Sow: Spring 2016 experiments

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Repurposed washtub planter with sage, rosemary, thyme and oregano

If you’ve read any of my gardening posts (the Sow ones), you already know that I really don’t know what I’m doing. Sure, I’ve been planting and harvesting stuff in North Texas for a few years now, but it’s always a bit of a crapshoot. Trial and lots of error. Lots of error.

 

Herbs always have done very well for me, especially during the cooler months (November-February).

 

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The kitchen herb planter had a fantastic winter. Parsley is bolting but the flowers are pretty.

 

Of course, cooler is never a given, even during the winter here. I barely had to cover the garden at all which is unusual for North Texas—there are usually a few days of very cold weather, ice or even snow.

No snow/ice days for us this year.  The unpredictable weather here is always a challenging variable, but I also like to make it hard on myself by trying new things.

 

For spring and summer 2016, I’ve planted some of my favorites (aka plants that have grown well for me):

Bell peppers (transplants from North Haven Gardens)

 

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Jalapeno peppers (transplants from North Haven Gardens), shown here with a rogue red romaine lettuce

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Anaheim chilis (transplants from North Haven Gardens)

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Basil (transplants from Trader Joe’s)

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Sweet 100 tomatoes (transplants from North Haven Gardens)

IMG_9951Okra (seeds from Botanical Interests) — still tiny because it’s not hot enough for their usual fast growing

IMG_9959Black eyed peas (seeds from last year’s harvest that were from plants grown from Botanical Interests seeds) — even tinier than the okra so not shown.

Shishito peppers (transplants from North Haven Gardens)

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I’ll be planting tomatillo seeds (from Sweet Corn Garden Organics) very soon—probably this weekend. Just waiting for it to get slightly warmer during the daytime hours. The plants grow like weeds here and I make a lot of salsa verde, so this year I’m planting double the amount I planted last year.

 

 

And now, without further ado, I’d like to introduce you to my 2016 experiments:

Artichoke (transplant from North Haven Gardens)

IMG_9957Black Bean (transplant from North Haven Gardens)

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Arkansas Traveler tomatoes (transplants from North Haven Gardens)

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Mortgage Lifter tomatoes (transplants from North Haven Gardens)

IMG_9953Flying Saucer squash (transplants from North Haven Gardens)

IMG_9956Fingers crossed for a successful growing season! And for keeping Gidget from eating all the plants!

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although I have netted and fenced the fig tree, it looks like there are just a few figs left for spring. luckily it is sprouting more which should be ready in the summer.

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And maybe we will have plums this year too — Gidget and Godiva are doing a fine job of squirrel scaring.

 

 

 

So: throwback thursday sounds

I have another secret for you: I like to sing along with the radio during my morning commute. I am a terrible singer and can’t carry a tune, but I do it anyway. Loud and proud. Nothing timid about it. If you pull up next to me a red light, please join in, if you know the tune. Even if you don’t, I’ll sound a lot better with a little help. I’m the person who shouldn’t even sing in church. I really do blister people’s ear drums.

Recently, I got bored with the local commercial radio stations. I know I could just plug in my iPhone and listen to Pandora or even my iTunes library, but I like surprises. That’s also why I got bored with the radio. After a while I could predict what was coming next.

I listened to NPR for a while. The news, while interesting, bummed me out. And I missed singing.

Then I found public radio station 91.7 KXT.

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I’m sure my pals in North Texas have been listening to it for years and just “forgot” to tell me about it. What I like about it is it’s like the most awesome music collection I could amass combined with a bunch of stuff I never knew I’d like. Then, they put it on “random”. It’s all mashed up together, like a gorgeous musical goulash.

I can hear the Grateful Dead, then Smashing Pumpkins, Sam Smith, then the Who. I was listening to the Jam earlier today. I heard Selector yesterday. I haven’t heard either of those two bands on the radio in I don’t know when. KXT takes me in the “way back” machine every commute by playing a gem or two from my high school and college favorite bands. Then they make me feel like less of an old fogey by introducing me to some great new stuff I’ve never heard of. It’s awesomely programmed. All the stuff that doesn’t really belong together really makes sense.

It’s their pledge drive time, so I’m thinking a donation is in order tonight. They’ve brought back my “lovely singing voice” after all.

