Moon Dog Farms

Certified Naturally Grown family farm growing fruits, vegetables & flowers in the Texas Gulf Coast

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

Filtering by Category: Adventures

Kids, meet the chickens. Weeds, meets the kids.

It's July. It's sweltering. It's  weedy. It's time for vanloads of teenagers to visit the farm and do their best to make our sweaty hardscrabble patch of coastal prairie look dreamy and abundant.  And boy, they just keep doing it every time. 

(C) Alex Thompson 2015

This is now the 3rd summer to have a visit from Robert Mihovil and his photography campers from Texas A &M SeaCamp, and as with the past two summers I'm grateful for our unique relationship. We have a ritual that we perform right before they come; Alex and I scan the farm, taking in the scant shade, the weedy eggplants, the disarray of the washstand (which results in a more naggy kind of knowing glance from me to the McFarmer, poor fella) and the numerous tasks which are yet to be done and think,

"Jeez. What were we thinking?"  


This year, that feeling was compounded from the aftermath of the 8 Month Rains. There's so many things that we're so far behind on that they've gone from "To do" to "Never mind."

But then the kids come, and they take beautiful photos, and we have the chance to talk about why we love farming, our farm and this hard, crazy path.  It all makes sense again, for a lovely half hour.

Plus this year, we got to see kids go gaga over chickens. 

I hope you enjoy these photos as much as Alex and I do, and if you were one of the talented individuals who visited our farm over the last 2 weeks, we thank you. I want you to know Alex and I are grateful to you for putting up with our dad jokes, being troopers about the blazing heat, and for leaving us with lasting gifts that show the singular beauty of nature and hard work. 

(C) Madison Peerenboom 2015

(c) Destiny Cosman 2015

(C) Macey Tannos 2015

Photo credits above, left to right:  Kirsten Covington, Brenna Hale, Sarah Paige Stanfield, Kirsten Covington,  Sarah Paige Stanfield, Brenna Hale

(c) Madeline Ryan 2015

(c) Joei Bailey 2015

(C) Mayra Yundt- Pacheco 2015

(c) Ben Sanderson 2015

Photo Credits above, left to right: James Ray, Anna Murphy, Mason Henicke,  Kaitlyn O'Leary, Sarah Rogers, Chuck Bowlin

Huge thanks to Robert Mihovil, Texas A&M SeaCamp and all the campers who trekked out to our farm over the past 2 weeks. It was our pleasure to have you, we thank you for these images, and we wish you the best in your adventures to come, wherever they take you! 

 

Mud that stinks and a tough reality: A story of hope

Many a wreck has been the result of taking the family to the country, and afterwards having part or all of it become thoroughly dissatisfied. There are so many rough realities in a life of this kind that it takes the poetry out of the visions of joy, peace, contentment and success that arise in the minds of many.
— H.W. Wiley, 'The Lure of the Land'

It's been a rough go these days.

We've drawn eye-to-eye with the kind of deflating experience we hoped might skip us  but innately knew (because, how could we avoid it?) would eventually hurdle us as beginning farmers.

This time last year, we felt on top of the world, like we were really doing this thing-- and doing it well. Sure, tons of stuff was messy and so much was still to be figured out, but we were making smart choices, growing sustainably and seeing success. 

We arranged to double our Spring production, the most profitable season of the year, into over 2  acres of crops. We were gonna rock in 2015. 

Instead, what we've done is find ourselves poring over a grimness that's left both Alex and I bewildered, and without answers. The murky, smelly grimness reflected in the standing water covering most of our farm  has left us feeling stagnant and stuck along with the soil.

 What do we do when everything is soaked through, for months on end? What do we do, when it's not just plan after plan that is delayed then dashed, but also our hopes for making enough money to keep it going? Our farm library nor our intuition had a compass that gave us solace.  Every instance where we thought we'd devised a creative solution to a problem or advised patience and faith to one another, another 10 inches registered in our rain gauge. 

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And so. There's been some gnashing. In fact, a lot of gnashing--turns out I can be quite the jaw grinder when stress dreams abound--and there's been some heads held in hands. I've cried, Alex has scowled. Then we switched. 

