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.  

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

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