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 only constant is change. To farm is to manage uncertainty with strategies that are refined each season. We prep, sow, transplant, tend and harvest. Water flows and the magic of plant and animal life continues. Some things are known; the sun will rise and set, water is wet and there will be times of stress.
I’ve been paying attention to how I deal with uncertainty and stress, reflecting that life is change and the river I stand in will never be the same twice. The vagaries of weather, whether it will rain or not, when the frost will come, how the crops will do, and what the markets will bear for sales can all hang heavy on me; or not.
We’ve been hammering our way through cannabis harvest, bringing in the early strains and hanging them in the dry sheds with plenty of air movement. The weather right now is perfect for curing herb, cool and dry at night and warm and dry during the day. As the plants come down, it makes way for new sowings of fall and winter crops as the cycle continues.
With death comes rebirth, and the farm is one long series of endings coupled to new beginnings. Having the bed space open up makes me feel the joy of the season to come while I settle into the comfortable ending of a season well done. This week I sowed salad mixes, turnips, radishes and rutabagas with the seeder, and we sowed 20 trays with 72 cells each of brassica and another 10 each of lettuce and beets.
The next round of brassica is in 3” pots and is ready to go out this coming week, our winter staples of kale, collards, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and brussels sprouts. These ones will be planted outside and we’ll deploy frost blanket as needed to protect them from the most fierce of winter cold, though for the most part they’ll be hardy enough to manage on their own.
The trays we just sowed will end up in the winter hoophouses, some in the light dep tunnels and some in the tunnels that are occupied now by summer veggies. The melon bed and the first cucumber bed will come out this week, replaced by sowings of salad mix, radishes and salad turnips.
It feels good to round the bend into the cool weather crops again. Summer is hard, a marathon of heat and intensity with long days and hot nights. Plants, animals and humans slog through the heat, and I find myself thinking with longing of the cool, wet days of winter. When I was younger I loved summer and spent winter waiting for the return of the long, hot days. Now, I relish the time for renewal and recharge, the slower-growing crops and the cool, crunchiness of their green flavor.
As much as I love the cool weather crops, this summer I’ve discovered a new affinity for peppers, eggplant and okra. Up till now I felt like I tolerated many of the summer varieties as I waited for the return of my favorites, but this year I’ve deepened into a new seasonality that relishes the flavors and textures of summer in new ways.
My Ma loved eggplant, crooning with delight at the first harvest from her summer garden, but I never had any much feels about it and didn’t really know how to cook it. We grow a variety called Fairy Tales that are small, about 4” long and 1” wide at full size. I slice them lengthwise for the grill or chop them and saute them with garlic, onions and the oyster mushrooms I get from my friends at Mulligan Gardens. The smooth texture and flavor of the dish is amazing and has added a whole new dimension to my summer cooking.
As we move into fall I am grateful for the shift in the season. The recent rains have jump-started the pasture grasses and everything is beginning to green up. The burn scar is healing, green grasses sprouting and life beginning anew. The rains washed away the dust of summer and softened my parched soul, making space for new growth, reflection and a renewed sense of purpose in the farm.
Uncertainty is life, but there is a sense of comfort in the transitory nature of all things. As time ticks on a finite life, I step into the tasks with the joy of being. The work is hard but there is nothing I’d rather do, and the uncertainty of things makes it all the sweeter for what it is. If it was all settled and known what would be the fun in it? As always, much love and great success to you on your journey!