And with that, here’s today’s throwback Thursday gratuitous dog photo of the day:

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Godiva may be 5 now but she still loves those spherical objects

 

Sow: freeze coming

The prediction of the first really cold night in North Texas gets everyone all worked up. It’s on the way for tomorrow night supposedly. No, it’s not going to snow. Or even make icy roads. Still, already people are battening down hatches and digging out their warm coats and sweaters—boots made their fashion appearance as soon as the temperatures dipped to 80°F. Brrrr.

While I don’t necessarily mind pulling out the headlamp and the frost cloths to cover everything up once I get home from work in the pitch black that’s 6:30 pm, I realized last year that sometimes such attempts are utterly futile.

You already heard about Seymore the feral tomato plant (actually plants — I found that he created several clones of his wild armed self). He’s gone because no amount of frost cloth would protect his crazy girth (and I’ve already got cute little super red tomatoes happening on my kitchen counter. I guess they like it inside the nice warm kitchen).

The peppers may be ok but they might not be (more about that later). The kale, chard, bok choi, arugula, lettuce, collards, spinach and mustard should all be fine. The herb box close to the kitchen door will be ok since the brick walls keep their planter warm. I’ll pull the little wheeled herb garden closer to some nice warm bricks.

But there was some major picking this past weekend so that all of those plants lives would not be in vain.

First casuality: Malabar spinach. Last year, I foolishly thought covering it would keep it going. It is on a trellis so that was not a good idea and made for a nasty melting, black-leaved mess to clean up. I got a huge metal bowl worth which will last us a couple of weeks in our breakfast green drinks.

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Next was bye-bye basil. There’s a lot that grew from two little plants. So I gave away two gallon ziplocs and have another two washed and ready to be turned into pesto tonight. Just throw it in the food processor with garlic, olive oil, pine nuts and parmesan and then pack it away in the freezer for eating in the cold miserable months. Brings a smile to my face just thinking about those delicious dinners.

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Peppers are a little iffy and I’m thinking about going out tonight and picking the biggest ones that remain on the plants. This morning before work I roasted several trays of poblanos and jalapeños for future meals. I’ll peel them tonight and into the freezer they go to brighten up soups, stews, Mexican dishes and more.

I fully intended to plant garlic yesterday, but as I mentioned yesterday, I really don’t know how to rest but I ran out of steam. Maybe tomorrow morning before work when I water everything that’s still alive. Farmer Megan gave me some nice bulbs just waiting to be planted and it will give some bio-diversity to Seymore’s former home (Raised Bed #4). Let’s see how cold it is in the morning.

And even though it’s not Throwback Thursday, here’s a major brown dog throwback for the gratuitous dog photo of the day:

8 week old Godiva

8 week old Godiva

Sow: crazy ideas

Zatarains

not exactly plant seeds • image from McCormick.com

I’m beginning to think I have a reputation as a girl who will try anything once. In the garden, people! (Remember, “Sow” is in the title of this post, not “So.”)

If you’ve followed along with me for the past couple of years, you’ll recall that I’ve tried many “experiments” at the Mortroski Midcentury Urban Farm thus far. Some have been dismal failures. Like every tomato plant I’ve put in the ground, not counting Seymore the feral Sweet 100 that’s eating Raised Bed #4. Cabbage. Broccoli. Brussels Sprouts. Squash of all kinds. Watermelon. Cucumbers.

Some have been fabulous. Copious amounts of tomatillos filling the freezer! Black eyed peas galore! Every single kind of pepper producing faster than we can eat or give away. Malabar spinach. Beets. Two little basil plants that I have had to “prune” and bring to work by the bushel basket. Kale. Chard.

But this experimental idea, shared with me by my pal Mack one night on Facebook, has got to be the weirdest—and the most tempting: plant a Zatarain’s crab boil bag. No, Mack did not make it up. It’s a thing. Supposedly you can grow all sorts of amazing peppers. Over 21 varieties. Cilantro and a whole bunch of other amazing herbs that go into this New Orleans’ delicacy.

If the Kroger by my office would have had a box of Zatarian’s yesterday, I would have bought it and planted it just to see what happened. I would have had the most amazing story to tell you!

Or so I thought…

Turns out, if you Google it, it’s (wait for it, I know you’ll be surprised) a really well executed April Fool’s Day prank!

Good on ya, Mack. You got me. I wanted to believe! I wanted a whole passel of Cajun peppers and herbs. I wanted to tell the world about my crab boil garden—maybe McCormick would have sponsored the garden, you know, like NASCAR sponsors drivers. I’d wear the Zatarain’s logo proudly.

