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].
This was an eventful week for us here on the farm, most of all because we painted our house. It’s a job that has been needing to be done for a couple of years, and I have to admit that I resisted doing it. I remember my Ma saying things like “and then I had to make it happen because your dad just refused to do it”, and it makes me laugh to see myself now in that role.
I had a blockage about the house painting, in part because it seemed like such a large and daunting task. Amber and brother Lito came through huge, spearheading the process so that I could sort of tag along in tow without having to be in charge. After the prepwork of power-washing, wire-brushing, scraping and taping the windows, we borrowed a paint sprayer and Lito handled the main coats of paint while Amber and I plugged away on the trim, eves and fascia boards.
We needed to paint the house because it’s been more than 15 years since we built the original cabin, and it was past time to do so. We also needed to paint because it was time to change the color to something more suited to the increasing summer heat. Our house used to be dark brown, soaking up the heat and radiating it back long into the night. Now it is a yellowish tan color, much more capable of reflecting sun and heat.
Climate change has affected the ecosystem that I live in during the course of my life. The dry spells are hotter and longer than they were when I was a kid, and there is less rainfall in the winter. When the family first bought the land here in the late 70’s, it wasn’t unusual to see 120” of rain in a winter. Those days seem to be gone, and though we had a strong showing this past fall, the foreboding of dry days has returned as February chugs along with little to no precipitation in sight.
I didn’t want to change the color of our house. I loved how the dark brown nestled on the slope amongst the oak trees, but the heat had become unbearable the last few summers. This last year we purchased shade cloth to hang off the front of the house, and that made a huge difference, though it blocked us from being able to see the view. These are the types of tradeoffs that I find more and more common in a hotter and drier world.
We’ve never run irrigation like this in February, although we’ve also never had so many crops planted already. With 8 hoophouses full of veggies and a good number of outside beds planted to garlic, cabbage, kale and other winter crops, I am looking at firing up more parts of the water system. The cover crop is lush but has already begun to go to seed, much earlier than I would expect if not for the extended dry spell.
The warm weather has left some of the winter crops struggling with the heat in the hoophouses. Broccoli heads are much smaller than expected because of the heat, and pest issues are more intense. Overall we’re pleased with the winter production, but as always there are changes and adjustments to make.
We doubled our hoophouse space in the last year, and this gave us more opportunity for winter plantings. At the same time, we didn’t plant much in the way of fall crops because of a lack of water, so after the heavy rains of harvest we went super hard on planting, filling up the hoophouses with large, heading brassica like broccoli, cauliflower and cabbages.
It was a gamble, because late planted brassica sometimes don’t get big enough before they start heading up, meaning you don’t get much of a harvest from them. To offset this potential, we planted them in the hoophouses where they would grow faster because of the shelter and warmer temps. In a normal season, this would work well, and I think it will still work out this year, but the extra heat has been a stressor on these cool-weather crops.
The name of the game in these times is adaptation. The seasonal patterns that I have come to expect don’t hold true, although I also reflect on the old saying that change is the only constant. The nice thing about food crops is that we can just keep planting them, noting the victories and the failures to help us refine our processes for the future.
It was a deep joy to be back at the market this past week. I love getting to see folks, to spend a moment chatting and to share in the exchange of our produce for resources that help to sustain us in our efforts. The Farmers Contract is the production of nourishment that families will take into their bodies to continue their life paths. It is a sacred honor that provides my sense of identity and I treasure the opportunity. As always, much love and great success to you on your journey!