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].
Spring feels like it’s coming early this year, and though we need more rain, I am making hay while the sun shines. The hoophouses are planted to capacity, and it has been a good bit of work to keep flipping the beds as the over-winter crops have gone by the wayside. Clearing, prepping, sowing and planting are the rhythm of the farm, and I follow the beat.
When I’m clearing beds, I’ve taken to using the hand scythe to cut the stems of plants just below the soil surface, leaving the root mass in the ground to decompose. I pull weeds that might come back, but for the finished veggies the scythe is effective. It is not the fastest method of clearing a bed, but leaving the biomass in the soil is helpful for the micro organic populations and the larger soil fauna. The worms are abundant, and this makes me happy.
Yesterday Amber sowed the first bed of carrots for the year, which is always a milestone that marks the oncoming spring. I cleared a bed of Tokyo bekana and mizuna, added compost, broad forked it and ran the tilther to make a smooth seedbed. The tilther is a small, battery operated machine that mixes the top couple inches of soil, incorporating compost and amendments and leaving a perfect soil surface for running the Jang seeder along to sow the next crop.
Amber has been sowing as I’ve gotten the prepwork done, so that we now have 5 successions of salad mix going, and this means that it’s time to get back to farmers market. There are also three runs of turnips and radishes going, along with a variety of kales, collards, cabbages, tatsoi, arugula, cauliflower, broccoli, kohlrabi and beets. We’ve done a good job of winter growing, and are looking forward to abundant, late winter and early spring harvests.
We are learning to do more, with less. Being more efficient in our practices is the name of the game this year, and I’m working to stay on top of weeds and manage the hoophouses so that there is never a huge overwhelm of work. Each week I clear a few beds and get them ready for replanting. I pull weeds in the pathways, clean the filters for the irrigation and harvest what is ready for farmstand, special orders and for farm use.
With the dry weather, we’ve been irrigating full bore in the hoophouses and will do so with the garlic this week. I’ve also been running water on some areas of the pasture where we let the pigs out to eat grass and frolic in the sun. We have two full-grown Kune-Kunes and one young Kune-Guinea Hog boar. They are grazing pigs, meaning that they will eat a full complement of forage from the pasture, but they will also root things up a bit.
After running the pigs on a space, Amber and I add seed to the bare spots and rake the torn up forage back over them. I run a sprinkler every few days and this allows the torn up grass to re-root and the new seed to germinate and get going. This is the second winter we’ve had the pigs, but the first time that we’ve had such abundant forage available because of the heavy rains we got in the fall. It feels good to see the pigs out on pasture, though I am often frustrated at the rooting, which I make peace with by sowing and irrigating.
As I look to the season to come, I am striving to figure out a balanced work plan. We’ll be scaling back on our total cannabis production, starting seeds later and shooting to grow smaller plants. With the downturn in the market, our budget is too tight to afford extra labor, and with sales as slow as they are, growing too much proves detrimental for our farm business and our work-life balance.
When I grow salad mix, I shoot to grow as much as I think I can sell, because it rots if I grow too much. Cannabis has a much longer sales cycle than lettuce, but the principle remains the same; if I grow more than I can market and sell, I outpace my capacity and wind up with a failed business model. With so much uncertainty in the market, lowering our costs to produce and growing less is the strategy that we will follow.
The changing cannabis market is also going to affect our ability to market vegetables, though how much this will happen remains uncertain. As such, we expect cuts in the CSA program and total sales at markets. Our special orders are still consistent, and the farmstand has increased in sales this winter as our offerings have grown more varied and stable with the development of consistency in the model. We’ll also focus on producing enough to donate to local food banks because there is more food insecurity in our communities with the cannabis downturn. Overall, it is a time of adaptation and uncertainty, and these are the times when community is most important. 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.