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You may have noticed, a blog post has been conspicuously absent here for weeks. Self-absorption and concentration on stanching damage aren't the only reasons, but they're high up there. I didn't want to share nothing but despair here. I started this blog to increase awareness of our farm, help myself process our beginning years and discuss both triumphs and travails. But it just didn't sit right with me to speak only of how discouraged we felt, and it also felt disingenuous to speak around how discouraged we felt. 

So, let's be clear. We're still grappling with discouragement. Although we know our situation could be so much worse, in endless amounts of ways, it hurts to feel that our rug was pulled from underneath us and we could only watch it float away. 

I have always confessed to having that teacher's pet problem, you know. 

But here's why I can write about this now and feel at ease: when the rains started back in October and we saw flooding in our fields, we said, "Not good.  But we still have the rest of fall. There's time." And essentially, we haven't stopped saying that, about each new field that needs tilling and prepping, each new crop and every thwarted plan. "We still have the rest of fall/winter/spring."

But it hasn't dried out, and time has run short. And I don't think you'll ever hear a Texas farmer say, "Well, there's always summer."

So now, we just deal.   

www.moondogfarms.com

We don't have to push hopes further on down the road, crossing fingers for more sun or a really, really large straw. 2015 hasn't gone the way we wanted. At all. We ended up planting most of our summer one crops on an empty orchard bed, 10 feet wide and a quarter-mile long, which makes us felt like absolute nincompoops.  I've read selections from 5 Acres and Independence: A Handbook for Small Farm Management that made me feel like I've been prancing around in high-heels expecting money to bud out on the pear trees and earthworms to answer my call, all the while leading my future to ruin. (Okay book, but 'tough love' is putting it lightly.)  We've wondered what will become of us, if this is how it's to be from now on.

We've  worried that our bad agricultural luck might be a harbinger of environmental tides and inevitable trends to come. Maybe. 

But what's more likely is that it's a clap in the face and the biggest reminder to date that what we're trying to do is so much more than throwing seeds in the ground and smiling at Sunday markets. We've got to take these past 6 months and figure out how to shape ourselves around it. What does Moon Dog Farms do when nothing goes our way? That's our task for the rest of this year, as far as I'm concerned. So much has gone in our favor, and we won't fall apart now.

Well, to be fair, we'll fall apart in private (a little bit, very tastefully) and then get back to rubbing sticks together until we make fire.

www.moondogfarms.com

It's still hard to walk out in our fields right now and look out at thick, smelly mud and yellowing leaves. I don't like that this same week last year we had over 40 bouquets to sell, and this year all the flowers are no higher than 5 inches tall. We're now tasked with researching and creating better drainage for our fields, reorganizing the farm layout, revising  growing techniques and undertaking reconsideration of a whole lot of things. 

But that means we're growing. And people still support us--even the ones not related to us! (thank you, thank you, thank you). We can move forward, and I know we can still find the poetry in this life of 'rough realities.'

Besides, there's always summer. 

www.moondogfarms.com

The trencher, the lost dog, the teenagers and happy, happy farmers.

It finally happened.

The nail-biting, hair-pulling, brow-rubbing and thumb-twitching days of wondering when 

 we'd finally get a break in the rain, 

 to finally let the soil dry out,

and finally be able to run the tractor through,

and finally walk the tiller and hill the beds,

to finally move the young brassicas, lettuces and fennels out of the greenhouses,

that would finally find homes in their new field....

well, those days are over. For this year, anyway.

Not only did the clouds part and allow for this no-small glory and an end to McFarmer's bad case of tractorfinger, a slew of other  exciting events have happened as well.

We rented a trencher and created a trench for over 1,000 ft of irrigation and got all said irrigation laid out and working. Now the field with the young Fall crops have accessible water. And we didn't have to dig a foot of it with a shovel.

Sometimes we try out that "work smarter, not harder" thing.

A sweet young pup showed up at the farm, and while her appearance is by no means an extraordinary occurrence for our property, she did show up within a few days of the anniversary of our most recent pet's death.

Last year on the first Sunday of October, our original moon dog Saxton passed away, after we'd enjoyed his presence as travel companion and farm co-conspirator for many years. And while we're not sure we're quite ready to take on another being in our household just yet, this little tail wag from the beyond came at a time when I sure was missing our buddy.  (Don't worry, we're in the process of finding this little gal the perfect home!)

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Not one but two high school groups came out to volunteer their time and energy at the farm over the past week. One was a group of all girls ages 14-17, and when Alex saw them pile out of their cars early Tuesday morning, he promptly turned to me and said,

"I'll be at the back of the orchard. Way back."

