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].
Saturday morning camping on the coast. The sound of waves rolling into the beach, the crackle of wood on the fire as I await the bubbling of the coffee pot. Crucial recharge for the body and soul after a long season of heat and hard work. A downbeat in the rhythm of the year before the final buildup that culminates the season and sends us into winter.
Two years ago Amber and I took a week off at the end of August and went to Alaska. It was one of the most magical experiences of my life, and provided perspective and a feeling of readiness going into harvest. Last year we didn’t manage a break, and the burnout that we suffered was real and lasting. I swore I’d never go into harvest again without a break beforehand.
This year I set out from the beginning to plan a camping trip to the coast in September. We chose a getaway to the simple campgrounds at Howard Creek, North of Westport. Far enough from home to achieve breakaway, yet close enough that over the course of the week we can each rotate home for chores and checkin.
There are so many quintessential things about camping that have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. So many family traditions and funny sayings that I find myself carrying on from my childhood, the words clanging in my memory like bells of sweetness and past joy.
The centralizing force of the campfire draws us together, cooking becomes an offering and sharing that makes eating more pleasurable and reflective than on an average day. I think about the lessons that are here, the value in slowing down, the need for breaks and a chance to step back far enough to see the forest for the trees.
When I get away from the farm, I don’t want to be super active. I want to sit and read, and read, and read. I bring several books anytime I’m headed out for a few days, and I delight in having the time to focus on them without the press of chores needing to be done.
Part of getting away is creating space to look at my life and work, to reflect on what things are working well, and what things I’d like to change. It’s an opportunity to take time for study, for catching up on the things that are happening in my field, instead of being outside working in the field.
This trip I brought along The Living Soil Handbook by Jesse Frost, host of the No-Till Market Garden Podcast. I love reading about farming and learning from other farmers, gathering new techniques for application in the seasons to come. I scribble notes and dream of spring, though we still have much work to do this year.
There is such a resurgence in the world of small food farms, with new tools and techniques being innovated all the time. As I grow and continue in my journey as a farmer, I draw deep succor from the teachings of others, gathering strength and courage to continue the journey into another season. Adaptation is the name of the game at this point.
This year has been hotter and drier than any I can remember, and there have been hard lessons in dealing with crops. It has been difficult to maintain adequate soil moisture, and there have been notable issues with diminished production in some areas. Tomatoes were very slow to fruit outside the hoophouses, and two of our late plantings of cannabis were stunted by lack of water during the early growth stages.
We learned hard lessons this year about how early the soil can dry out, and how difficult it can be to get enough water to the plants. More hand watering is needed than in the past when the reserves of soil moisture were available at planting. Dry soil can become hydrophobic, shedding water and taking much more effort to hydrate enough to support plants. We did some seasonal bed prep too early, cutting the cover crop but not replanting until much later.
WIthout the usual late spring rains, those beds dried out and I failed to accommodate for this at planting time. Banking on a more normal soil moisture level, it never occurred to me that there was a problem until later on when the plants hadn’t grown as well as they should have.
Farming is always a series of lessons, and whether or not I am perceptive enough to notice them has a lot to do with success or failure in the long term. I try to be aware and reflexive, stepping back to assess and refine. I love new information and try to seek out different methods and practices to apply to our operation. 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.