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: Seasonal living

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. 

www.moondogfarms.com

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. 

www.moondogfarms.com

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

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. 

www.moondogfarms.com

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 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. 

A 'lil bit of ice goes a long way (Or, How We'll Survive Summer.)

We've discovered something truly amazing.

In truth, McFarmer is the source for this stroke of pure genius. (Not only is he the farm muscle, he's a reliable source of good ideas.)

 

Put ice in your water cooler.

Do it. 

That loud orange multi-gallon cooler often seen dumped over coach's heads after winning football games? Load it up with ice at the start of your week, top it off with water, keep it in the shade, and enjoy the pure delight of being human and having ice.

It's hot now.

If you live down our way, maybe you've noticed.

This week officially invoked those familiar midday sensations of fogginess and salty eyes that accompany the zombie-like state of Being Really Hot. And you'd think we'd have come to the conclusion long ago that cold water--iced water, in fact-- is good when you're hot, but no. We chugged hundreds of gallons of water last summer, but none of it iced.

Then, brilliance. McFarmer takes the cake. Iced water will never be able to keep us from  our necessary summer workday siestas, red faces or sweat-soaked shirts, but it can help us feel a bit more human while harvesting okra and digging holes. We'll never go back.

It's a good thing, too—we're zooming around to try and take advantage of the dwindling month of May and what remains of a slightly cooler month, and it means we've been very busy and drinking lots of water. The Spring fields wane as the Summer One fields begin to flourish.

Today, Alex dug the last of our Spring red potatoes and only yesterday we were trellising increasingly gangly summer cherry tomato vines. (If that sounds like complaining, I swear it's not—the new tool we bought for attaching vines to trellis has made us want to attach everything to everything. It's the best toy EVER. )

The dance we've lead for the past several months of balancing both the Spring and Summer fields will soon come to an end. A few more weeks of nursing those last few Spring crops along and we'll be in full Summer mode.

We're digging the last stores of carrots while 20 beds over we're going for one last attempt at hot-season radishes. The pole beans are coming in strong and the cucumbers, eggplants and peppers aren't far behind.

Critters who don't mind the heat one bit are showing up, more ever day. Stickbugs, praying mantises, june bugs and wolf spiders are some of the gifts of hot weather, another glance into the tireless revolving door that is our environment and all its creatures.

This Vietnamese Stick Insect was hanging out on the back of the washstand sinks. 

This Vietnamese Stick Insect was hanging out on the back of the washstand sinks. 

And even though those cursed tobacco hornworms are also included in that wonder of nature, you can't begrudge them too much. (Check back in with me mid-August. See if I feel the same.)

 

The cats have staked their claim in the old broken-down grade-all that sits by our washstand. It's their cat castle.

Even the farmcats have finally decided we're alright. One of them even allows for a head scratch now and then.


And if you pair that headscratch with an ice-cold water, it feels like summer will be a mighty fine thing.

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.

 

Everything but the kitchen sink (which is full of dirty radishes).

To recount the bustle of the last few weeks would be an exhausting and confusing tale, requiring far too many words.

“Did we find a home for Skeletor and Ruby before or after we made that pile of rotting cauliflower stems? And when did I show those kids that grubs won't bite you, but they will poop in your hand?”

 

The “to-do's” undone and “done-that's” crossed off the list have been, in one way or another: frenetic, disappointing, mirthful,  grateful and  forehead-slapping, hand-clapping, hand-wringing and brain-squeezing.

So, in order to avoid using any more adjectives than a normal person should employ in polite company, I choose to stick to the good ol' adage of a picture being worth a thousand words.

 

With that in mind, here's about 3 million of 'em.

My adventures in the school garden at Early Childhood University on Galveston Island got grungier and even more fun when I took them transplants of veggies and flowers. Every kid got a chance to steward their "own" plant, and we talked about food, using "gentle" hands and how much fun it is to get dirty.

Oh, and a grub did poop in my hand. 

The grandmaster behind all this garden magic is Jessica Antonelli, resident art teacher and fun guru. These kids are sooo lucky.