McFarmer doesn't speak teenage giggle very well. 

But let it not be said that the giggling in any way impeded their ability to weed the hell out of some overgrown strawberry patches. These girls did us a huge favor and transformed work that would last me several hours into a 60 minute fiesta. Big thanks to Teresa Fernan, Debbie and Pasadena Memorial High School for their marvelous attitudes and support. (Plus all their bulging biceps!)

A few days later, a troupe of high-school culinary students stopped by for a full-day visit in which around 15 teenagers got mud all over their shoes, learned how to use gentle hands on tiny seedlings, identified a king snake (and did not freak out) and helped us turn an empty field into one filled with future food. I think my personal favorite moment came in finding myself describing the wrong method of transplanting a young cauliflower as using "doodoo hands." It's truly a good thing there were some adult chaperones around. 

www.moondogfarms.com

This was one of our first larger volunteer groups, and I'd call it a grand success. Alex and I still have a lot to learn when it comes to delegating tasks and figuring the right work for the right personalities, but I am deeply grateful not only for their hands and efforts, but the fact that these schools--these teachers-- are interested in dipping toes into local agriculture. Enormous thanks to Felicia Juarez and Sam Rayburn High School for sharing time, labor (and their lunch!) with us .

www.moondogfarms.com

We are eager to share what we know, what we wonder, what we work for, and that only works when there are eager eyes, ears and brains on the other end. Having these groups out to our farm validates what we work hard for everyday--we are grateful for every ounce of interest and support.

There's so much more that seems to have squeezed itself into the past few weeks, and as the weather continues to cool and our propensity for taking on more laborious tasks increases, I know each week will bring even more. You should see the 'Fall Projects' list McFarmer and I made only this morning. Insert ghoulish, mad-scientist laughter here.

For starters, I'll just say that number one and number two out at the farm will soon be as easy as 1,2,3.  

We couldn't be happier. Life couldn't be sweeter. The days are a little bit shorter, forcing us to go home a bit earlier, get a bit more sleep.

The weeds have begun to grow a little slower, allowing us a bit more sanity. We treated ourselves to a fancy new seeder that seeds 400 ft of carrot seeds in a mere fraction of the time it used to take us, with barely a stooped back to be seen. We've harvested the last pears from the orchard with a bittersweet adieu,  but their farewell  heralds the coming of autumn's tender greens and the crunch of hearty cabbages and carrots.

I'll say it again,  life is sweet. Our farm is growing, the seasons are changing, and the air is clear. It might not be crisp quite yet, but it's clear. 

And that's quite all right with us. 

www.moondogfarms.com

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. 

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.

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.

 

Winter Wonderland, and a whole lotta woodchips.

We're back!

We've finally got our ducks (well, cabbages and carrots) in a row after what felt like a whirlwind vacation that I still can't believe we managed to take. Turns out, plan your escapes months and months in advance, pay in full, and you'll find it's hard to back out at the last minute, try as you might.  (I have to say though, I'm glad we couldn't back out. Even though the amount of anxiety-tinged preparations that went into cushioning our absence from our dear farmbaby was nearly enough to justify hiring a sherpa to hoist our worries around for the whole 2 weeks, the pure pleasure of getting to come back was worth it. 

www.moondogfarms.com.

And the trip was spectacular. I'll allow exactly one more sentence before I quit reveling in our good fortune.

We went to China, it was vast, it was smoggy, it was gold and glitzy, it was the kind of trip that confirmed, "Yup. This place is far more complicated, beautiful and confusing than I could ever hope to suss out in a matter of days. Better come back one day and bring our penchant for weak but plentiful beer with us."

Okay, that was possibly, technically, more than one sentence. But hold on, for I'll definitely need more than one to describe the Winter euphoria I've felt upon our return. In the travels I've been lucky enough to experience, I've found that even when departing the places I've come to love and even dream of an ex-pat future, there's the giddy anticipation of returning home.

Inevitably, you see the special in all you've come to regard as ordinary at home. The smell of the trees that grow by your driveway, the taste of coffee that only tastes that way when you make it at home, even television commercials or views from a well-positioned chair. In this case, I was also pretty stoked to return to a country with some semblance of air-quality policies.

