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: strawberries

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!!!!

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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).

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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. :)

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...

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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.

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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. :)