The grandmaster behind all this garden magic is Jessica Antonelli, resident art teacher and fun guru. These kids are sooo lucky.

We were amping ourselves up for BOTANY!!!!

We were amping ourselves up for BOTANY!!!!

IMG_20140305_103042.jpg

And then there were the rains.

So, so much rain. It postponed and cancelled nearly all of our planting plans for a week. But nature does what nature wants, and we're just her fanclub.

www.moondogfarms.com
www.moondogfarms.com

The snapdragons at last began to bud and finally--FINALLY--the nigella began to bloom. 

This might not sound like a whoop-de-doo, but DAMN! we've been waiting for these beauties to flower for what felt like an eternity. 

The green beans continue to pop and stretch their limbs. Hooray!

This sweet fella was affectionately dubbed Skeletor, and his lovely girlfriend was Ruby. McFarmer begs me not to name them, but I continue to happily ignore him. We were so glad they found a happy home. 

We had our very own brush with matchmaking.

Tragic as it was to drive up to the farm one morning and find two lost and dreadfully malnourished pups, it was tremendous to find them homes by sunset of the same day.  All thanks to the curious, wonderful world of facebook

www.moondogfarms.com

Large machine work ensued.

McFarmer dug another trench for irrigation (this time to the herb garden) and took pains to properly care for his equipment (he was ever-so-thankful to forgo the manual digging this go-round).

www.moondogfarms.com
www.moondogfarms.com

We began our final harvests of the Fall field, saying "ciao" to broccolis, brussels sprouts, cabbages and more. 

A rainy farmer's market last Sunday was the official farewell to our colder-weather crops until next Fall. 

www.moondogfarms.com

More and more restaurant deliveries kept us busy and thankful. Hooray for Brennan's and Gaidos!

We marveled at the crazy beauty that is life. And lettuce.

www.moondogfarms.com

 

 

 

 

Flower arrangements were made for our good friends (and farmer's market manager), Cate and Brian.

 

We contemplated going very earthy for the bride's bouquet...

 

 

....but ended up a bit more traditional.

Of course, how can you go wrong with a few Texas wildflowers thrown in?

www.moondogfarms.com
FB_IMG_13942289534178229.jpg

Family came for a visit, and they were put right to work. ( Turns out, fathers have a penchant for expertly washing market produce. Who knew?) 

 

Oh, and we marveled some more at some more beauty of life. 

www.moondogfarms.com

And yes, more family came, and we put them to even MORE work. 

My sister Julia and brother-in-law Jerry never cease to impress us with their willingness and effectiveness when it comes to tackling any job we throw at them. 

This time, it was removing the stumps of the older brassicas from the field before tilling.

www.moondogfarms.com
Here's the thrilling action shot of spent vegetables finding their place in a large compost pile. Can you read the determination on their faces?

Here's the thrilling action shot of spent vegetables finding their place in a large compost pile. Can you read the determination on their faces?

Of course, some family members took a more laid-back approach to the farmwork. Luckily, they make up for a lack of thumbs with an excess of sweetness.

www.moondogfarms.com

The strawberry study has begun to yield small green fruits! Here's hoping we get to their little gems before others do when the time comes...

And then, the big daddy of all tasks this week: transplanting.

Family helped transform the Fall field into our Summer One field, requiring the installation of tomato/cucumber trellises, black fabric as an experiment in combating weeds, and loads and loads of T-posts. Sore shoulders were felt all around.  

20140312_151541.jpg

Three varieties of tomatoes were moved from our greenhouse to the ground this week: Sakura, Goldies and Black Cherries. All are cherry tomatoes, for they're our favorite and no one can tell us not to.

20140313_123728.jpg

Mass transplantings always give us ample time to bemoan the state of our gumbo clay soil here in the Gulf.  I mean, look at that stuff.  All we need is a kiln and a different business model.

www.moondogfarms.com

We scheduled another dirt delivery this week as part of our "Fix the Bowl In The Middle Of the Field" mission. Where once the lettuce of Fall was growing, we will now spread the topsoil and set it in cover crop until this year's Fall. 

www.moondogfarms.com

Can you smell that basil?