Alas, now I need to come up with another crazy experiment for Spring 2015. Got any bright ideas? And don’t say money tree. I hear the climate’s not right in North Texas.

Your gratuitous dog photo of the day is a bit of a throw back to a few year’s ago when we only had one G:

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We’re both a bit older now, but we’re still just as cute • photo by Bruce

 

 

Sow: seed saving

It’s been one of those months. Actually 2014 has been one of those years. I started this post on July 7 and for one of the oh-so-many reasons I haven’t written much this month, including the extra crazy daily harvesting, it got saved to draft.

Well, I’d better get back to writing since believe it or not, in North Texas, late July and the beginning of August is the right time to start getting stuff in the ground for the fall garden.

Yes, I am well aware that it’s the time of year when our little piece of heaven resembles the surface of the sun and children try to fry stuff on the sidewalks and even 5:30 am almost too hot to walk the Gs. But the grass has been unnaturally green for a good long while and the tomatillos and okra are touching the sky. I thank both the random rainfall we’ve had and the fabulous drip system we added to the urban farm.

We are in for another few days of abnormal rainy and cooler weather which seems to be the new normal down here. I hate to say it but it breaks up the sameness even though George has to sleep in his Thundershirt. (I really need to get him a modeling gig with that company.)

One plant that needs to get its seeds planted pretty soon is cilantro. Although you’d think that cilantro would grow wonderfully all year ’round here, it doesn’t. Like many Texas residents, it hates the heat. And the humidity also makes it look ugly, much like my crazy giant Texas hair last Thursday and Friday.

As soon as the weather heads up past 80°F (around 27°C, if I remember right), cilantro goes right to flower and starts tasting like soap. But if the taste of soap brings back wonderful childhood memories of special quality time spent with mom after expressing yourself with colorful grown up words, you’re in luck. You just won’t get any takers in the Mortroski Midcentury. We’ll eat ultra-bitter arugula and like it, but not soap-flavored tacos and guacamole.

I decided instead to let it go to coriander. Yes, that’s right cilantro the fresh green plant makes seeds that are ground into the spice coriander. The plant is also called that in some places, but it’s a little confusing when you ask for it as coriander at the supermarket around here. The dude you ask will take you to the little bottles of spices lined up in alphabetical order, not the produce section.

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Cilantro seeds (aka coriander) drying

So basically, I made my own pack of seeds to plant for the fall/winter crop. And all you have to do is let the cilantro go to seed, then let it dry out on the plant. Then cut the stems and bring them inside to dry out a bit more. I felt a few days was enough.

Next you’ll want to pack your patience or be in an especially cheerful, focused, or maniacal mood because you’re going to pluck the little seeds from the twiggy leftover bits of plant. One. By. One. I actually found it pretty therapeutic, but I also like to destem bushels of basil or shell blackeyed peas before work. Do it at your leisure, however. It does take a little time and if you rush, they go everywhere and one of your dogs will eat them and have breath that smells like an Indian restaurant, which is an improvement in George’s case.

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Coriander up close — looks just like the seed pack or the spice jar!

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The finished result: looks like I’ve got more than enough for fall planting — might have to share

So the cilantro seeds go back in the ground next month. Even though all of the other herbs are growing like crazy it’s the one I miss the most. Maybe it’s that soapy taste. I do have a fondness for spiciness.

Since I know you’ve missed the gratuitous dog photo of the day, I’ll give you a couple:

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Godiva tolerating George

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George tolerating Gadget

 

Sow: urban farm update

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Lots of amazing stuff is happening on the Urban Farm. We’ve had amazing weather and rain! June’s been cooler than normal at night, but we’re back into the 90°s during the day. Everything’s looking quite jungle-y and very green. The blackeyed peas are getting bigger. The okra is producing and we’ve had a couple of meals from it. The feral tomatoes are starting to turn red. The Malabar spinach is covering the trellises. The basil seems to grow as fast as I cut it. I’ve been picking peppers right and left. It’s a great time of year where I’m not buying produce at the store, except for fruit. And I’ve been giving it away like crazy.

Here are a few photos of what’s been going on:

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We’ve had several weeks of beets now. The Detroit reds have won for best all around flavor so they’re the only ones I’ll grow in the fall. 

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I’ve harvested about 10 of the feral Sweet 100s. After all the tomatoes are harvested I’m going to leave the plants in the ground and see if I can get a second harvest in the fall.

