfa and vetch are going to TOWN in the aisles here between french fingerling potatoes and okra. Hooray!

However, we had been feeling quite on top of our weed control balance. Our experiment with planting covercrops in some aisles was progressing well; the vetch and alfalfa were keeping weed growth down while doing good for our soils. 

But then the rains came. When the field is flooded in several inches of water for days at a stretch with new rain every other day, there's not a lot to be done. Tramping around in it is both highly ineffectual and bad for the soil. So we let the waters recede and the land dry out slowly. We faced the pain of losing lots of crops in low spots where the flooding was just too much.

 

Here's all the color sapped from our dear statice flowers after 4 days of having their feet submerged. Wah.

And then we watched the weeds explode.

It must be the world once again letting us know we'll never have it all together. You just can't. It was good to have the Spring field ordered and weeded for a time, but now that Summer is here (oh, is it ever) we'll just do our best work weeding with the knowledge that those monocots have got the jump on us. Do our best work, and keep on going. 

We'll just have to eat cucumbers, okra and homemade salsa to make ourselves feel better.

Better to plan what you can and then pull out the nutsedges as they come.  And who knows? Maybe customers will buy those bundles if they come with some of that salsa.  

www.moondogfarms.com
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