Setting those little babes in the ground is a truly reaffirming act.  They're so delicate and tender at this age, but you know that in only a matter of days they grow strong, grateful for the chance to root deep. They give and give, stretching our harvest for months and becoming a staple in both our diet and our incomes until late summer.

And of course, we do a little more marveling.

After all, we're lucky to stare natural beauty in the face everyday--it's the least we can do to go on and on about it. :)

Confessions of a Cold Texan (Don't Bother If You're Not)

I'll admit it. I was cold.

www.moondogfarms.com

Hands were throbbing, my feet felt misplaced (or lost, perhaps missing), and the whining (in both inner monologue and external moaning forms) was in full force.

No, we hadn't shoveled incessantly-falling snow like our fellow Michiganders, Mainers, North Dakotans or Iowans. We didn't need to eschew such lethal activities like, say, getting the mail.  

However, submerging arms to elbows in cold water, in freezing temperatures, isn't a fun activity.

We've watched our unlucky Northern brethren shoulder outrageous wintry burdens while we cancel school at 30 degrees. When we lived in New York, even a most brutal snowstorm--which at the time was one of the worst the city had seen in years-- felt like a glowy adventure. I doubt this weather has felt like an adventure to anybody north of (or even near) the Mason-Dixon for weeks now.

www.moondogfarms.com

I don't intend to make light of the curious weather this winter, although we are so laughably unconditioned to handle the idea of multiple nights of freezing air. Nobody knows what to do with icicles here. Never having experienced sub-zero climates, let alone the fearful temperatures of -50 degrees, each news report leaves me more and more bewildered.

Bewildered, and abashed by the enormity of my weenie-ness.

It was with this dim, slightly-guilty self-awareness that we set out to harvest last Saturday morning.

We arrived at 7 am.

After waiting 3 hours for the lettuce to thaw, we began cutting.  

Then I began to wash the vegetables. More specifically, I began to dunk my hands in basins of well-water, over and over again, and it was there, around the 3-second mark after that first dunk, that I began my sad, pathetic song of woe.

I'll admit it. I was cold.

Each of these 3 sinks were filled to bursting with cut salad lettuce, three times over. Imagine many dunkings.

I had no business complaining, and I still don't. We have beautiful salad mix, just aching to be harvested and sold to cheerful, rose-cheeked customers. (The rose tinge  we see here remains appealing and reminiscent of Rockwell greeting cards, not as a first sign of impending frostbite.)

And customers do show up for our lettuce. This is very good.

See how well the lettuce plays with the other market goodies?

And the cold is good for controlling pests. This is also good.

A scrappy cucumber beetle managed to evade a wintry death, only to show up in our sink of lettuce. That's a great thing about our sink-washing system; the bugs always float to the top, offering themselves up for easy removal.

And the serial dunking reminds me of how important and unappreciated proper circulation is, as well as how greatly I love my hands, especially when I can feel them. Good.

And we have heating in our home, where we are fortunate to have, and to which we gleefully retreat after all dunking is said and done. This is, you can deduce, incredibly good.

Tumbleweeds and curly kale locked in frozen embrace.

 

While reviewing photos from last Saturday, I realized that with each click to a new image my shoulders hunched, my toes curled and I'd somehow subconsciously draped myself with yet another blanket.

In other words, it was cold, and I wasn't over it yet.

So, instead of my intended story outlining how our salad mix gets from our ground to our customers, it felt only right to join the scads of Texans completely wigging out about the cold.

But you get the gist, yeah?

Lettuce grows from seed, we cut the lettuce, they get dunked in our stainless steel sinks, dry on a wire table, we bag it and bring it to market. And Casey curses a lot, about being cold.

Carolina geranium is one of our most prolific weeds at the farm. When we bag the lettuce, I scout out any errant pieces hiding midst the salad. 

It will feel a distant memory from the boxing ring that is July, but this weather right now feels very, very real. It's presence means many things, both grand and small: climate change and better-tasting brussels sprouts, city-wide propane shortages and cider by the fireplace.

But for me, for now, it means I've got some serious psyching-up to do before this Saturday's dunkfest.


