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 transition from snow and hail to bright, sunny days was a quick one and the burgeoning excitement of rapid growth fills me with joy. The days are long; I finished sowing salad mix last night by headlamp, capping off a marathon that began with feelings of overwhelm but finished with a vast sense of accomplishment and peace.
The rhythm of the work is a constant, pushing hard with the efforts of spring. Sweat drips as I breathe into each step, clearing beds for replanting, shoveling compost, broadforking, tilthing and raking. After the strenuousness of the prep, running the seeder is such light duty that it caps off the work with a calm, reflective period.
I’m getting better at using the Jang seeder, learning about its ins and outs. The different gears and seed wheels make for a lot of potential combinations depending on size of seed and desired spacing, and I’m glad to be able to ask the internet for optimum settings. Getting the correct prep so there is a smooth seed bed is key, as is the right configuration with the seeder. Consistent watering is crucial, especially during germination, and I rely on the overhead sprinklers in the hoophouses with a little spot spraying with a hose for edge spaces that dry out from air movement.
This is the time of year when opening and closing the hoops is a key part of operations. Once summer arrives they will remain open, and during the winter they are closed down tight, but in the shoulder seasons we close up in the evening to retain warmth through the chilly nights. It’s easy to slide the plastic up on the sides of the caterpillar tunnels, and we have wide, zipper doors in the end walls to maximize air movement during the heat of the day.
The farm is a rollercoaster of happenings as everything has reached the exponential growth of late spring. The recent rains have the pond full and the creeks still flowing well, which is such a difference from last year that it is hard to reconcile. After the warm, dry winter, this may shape up to be a decent water year after all.
With the rapid shift to warm and sunny weather, the time has come for setting up timers and working with irrigation outside the hoophouses. I pieced together some stuff for the early spring brassica crops, but hadn’t set up timers yet for fear of them breaking with hard freezes. Maintaining water systems through the temperature fluctuations of winter and spring has taken years of practice, and I still mess it up sometimes when the temperature drops lower than expected.
All of the animals are enjoying the warm weather and heavy forage of spring. Weeds and garden wastes are delivered to pigs and rabbits, and lambs are out on pasture grazing away. Meat birds, turkeys and laying hens are rotating along in the big pasture at the ranch, enjoying the heavy clover that has sprung up with the late rains.
The first batch of meat birds is already in the freezer and the last batch is arriving as chicks this week. I keep the feed cans full in each location, hauling grain in buckets from the main storage in the barn. It has been a learning experience for me since this is the first time that we’ve had birds up at the ranch, which is a quarter mile away. With operations more spread out than they have been in the past, there is more coordination but with a cooperative effort among the land partners we are making it happen.
As with any expansion of operations, there are kinks to work out and learning lessons along the way. Overall, it’s much easier to have the birds on the relatively flat pasture at the ranch, and to run the lambs on the steep slope at my place. I think back on past years of moving chicken tractors on the hillside and am glad to have gotten to a time when that is no longer necessary.
Growing a farm takes patience, practice and perseverance. I’ve been trying to remember to focus on the journey and not the destination, being comfortable in the flow of the work without worrying about the end goals. Some things are much slower than last year, but everything gets done in the end. As always, much love and great success to you on your journey!