For me--and since I have the tendency to wax flowery, nostalgic and with no shortage of half-baked philosphy-- returning home meant basking in the frankly, damn amazing fact that we have a beautiful farm, that me and my partner run together. 

Brussel sprouts, soaking up the last of afternoon sun's rays...

The first several days back I was wheezy and sick, and while I coughed and whimpered on the couch at home, Alex hurried out to the farm to tell me the good (we hoped) news of how our dear dribbling and needy near-one year old farm had fared. 

He called me to say, 

 

"It looks great...

It looks really great."

www.moondogfarms.com

See the wee baby brussels sprouts at the base of each stem?

After my whiny convalescence I ran out to the farm and indeed, it was great.

In fact, it looks and feels terrific.

You can feel the changes of winter, in your hair (static much?) and bones there's no shortage of feasting for the eyes. The vegetables look beautiful and I'm reminded again and again why farming is as close to art as anything with its colors and shapes and heart-breaking views.  

Yeah...we love this day job. Never get tired of all that green.

Yeah...we love this day job. Never get tired of all that green.

And apart from the lovely landscapes, wonderful things have been happening all over the farm.

The ladybugs--who had taken their own vacation during the fall--have returned in numbers. 

The Admiral peas that we planted with our buckwheat finally get their time in the sun after the recent frosts kill back the buckwheat.

Aren't the pea flowers just so pretty?

The covercrops sown in our future Spring field did perfectly and were finally tilled in this week as we begin to move toward planting Spinach, English peas and Broccoli Raab. 

And the geese. Oh, the geese. Hundreds make a twice daily sojourn over the farm, squawking and honking all the way. I pause working for every flight and watch them go.  (Alex warns me about watching open-mouthed.)  I've yet to learn their species or even exactly what they look like, but I find their gleefully noisy flying V a joy that brings me peace every single time. 

www.moondogfarms.com

 

There's so much more I could list; I'm so grateful to have this wealth of happinesses. We had a large delivery of mulch from a tree-trimming service that happened to be nearby. All I did was wonder and ask, and before long they happily dumped a gigantic amount of otherwise-expensive woodchips at our farm, all in exchange for 3 cabbages. 

The comfrey in the herb garden was going gangbusters when we got back...

The best kind of mulch pile...the FREE one.

The best kind of mulch pile...the FREE one.

So, I guess all this manic effusive happiness comes down to this...for a real whiz-bang of a Christmas/late Hannukah/Kwanzaa/Winter Solstice present to yourself,  pretend that you've gone on a far-flung vacation from the life you know.  Go there for at least 2 weeks... well, make-believe you did at least.

And then come back home. Look around. Your life is sweet.  Some have got it sweeter than others, absolutely, and there's some crud lingering around as well, sure. Yet I guarantee there's something delightful that happens to you and yours that you can cherish once you're back from Togo or Myanmar. I'm thankful for the geese and free mulch and slow-growing weeds in Winter. I'm thankful for y'all, every single bonehead that happens to rake their eyes across my tiresome ramblings. 

Happy Holidays, you boneheads.

It's good to be back, it's good to be farming. Here's to reveling in the gorgeous Texas winter from the lettuce fields to those well-positioned chairs.

Seed Babies

On a recent jaunt to Austin for some farmy-related fun, Alex and I had the good fortune to stay with some amazing, good-looking people, eat and drink lazily and zealously, and get some very much-needed baby time.   

What a kernel. Could've stayed there for hours.

It's a wild assertion to make, but babies might be one of the best things on earth.  I know, I know...who likes babies? They smell good, fill your heart with joy, take the world as it comes and nestle in your arms like a warm baguette.

Baby Nolan honing his fruit-chewing skills on a Moon Dog Farms grapefruit, 

It's a wonder we have them, really.

It's a clever feat of nature that the miniature versions adults create-- their offspring-- are adorable.  We're biologically motivated to care for our young as a means of preserving our species, but a dash of cuteness sure doesn't hurt.  

Konrad Lorenz, the Nobel-prize winning zoologist, was a supporter of this observation of animal behavior. He was a smart European fella, and as he gives me the excuse to include cute animal photos, I'll expound further.

 

He worked with geese for years, developing hypotheses for instinctive behavior patterns, i.e. delving into the "whys" behind the weirdo stuff we animals do automatically.

