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: Deep Thoughts

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.   

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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.

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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

Oranges, Machetes and Grant Applications.

I get that it's fairly lame for me to just share a poem and call it a day.  "What kind of blog entry is that?" you exclaim, filled with well-deserved indignation. 

But here's the thing. 

On my desk, there has been a mountain of paperwork like never before, and more tabs open on my computer than I dare give away. It's grant-application season. All I want to do is eat carrots and cuddle our farm cat who's FINALLY deigned to be the affectionate cuddle bunny I've wanted all along, but I can't. Grants need a lot of attention.

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And if you know about this, then...well, you know. And if you don't, then you're like me. And you're in for a gnarly surprise.  Tackling multiple grants for both our farm and our farmers' market has proved quite the task, and so today, I want to share a poem that makes me happy.

This poem has been a favorite of mine since I first read it in 6th grade, and it still resonates with me today. Incidentally, our Nicaraguan friend Oscar and his family have been with us much of this past week, and the man cannot stop eating oranges. He peels them with his machete.

Yeah, it's as cool as it looks.  Not only that, but his family is beautiful and his children love fresh vegetables. As in, they stuff them in their mouths.  As we walked through the farm during a break, both Bella and Celeste helped themselves to the Winter buffet (as well as the last few stragglers still fighting the good fight in the summer fields).  It made me so happy. Words don't do these kids justice, so you'll just have to see some photos of them as well. :) 

Enjoy, and may this winter poem give you the same warm pleasure it does for me. And I hope you get to eat citrus afterward. 

Oranges

by Gary Soto

The first time I walked
With a girl, I was twelve,
Cold, and weighted down
With two oranges in my jacket.
December. Frost cracking
Beneath my steps, my breath
Before me, then gone,
As I walked toward
Her house, the one whose
Porch light burned yellow
Night and day, in any weather.
A dog barked at me, until
She came out pulling
At her gloves, face bright
With rouge. I smiled,
Touched her shoulder, and led
Her down the street, across
A used car lot and a line
Of newly planted trees,
Until we were breathing
Before a drugstore. We
Entered, the tiny bell
Bringing a saleslady
Down a narrow aisle of goods.
I turned to the candies
Tiered like bleachers,
And asked what she wanted -
Light in her eyes, a smile
Starting at the corners
Of her mouth. I fingered
A nickle in my pocket,
And when she lifted a chocolate
That cost a dime,
I didn’t say anything.
I took the nickle from
My pocket, then an orange,
And set them quietly on
The counter. When I looked up,
The lady’s eyes met mine,
And held them, knowing
Very well what it was all
About.

Outside,
A few cars hissing past,
Fog hanging like old
Coats between the trees.
I took my girl’s hand
In mine for two blocks,
Then released it to let
Her unwrap the chocolate.
I peeled my orange
That was so bright against
The gray of December
That, from some distance,
Someone might have thought
I was making a fire in my hands.

www.moondogfarms.com
www.moondogfarms.com


How Things Can Be.

To complain of an excess of something when that something is a precious resource is typically a no-no. It's considered even poorer taste when the something is historically in scant supply for lots of the people you know (and, perhaps, maybe, your whole state). 

Which is why I haven't mentioned the rain. 

Well, until now. 

One of the fields to be planted for Spring crops. It'll have to wait a while.

Oh, the rain. It feels like it hasn't stopped, since before Thanksgiving.  It's funny actually, how Alex and I have been settled here for just over 2 years, yet we'd already formed notions of "the way things are" at this time of year. Of course, I don't see why we wouldn't, considering our status as 10th generation farmers born and raised on these coastal prairies, emerging from the womb with a pelican and pitchfork in each hand. However, our notion about Winter didn't include incessant precipitation. Because, it like totally didn't rain like this last year. But it totally has this year.

I guess it was time for Mother Nature to mix it up. And time for us to deal.

  It rained cats and dogs like this when we first arrived in 2013,--that I'm sure of,  because I complained about it then in one of our early blogs. But this Winter's rainfall has aimed to beat the band. And perhaps, McFarmer's spirit. 

Now, of course my dear partner's spirit hasn't been broken. He's stronger than that, and far too level-headed. He has, however, had quite a few choice words with puddles and stormclouds in the back of the orchard, safe from listening ears. We'll just say it hasn't been visitor-friendly. 

The problem is, when it rains every week and rains several inches every week ( sometimes upwards of 6 inches at a time), your field doesn't have time to dry out in between downpours. Add to this Winter's habitual grey skies and cutback on sunshine hours and you've got a very, very wet situation. 

www.moondogfarms.com

On our farm, plans for direct seeding most of the Spring crops were pushed further and further back, either because we can't get into the fields (does you no good to seed in the driving rain) or if we did, the damage we'd do to our soil quality would be too great. It's lucky we made the beds during the last semi-dry spell, but that's only done so much good as we haven't dared to work in them.

Major rivers impede our movement in the aisles, and no seed appreciates a new home of mud. The poor beets, scallions, radishes, peas and many more have just had to sit tight. 

Meanwhile, the plants already established back in the Fall have braved weeks of holding their own as their beds become less and less rows in a field and more and more islands in a mired gulf laden with funk and crawfish. There's been at least 3 inches of water in every aisle for 2 months. Cabbage leaves yellow from saturation and the lettuce's growth is stunted to the point of paralysis. I've found myself more than once in the peculiar situation of harvesting kale only to find that while busy and my back turned, my tub of harvested leaves has floated 15 feet away from me down our canal of an aisle. Woof. 

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It's a bummer of a time, to be sure. But also, it's impossible to see it as anything but a timely reminder that we, as ever, are not in control. The sun will return for good eventually, and our fields will dry. In the meantime, we might lose several hundred feet of crops and miss a few planting windows that will hurt down the line. But we've also learned so much already. 

Now we know what its like when it rains heavily for 3 months at Moon Dog Farms.  It's a painful lesson, but a lesson nonetheless. When everything seems amiss, there's always something else to consider. I'm incredibly thankful that during all this rain, we had working greenhouses to protect the thousands of plantbabies on whose petals and cotyledons now shoulder even more value. We've had better germination than ever in our greenhouses this season, even with the more tetchy flower varieties we're trying out for the first time. Compared to January 2013, when all we had was an old door and a shipping box, things are looking good. 

We've had secret talk of building a bio-dome-esque structure to shield us from all unwanted weather, but we'll probably settle on rebuilding the drainage ditches leading to the back canal, work to create even better flow and drainage of water in the aisles and investigate the use of high tunnels and higher beds.

And we'll make a note of "how things can be" during the Winter season.  Of course, that means it'll probably never happen like this again, but we'll have some other unexpected phenom to adapt to.  

We'll give it our best.

Plus, there's always the back of the orchard for our less mature moments. 

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. 

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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 .

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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

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. 

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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."

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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.