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.  

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
Sign up for our free newsletter!