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].
August is the hardest month of the year because of the heat and smoke. I’m worn down from a long season, and my mind starts to turn to thoughts of cool, wet days in the months to come. Harvest season approaches in a few weeks, and I look forward to the big push to bring it all in and send us into the winter.
This is the time of year when there are so many crops to harvest that it gets hectic trying to keep it all together. There is very little time for maintenance and sowing of fall/winter crops because there are so many tomatoes, squash, cucumbers and peppers to pick. This is the time of year when I split the harvest days, working on Sunday to bring in some of the more durable crops for market and CSA on Monday.
The Heinz canning tomatoes have been hammering, and Pops has been making sauces and putting up the various tomato products that we use for home use and for sale at the farmstand. Saving the abundance for later is a key part of our strategy for making sure that not much goes to waste, and the pigs, chickens, sheep and rabbits are always happy to consume any leftovers.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed in the heat, and whenever the smoke rolls in it takes me down a notch, slowing my steps and clouding my mind. I’m glad to be putting covid behind me, regaining my energy levels and readying myself for the return to market tomorrow. For me, it was like a bad summer cold with very low energy levels, and I’m glad to climb back out of it and look forward to the arrival of September.
We’ve been processing the alliums, cleaning onions and garlic for market and for the garlic braids that Amber sells. Shallots are still drying on a shady table under the oaks at the bottom of the garden and we’ll start processing them this coming week. The bed they were growing in was an old cannabis bed, and it is far and away our best harvest yet.
Butternuts, pumpkins and melons are swelling on the vine, and I’m excited for the winter bounty to come. We had 7 piglets born a couple of weeks ago, which means that our feed requirements will increase a great deal over the months to come. I’ve been gathering apple drops and we planted 200 extra summer squash starts which have provided the bulk of the pig feed for the last several weeks.
I set out to grow more crops to feed to animals this year to offset the rising costs and carbon footprint of purchased feed, and it has been working out very well. Chickens and rabbits get a big tub of comfrey every morning, and pigs and sheep get apples and squash and some hay or alfalfa which I’m still purchasing from off-farm sources. Over time I’d like to close those loops as well, but it will take another 5 years or so I think.
As we head into the homestretch of summer the days are getting shorter and I start to see the first vestiges of fall. This week we’ll be planting out cabbages, kale and collards, and sowing the next round in trays in the hoophouse. I’m sowing salad mixes each week, direct-seeding the Asian greens mix and sowing trays of lettuce for transplanting in a couple of weeks.
Last year at this time we were almost out of water and I stopped going to farmers markets and shut the CSA down for fall. This year we have abundant water in the pond and the summer crops were so late that many of them are just starting to hit their strides, which means I’ll be doing market through the fall. I’m not sure how it’s all going to work with the heavy workload of cannabis harvest and the continuing efforts to go to market, but we need the revenue from the summer crop sales so we’ll figure out how to juggle the pieces.
Farming is kind of like a 3-dimensional puzzle; you know what all the pieces look like but you’re never real sure how they all fit together because of changes in weather, pests, labor and marketability. Each year is another opportunity to practice, and I get better at evaluating the pieces and seeing how to fit them together. Sometimes it makes a clear, cogent puzzle and sometimes it stays all-a-jumble, but that’s life. As always, much love and great success to you on your journey!