 His work also included research into our human affection for certain animals over others, or

pedomorphosis: 

the retention of childlike characteristics--such as big heads or large eyes--into adulthood.

I think he was way off.

However, it's worth noting that this theory applies in many way to plants as well.  I mean, this is pretty darling:

Baby amaranth flower, batting her eyelashes.

And so, if you're hip to the idea that nature has us homo sapiens all figured out, then it makes perfect sense that

plants start out as cute babies as well.  

We go to all this trouble of watering, coddling, and protecting them in their infancy not only for their promise of tasty bounty (undeniably the BIG motivator) but for the pleasure of mommy-ing their wee, vulnerable cellulose souls.  Just minus the big ears.

Starting out so small...

...and they grow up so fast.  

The Texas Organic Farmers and Growers Conference was the reason for our Austin travels this past weekend, and it was a confidence-boosting, information-filled event to be sure.  We geeked out with other Texas plant-lovers and picked the brains of wiser, sunburnt farmers to whom crop rotations are nothing new under the sun. (Thanks Glen at The Laughing Frog Farm!)  It was great fun.  

Our "Anna" apple, flirting with danger by blooming before the risk of frost is over. But she sure is gorgeous.

But I'll confess, nothing could beat how I felt seeing our formerly bare apple, plum and peach trees IN BLOOM as we drove up the gravel driveway home.

Tiny pink and green buds busting forth, peeking out amongst the branches. Soft unfolding blossoms. Simply adorable. 

And you know what?

 I never liked Tweety anyway.

*Special thanks to Monica and Kyle Langhorst for their permission to display the champion who is their son Nolan purely to draw people to this post. I'm devoted to your son forever.

Eric's twin will save your life.

Imagine, if you will, the blowout of a tire.

The telltale swerve of the vehicle's rear, swaggering all over a 6-lane highway like some belligerent alligator. 

Now imagine a 20ft trailer loaded with roughly 10,000lbs of compost attached to the back of your drunk reptile.  Cow manure flying, eyes widening, and a gulf of fear deepening by the microsecond.  

McFarmer is so sad.  His compost day did not go as planned.

Somehow, your brave McFarmer in the driver's seat manages to wrassle the injured beast to the shoulder of I-45, where you promptly lock in relieved embrace and contemplate barfing.

(He later confesses to blacking out during the panic.) 

Luckily, no one barfs, but unluckily, you find yourself in even more predicament. 

The lug wrench set for the truck doesn't fit the trailer wheels. The trailer's too heavy for the jack.  Over the deafening tidal wave of constant traffic noise, you hear Triple A say "No dice--we don't cover the trailer."

 Nearly 10 phone calls later, not one tow truck, highway auto service or dude with a wrench will come to bail you out; the trailer doesn't have a spare, and no one wants to bring you a tire before they put it on.  You're starting to feel not only woefully unprepared, but just really woeful.

What do you do? Leave it as a testament to the dangers of old tires and too much cubic yardage? Where do you turn now?  This was freaky-expensive dirt.

Then parts the gloom, and an automotive messiah emerges midst the Houston haze.  

The man himself.

I sit, with pounds of compost in my pants, in resignation to our fate.

"I'M DERIC---LIKE 'ERIC,' WITH A 'D!'" he yells over the din. "I'M A TWIN. HIS NAME IS ERIC. LET'S GIVE THIS A TRY! 

He's  actually RUNNING to help us.

He proceeds to boost the whole trailer, remove the shredded tire, drive Alex to a tire store, put on the new tire, follow us to a parking lot off the next exit and change another tire for us (just in case), and give us use of his drill and fancy self-tapping screws to secure our flapping tarp.  All of this with a reassuring smile.  

Deric is the owner of State Farm Towing, and he's not affiliated with the insurance company.  But he is forever affiliated with my gratitude.

Just look at him go.

Thank you so much, Deric.  And thank you from our parents, to whom we did not tell this story until much later.  

Deric Lopez, the man of my highway dreams.  I didn't know I had such dreams.  But now I've been acquainted with the taste of a highway nightmare, and I understand what it means to have them answered with a dream.  

A dream named Deric Lopez of State Farm Towing, who's got one lucky twin named Eric.

No more resignation here, only microbial jubilation!  We're spreading this hard-won compost.

Compost spread through nearly the whole field. The lines mark where our veggie beds will be.