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The feral tomato plants covered with bird net so the birds don’t eat all of the tomatoes

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Since I didn’t know I was growing tomatoes, I had to rig up a way to keep the bird net in place. Hooks on the fence, a couple of tomato cages and some bricks were my solution.

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Okra is well underway

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Flowers on the green bean vines

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Bell peppers are going strong

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A big black and white bug seems to like green bean leaves

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This weekend our pal Fred is going to make some of his famous jalapeño poppers using these beauties. They are amazingly delicious bacon wrapped, cheese stuffed jalapeños that are grilled on the BBQ. I will harvest Friday.

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Lots of jalapeños

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The tomatillos look like patio lanterns. I can’t wait to make salsa verde. The plants are probably at least 4 ft tall. You can see poblano peppers in the background.

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This shot of the blackeyed peas is about a week old. They have doubled in since then.

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Tiny tomatoes turning red

And for today’s gratuitous dog photo of the day, here are my bathing beauties enjoying their pool:

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Sow: long weekend landscaping

It’s been a long day with a very tight deadline for work, so I’m up late and writing more as a little wind down, despite my laptop feeling like it’s overheating from the exuberant pounding I’ve been giving it all day. Whenever I am away from the office for a week, there’s usually some sort of fallout. I expected today to go exactly the way it did and I was not surprised.

On the plus side, the weekend was a long one (Memorial Day here in the USA), so today, you’re getting lots of photos. First up was our long weekend landscaping project which fortunately was not hampered by all the (much needed) rain that we’ve been getting since Sunday.

A few days ago, I mentioned that Bruce and I were very unimpressed at the high cost of the type of patio planters we were looking for so we looked to the Urban Farm for a little inspiration: Stock Tanks! These mini stock tanks from Tractor Supply Company are absolutely perfect for some patio accents. Now we just need to find some patio lanterns (ah, a wee bit of Canadian content for you hosers).

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Look at me all covered with dirt and happy as can be. We picked up two tiny stock tanks for the new patio and put blue agave and lemon coral sedum in them. I like ’em! • Photo by Bruce

And guess where they're made...

And guess where they’re made…and if you’re wondering what the blue thing is in the driveway, it’s Gidget’s and Godiva’s wading pool • photo by Bruce

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Mini stock tanks in context after the first of the weekend’s rain storms. At least all of the plants, the grass, and the Urban Farm are super happy with all the water. Our new rain gauge said we received 1/2 of an inch yesterday.

Lots of good stuff to harvest yesterday…and more today.

The gigantic harvests are starting. Lots of good stuff to harvest yesterday…and still more today. From left: power greens mix (spinach, chard, kale), big bag of mint, a huge head of curly lettuce, a bell pepper, a bunch of beets, two jalapeños, and a big bowl of salad greens. 

As a special treat, it’s gratuitous dog photos galore!

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George could finally relax and sleep through the night again. • Photo by Bruce

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And here’s a little update on my sweet pal Murphy: here he is with his new sister Harley. He looks pretty content, don’t you think? • photo by Debbie

So: Verde Camp

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photo by Simone

I’m getting ready to head back on the road again (this time for a business trip) so I thought I’d share a few photos of Verde Camp, the wonderful place where Simone and I stayed in Austin. It’s a grouping of little houses that were built in the 1930s and lovingly refurbished by a husband and wife team.

Bruce and I discovered Verde Camp in 2010 when we wanted to get away from the Big D for the weekend and see Austin. We also wanted to bring Guinness and Godiva along since we had heard Austin was super dog friendly (it is!) and thought it would be a fun trip for all of us.

We liked that it was dog-friendly and eco-friendly, plus we’d have our own little cottage with a kitchen so we could have breakfast, cocktails, and snacks. It’s in easy walking distance to lots of fun stuff: Town Lake, South Congress, the Continental Club, Homeslice Pizza, the University of Texas, the downtown area, Zilker Park, and the Capitol. It’s certainly better than a hotel in my opinion—it feels more like a vacation home or cottage up in Ontario.

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Since then we’ve been down a number of times with Guinness and Godiva, then Guinness, Godiva and George (Gidget has not made the trip yet). One time we even brought some human friends along and had a blast. I’ve always thought it would be really awesome to get a big group of friends together and rent a bunch of cottages so we could all hang out during the day but have our own spaces at night. Maybe one day—seems like it could be a fun way to celebrate a birthday….

This time Simone and I stayed in Cicada House. It’s super cute with a nice little porch and has a great loft (that’s where I slept).

