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].
The creeks are flowing strong and the pond is full. The landscape is soft and moist and we rejoice in this gift. Though it is a far cry from the heat and smoke of fire season, thoughts of fire prevention are on our minds. This is the time for clearing brush, and we’ll be making some biochar and hugel beds, and removing some of the firs that are encroaching on the oaks.
As always, there are so many things to be done that it can be hard to prioritize and easy to slip into feelings of overwhelm. The thing that I love about farming is that there is always something to do, good work that eases the mind and has the body singing with the effort. The thing that’s hard about farming is that there’s always so much to do. Balance is key.
The combination of the massive December snowstorm and me being laid out sick during it means that in addition to the usual January work, I have cleanup to do on infrastructure that was damaged. Repairing chicken tractors and demolishing a collapsed pig shelter that is beyond repair are both on the job list, along with sowing beds, starting seeds in trays, finishing the crop planning and trimming cannabis.
With the downturn in the cannabis market I’m doing more trimming this year than I have over the past few. We’ve tended to send bulk material still on the branch out for processing, but our distribution options have shifted and while we’re still sending some things out, we’re also doing more ourselves. There’s a certain comfort in it, both a nostalgia and an enjoyment, sitting and trimming while listening to farming lectures or stand up comedy.
It’s a little hard to believe that we’re already around to the time when we begin starting seeds for the year in the propagation house. In one sense I’m way ahead of schedule, because last year we had just a few rows planted in one hoophouse at this point, while this year we have twenty rows planted in 8 hoophouses.
We’ll have more early spring brassica than we have ever had before, with hundreds of cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and kohlrabi coming along nicely within the shelter of the hoophouses. Spring salad mixes are one of our specialties, and I had expected to have them ready for harvest by this time but with the lost time to sickness I’m running behind in my sowing.
This coming week I’ll sow one bed to arugula and tatsoi, one bed to the tokyo bekana and mizuna blend that is the workhorse of our salad mix, one bed to salad turnips and radishes, and one bed to bok choy and red choy. In the propagation house we’ll sow trays of onions, shallots, scallions, beets, chard, kale and collards.
We have one hoophouse that was planted to fall salad mixes and cooking greens that has mostly blown out and needs to be cleared, prepped and replanted. When it was planted, we sowed two rows of tokyo bekana salad in two of the beds, and also transplanted in two rows of kale/chard/collards. This intercropping worked great in terms of maximizing productivity from the beds, but has now gotten overgrown and weedy.
The heavy cooking greens will continue producing well if we clear the blown out salad mix and add a little compost, and I may even be able to sow a row of radishes or salad turnips on the southern edge of the beds that can come on even as I continue to harvest the cooking greens.
We don’t usually do the heartier cooking greens inside the hoophouse because they’ll do very well outside so long as we get them planted early in the fall. I’ve been harvesting huge kale and chinese cabbages from some of the outdoor cannabis beds that got replanted in late September after an early clone run came out.
The greens have weathered the storms in perfect condition, taking on a sweetness that comes from synthesizing more sugars to protect themselves from the cold. It’s been nice to have the cooking greens in the hoops too though because they’re more tender and are easy to harvest even when it’s raining. They’ve been a staple blend for the winter farmstand, and have grown faster under the shelter.
Overall, we’re ahead of any place we’ve ever been in terms of winter production, but it can still be easy to feel overwhelmed and like I’m behind. I keep having to remind myself that it’s still not even the middle of January, but I’m also growing excited for the year to come. As they say, hope springs eternal, and this is never more true than in farming. As always, much love and great success to you on your journey!