Berry good and tired.

Today I arrive at the computer sore and chilly, so we're all in for a treat as I aim for today's post to remain simple. And luckily, it'll also be sweet—or at the very least, it holds a promise of sweet.

For today, we talk strawberries.  

Specifically, we talk planting of bare-root strawberries. We also talk potatoes. We talk...lots of squatting. And biceps put to work. Some arms were lashed to a hoe for so long that certain McFarmers had no choice but to take a nap. Egads.

Aunt Susan plants out our Eclair varietal of strawberries. We're pretty sure they're cream-filled.

(The cold, wet weather lent us a great excuse for retreating once all our lettuce and cauliflower had been covered and potatoes put to sleep. You could see the bedlust in Alex's eyes long before the rain came—he really had worked hard building 400 ft of potato trenches--and once the drops fell, it took unusually little convincing to get that hard-working farmer back home. )

Strawberries are a beautiful thing. If you've never had them out of your own garden, pot or neighbor's yard, I say stop whatever you're doing and run. Run into the forest and search out the taste of a wild, fresh berry.

They are soft, vibrant rubies that make you believe in everything juicy and romantic.

But do this running-to-the-forest thing in, like, May or June. Don't go now, or you'll be sad and lonely for a long-time, and you'll probably run into some trespassing charges if you do it around these parts.

All I truly know is that when a friend of ours who is an ag-extension agent asked back in October if we'd like to be part of a strawberry-growing study, we said sure without hesitation. We put in our order for 200 free and lovely and free plants, and sat back for a delivery in December.

December came. December went.

We had limited communication with our buddy, and we knew that the university where he works kept him busy, so we thought,

“Eh, no big deal. Maybe next time. But we're so excited about these berries now, why don't we just order some ourselves?”

So we did. 200 strawberries to be planted into two 100 foot beds.

And then our friend came to the farm. Our friend came to the farm with 600 strawberry plants.

You can see the yellow flags demarcating the different varieties of strawberries. Six in all, we're excited to see what happens!

You can see the yellow flags demarcating the different varieties of strawberries. Six in all, we're excited to see what happens!

Hooray for aunts and uncles! Hooray for garden scooters!

Hooray for aunts and uncles! Hooray for garden scooters!

Thus began a massive berry-planting bonanza, hastened massively with help from Alex's aunt and uncle, Susan and Gaddis. (They often thanklessly save the day around these parts—they're like mystery superheroes that just want to be paid in cabbage.)

And so it was that in barely over a day we all four planted 800 berry plants on plots designed for 200. Our agent pal said it wouldn't hurt 'em to be squeezed in, so squeeze we did.

We've never grown strawberries commercially before, so it should be an adventure, chock-full of trial and error. Probably lots of error.

But if we succeed, I wonder if there'll be anyone, anywhere, willing to help us harvest those sweet, soft rubies?

Just don't take my earlier advice too seriously and camp out like a wildling in our woods, twitching to get at those ripe berries. The chance at your first fresh strawberry might lose luster when partnered with bunking night after night with all those coyotes.

The Red La Sodas wait patiently for their blankies...

The Red La Sodas wait patiently for their blankies...

20140122_124120.jpg

That would be a good place to end, I know. But I really have to return to something; my dear one, my muscle, my machine-like McFarmer.  

It just wouldn't do our customers, friends and family justice if they didn't know--photographically, at least--of the manic, awe-inspiring work Alex did to make our potato trenches.

Around here, folks call our soil "gumbo clay." This isn't the catalog-quality, chocolate-cakey soil you see smirking back from tractor commercials or seed magazines. It is hard. It is sticky. 

It is very difficult to dig a trench in. 

But he did it, and we got our potatoes in on-time (well, nearly on time) for our Spring planting. They were also finished just in-time for us to only spend half an hour in freezing rain before high-tailing it home.

 

And boy, they were some good-looking trenches.

20140123_103354.jpg

So when we bring bushels of creamy new potatoes to market in a few months, I want everyone to know now: a very sweaty and noodle-armed McFarmer is a part of every one of those spuds. 

You're allowed to forget that when it's time to eat. :)