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].
It is often the case that competing projects and tasks demand our attention, but never so much as during the first rush of spring. There are so many needs and goals that we struggle to prioritize and feel the rip tide of overwhelm pulling at our feet. We persevere and are amazed at what we accomplish by working together.
The different enterprises that make up our farming system operate in concert and mutual support, but also tend to hit high points of activity at the same time. We work backwards from projected harvest date to transplanting, bed prep and sowing. Approximating how much we’ll need for a harvest date that is months away is no easy task, and the planning has a complexity to it that we are still learning to grock.
So much of farming is based on the intuition that comes from practice. Observation and refinement are critical to creating a successful operation, and planning becomes the lubrication that keeps the system moving. With clear and accurate preparation a well-oiled process can proceed with ease.
We’re working on planting the load of perennials that have been accumulating in pots over the last year. Yesterday the two Tea roses and five Rugosa roses went into their forever homes, as did the currants. Today (with luck) the willow starts, raspberries and some of the hazelnuts will go in. Oak seedlings, plums, chestnut, and blueberries await their turn, as do several dozen one gallon pots of clover or comfrey.
I’ve been planning a bioswale for perennials, hoping to incorporate the young oaks into a new planting and fostering them until they have grown enough to be safe from deer, rabbits and pigs. Interplanted with comfrey and clover, the oaks will grow to provide shade for livestock and the other perennials will serve as forage.
When I look at the ecosystem here, I see many old oaks but few young ones. As the landscape becomes drier there is less fall forage for deer and rabbits, and sapling oak leaves fall victim to the increased hunger. Nonnative wild pigs pillage for acorns and often root out young oaks, like the ones that we planted in the pasture two years ago.
We’ve had our share of trial and error with this process, and are hoping that this third time’s a charm after losing two years of seedlings to pigs or deer. When we plant the bioswale this spring we’ll run electric fencing around it to deter animals and we’ll irrigate it through the dry months. With luck, in a year we’ll have a dozen oak saplings growing well and we’ll be moving into another round of planting.
Managing the broader landscape for increased perennial growth is a key component of regenerating an ecosystem that has become hotter, drier and less abundant since the arrival of domesticated grazing animals. Mob stocking and selective sowing increases the biomass and organic matter in the soil, holding more water and keeping the land greener during the dry months.
We find that fencing off a section of land and providing some water allows for a stunning regrowth of native species like the oaks and bunchgrasses. The deep rooted bunchies are more nutritious than the shallow annual grasses that dominate the landscape, so grazing animals prefer to eat them, which sets up a vicious cycle of decline in a hotter, drier world.
The conundrum of land management around species population is a Gordian knot, a question of “if we can protect broad swaths of the landscape long enough to regenerate the ecosystem, then it will operate on its own.” How do we create enough opportunity for the bunchgrasses, oaks and other native species to return and thrive?
When we start to look at landscape-level health we enter into the conversation of the Green New Deal. A concerted effort to reverse desertification of the land has to happen at the scale of governments and systems, it can’t work just on an individual level. This system begins with clear support and funding for increased micro-scale water storage. Instead of focusing on massive infrastructure projects like the big dams, we need funding for storage that doesn’t have to travel far to be allocated to the soil.
With water comes potential for life, for rebirth, for growth. Seeing what has happened on the land we steward in the time we’ve been here gives us hope for the future, for biodiversity, for fecundity. The vibrancy of spring and the lushness of growth renews and invigorates, and we go forth with love to do the work. As always, much love and great success to you in 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.