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 Tag: seeds/seedlings

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. 

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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. 

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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!!!!

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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

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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. 

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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.

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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?

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.  

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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. :)

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.