This is our farm column from farmer Casey O’Neill. O’Neill is the owner operator of HappyDay Farms north of Laytonville, and a long time advocate for the cannabis community in Mendocino Co; more of his writing can be found here. The opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer. If you would like to submit a letter to the editor feel free to write to [email protected].
Our farm is a balance and symphony of cycles, all moving at different speeds. When things are flowing the music beckons an elegant choreography as we dance through the seasons. When too many cycles collide at once this cacophony brings stress and overwork — but we get better at conducting as each new beginning occurs.
Over the years our systems become more clear and defined, the “how” growing out of the increasing clarity with which we define our “why?” We want to produce good food and medicine for ourselves and our community; we want to steward the land into greater abundance over time, with richer soil and better water-holding capacity; we want to live and work as family.
As spring commences we go through the rituals of seasonal transition. The chickens and ducks are out of winter quarters and back on the green of spring pasture, scratching for bugs and enjoying themselves in the gentle sunlight. The landscape is soft and forgiving, though the lack of rainfall shows in the length of the grass and the dust from vehicles on the dirt roads.
Spring is the time of blood flow and moisture rising, quickened from the slumber of winter into growth and abundance by the warm rays of the sun. The trees are budding and blossoming, the bees are buzzing and we are working at full capacity. Spring is the time of joy and work, of shared effort in the glory of preparing and planting.
We’re deep in the steps of bed prep, marching through the spaces for early crops and into the later plantings. We’re harvesting cover crops, adding compost and amendments based on soil tests, broadforking, harrowing and putting down the silage tarp for light occlusion. We wait 3–6 weeks depending on weather, timing, and need to plant, and then we pull the plastic, lay out the drip, plant, hoop and cover to protect from elements, birds and insects.
Each step in the process is part of the whole like an instrument in a song. Each is a necessary component for playing the music, and each must operate in harmony. New instruments or musicians enter the mix as the seasons move along and we adjust and practice to find the new rhythm.
We work together to realize our individual strengths and weaknesses, meshing to identify and accomplish our shared goals and refining our operations. Each year we add new practices that enable better “how” that moves us deeper into the “why” of what we do. Seeing the winter harvests, vibrant pasture and lush cover crop in the gardens affirms our efforts and sends us forth charged up to do it again.
Harvesting cover crop and other green biomass for forage has always been part of our animal management strategies during the dry or muddy seasons, which make up 9 months of the year. We rotate on green pasture from April through the end of June but must supplement fresh greenery during the rest of the year.
There are distinct forage options available to us during each part of the year. Spring is the time of fresh growth on rotated pasture. Early summer yields copious waste from brassica harvests, and late summer contains the excess leaf and suckers removed from the insides of the cannabis plants.
Late fall is the hardest time of the year for gathering biomass because the rains seem to come later and later. We rely on hardy perennials like comfrey, mallow and alfalfa for forage during these months until the growing cover crop becomes available for harvest.
This past year we couldn’t get the cover crop to germinate because we didn’t have enough water to irrigate and the rains didn’t come. We lost a lot of the seed to birds, and had to re-sow a number of places when the rains arrived. As it continues to get hotter and drier, we adapt our management strategies; this year we hope to undersow the cover crop in early fall while we’re still irrigating the cannabis, tomatoes, and other summer crops, to get a jump start on growth in case the rains come late again.
Each year we face new challenges and surprises, but we also possess new knowledge and skills that we use to adapt and overcome. Access to information and sharing of practices increases with the ease of communication that new technologies afford. A growing chorus in relationship to land increases abundance and fertility over time, backtracking the path from the industrial wastelands to return to fecundity.
As always, much love and great success to you on your journey.
Casey O’Neill owns and runs HappyDay Farms, a small vegetable and cannabis farm north of Laytonville. He is a long time cannabis policy advocate, and was born and raised in the Bell Springs area. The preceding has been an editorial column. The Mendocino Voice has not necessarily fact-checked or copyedited this work, and it should be interpreted as the words of the author, not necessarily reflecting the opinions of The Mendocino Voice.