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].
Proper rain! I’ve been scampering around the past few days buttoning things up and getting ready, though the real test will be later this morning when it gets light and I make the garden walk. There will be broken branches on cannabis plants to attend to, and dry straw will be needed for the piglets and their mama. I couldn’t be happier to have the moisture, and am excited for the chance to make a fire in the woodstove and make a soup or roast.
There are a number of jobs I’ve been needing to get done that can be done under cover. After the garden walk and any triage necessary on plants or animals, I’ll focus on sowing seeds in the hoophouse, organizing feed in the barn and cleaning garlic, setting aside the largest heads to save for replanting and prepping the rest for sale at market.
Each week I try to sow salad mix so that there is always some available for market harvest. I sow lettuce in trays for transplanting, and I direct-seed an Asian greens mix with the Jang seeder. If I can sow a 50’ bed each week, then I know I’ll have enough for markets, CSA and special orders. I also try to sow a tray of cabbage, broccoli or cauliflower, romanesco and cooking greens like kale or collards every week this time of year. It’s time to start sowing salad turnips and radishes again, though I’m hard pressed to find the bed space available with the summer crops still pushing hard.
Outdoor cannabis harvest began this week for us with the earlier strains, and it always feels good to turn the corner into the home stretch. The market is so uncertain these days, but the rhythms of the work are the same as always and there is deep comfort in the process. We scaled back our plantings a bit this year, and though harvest will be hectic as always, I’m glad that it won’t be the overwhelming crush that it was last year.
I love the early strains because they get the harvest started, come in before the rain, and open up needed bed space so I can get fall brassica and other crops planted. The successions will continue to go out as the cannabis comes in, finishing with replanting the dep hoops with 3” pots of bok choy, collard, kale and the big, heading brassica in mid-November. Planting that late in the season outside doesn’t work well for us, but the shelter of the hoops brings fine harvests in February and March when there is little outside available.
Before the rains we brought in as many tomatoes as we could gather, picking them before they could split their skins with the extra moisture. I shut off the irrigation to the farm yesterday, knowing that everything would soak up the rain and turn it into a big push of growth and fruiting in the weeks to come. Drip irrigation is laid out on the bed surfaces, but it doesn’t wet everything, so there are places where compost sits dry awaiting moisture to offer fertility to plant roots. The places where the drips flow tend to use up nutrients, so the soaking of the rain creates nutrient accessibility for the plants.
Being above the inversion layer, we are still a couple of months from our first frost date and the rain will provide a boost to the summer crops that will push them into a huge flush of late produce that we will process, can, store and sell at markets. The sweetness of rain is good for the soul and is helpful for the farm’s bottom line, which makes me feel multiple forms of gratitude.
After the fire that burned the edge of our farm this summer, the first rain offers something extra, a cleansing and redress of the trauma and intensity of that experience. I look forward to the sprouting of grasses and the return of the green, rising from the ashes and renewed with the nutrient release from the fire.
Fire is scary when unchecked and out of control, but it can also be one of the most useful tools available to land managers. A critical silver lining of the experience this summer is my increased comfort level with controlled fire; I look forward to utilizing burning to manage the landscape around the farm during the wetter months, and I appreciate having survived the fire intact with greater knowledge of how to respond to future events. As always, much love and great success to you on your journey!