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cute Cicada House • photo by Simone

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the loft and the loft dweller • photo by Simone

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the cute planter

Check out the website when you get a chance and you can see a bunch more photos and get all the details about the amenities. And if you’re ever planning a trip to Austin, definitely consider staying there. And tell ’em who sent you!

Today’s gratuitous dog photo is from our very first visit in May 2010:

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Guinness and Godiva at Verde Camp in  May 2010 • photo by Bruce

 

Sow: thundershirt time

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Georgie modeling his trusty Thundershirt, closely supervised by Godiva • photo by Bruce

The last few days have been atmospherically messed up in the much of the US. Denver got snow in May. California’s got Santa Ana winds and fires burning out of control. Dallas has got cooler than usual temperatures and epic thunderstorms.

While the Urban Farm totally digs the big drinks of water (everything is ultra green) it’s been getting and it’s appreciating the break from 90°F temperatures, sweet George is not exactly a happy camper. You see, George senses every change in the weather. He’s a canine barometer. And he’s terrified of loud sounds of any kind. So Texas-sized thunder booms are not sounds he likes to hear.

This morning, he tried to hide in my closet. And he tried to sneak out the back door and go to work with me. What he really wanted to do is snuggle with someone all day long.  He pants. He paces. He freaks out. He is nothing like his usual slobbery kiss-giving snuggly self. He doesn’t make his special happy sounds. He won’t get a tennis ball. Even holding his “babies” (his stuffed toys) in his mouth doesn’t give him comfort.

But the Thundershirt does. When we know there’s stormy weather coming, George becomes a doggie burrito. We swaddle him like a newborn in his special velcro covered shirt. Maybe the other Gs laugh at him a little. He doesn’t care. He may look a little silly, but he can relax. So can we.

They have been so effective for George that several of our friends have tried them on their dogs. Would you buy a garment to help your dog relax?

Today’s gratuitous dog photo: You may remember this one from a recent post, but a goofy George picture gives you a better idea what “normal” looks like for him:

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So: the Murphster

Meet Murphy. He was our foster dog for 3 weeks. You'll love the post I'll be writing about him (hint: it has a happy ending). Photo by Bruce

Meet Murphy. He was our foster dog for 3 weeks. Don’t worry this post has a happy ending. Photo by Bruce

Murphy was dumped. He should have been returned. Yes, he was adopted as an adorable little ball of puppiness. He was a Duck Team 6 dog, a cute puppy that went to what Duck Team 6 thought was a nice, responsible home with people that would love him and give him a wonderful life. He was loved for a little while. But then, their life got busy. Kids came and the sweet brown and brindle dog with the expressive ears became a pain in the ass. He was, after all, still a puppy, since he was under 2 years old.

So, one of the humans he trusted dumped him. At the local kill shelter near where the family lived.

Luckily his microchip told the city shelter that he was a Duck Team 6 dog or he might not have been around in 72 hours. He was supposed to be returned to Duck Team 6 for rehoming if the family couldn’t keep him for whatever reason. Instead, like cowards, they dumped him at the shelter with vague information that didn’t provide enough information. But the microchip did. And that’s how he came to the Mortroski Midcentury Bed and Breakfast and Home for Wayward Dogs for a sweet three week vacation filled with friends, food, playtime, wrestling, napping, lots of pets from nice visitors, walks, and fun. And had we not already had four dogs, we might have found a nice G name for him.

Here are some of our favorite photos of Murphy:

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Isn’t he cute? Aren’t those ears ridiculous?

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The Murphster looks a bit like Scooby Doo. With George photo bomb.

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Sleepy buddy.

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He’s a snuggler.

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Murphy liked to try to con me out of my breakfast.

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Gidget was his best buddy.

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This is the photo that got him adopted.

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Murphy fit in the pack just fine.

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Obviously Murphy’s former family never let him on furniture.

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Learning the finer points of Squirrel TV from Guinness. Gidget supervising.

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How could anyone resist all this cuteness?

So here’s the happy ending: after the three week stay where Murphy went from scared and sad and hating the crate (he was quite the escape artist) to a well-adjusted, happy-go-lucky boy, he found a new home. One of my coworkers and her husband fell in love with him. He has a new loving family who will spoil him, give him lots of toys and plenty of walks and play time. And his new older sister dog to continue to teach him the ropes. 

Gratuitous dog photo of the day? Really? Don’t you think you’ve gotten enough dog photos for one day?

To help more dogs like Murphy, consider a donation to Duck Team 6.