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].
Well, the score is pretty lopsided. We’ve gotten one pig, they’ve gotten the whole round of fall crops from Pops’ and my place. The damage has forced a reevaluation of my planning for winter markets, and will cause a corresponding drop in revenue that comes at a tough time of year. We’ll be pivoting to fencing work and rebuilding the terraces that look like someone took a backhoe through them.
The fences were built 15 years ago, and we staked them down at the time but we used wooden stakes, which have now rotted away. If I knew then what I know now…The pig population seems to have expanded, we haven’t seen activity like this since the 80’s around here, and I’m having to adjust both mentally and from a farmscape perspective in order to deal with it.
The most frustrating thing about it is that I had the best lineup of fall crops I’ve had in a long time, and was headed into winter with full expectations for a proper market table and strong CSA showing. Now I’m back to the drawing board, but some good things have come out of it. We’ve been processing, canning and freezing value-add products for sale at the farmstand, and when the late winter crops come in we’ll be back at market with a strong showing.
I also have to admit that I’m ready for a break from the hecticness of market season, so a couple of weeks to focus on putting the farm to bed for the winter and finishing out the planting of late winter crops will be good. With the short days there will also be time for reading, cribbage, rest and rejuvenation after a long year.
I’m paying attention to ways to add value to farm produce, and also looking for things that I buy that I could produce myself instead. This week I rendered lard and made packages of pesto, and Pops and I pickled turnips n beets and Jalapenos n carrots. I want to learn about making apple-cider vinegar, as we use it for much of our canning and processing and I would like to sell it at the farmstand. We have plans for more salsa and jalapenos if the crops in the hoophouse hold out through the cold snap, which came a bit early this year.
We don’t often see a hard freeze until Thanksgiving, but this year it came right at the beginning of November. On Thursday morning we had planned to harvest half of the remaining cannabis in three hoophouses, but when we got out there in the dawn light we found a harder freeze than we might have expected. The first sign of trouble was the difficulty I had in opening the zipper on the hoophouse door, frozen stiff with ice.
I figured that the plastic would provide some protection, but the glitter of ice on the plants shone bright in the headlamp and I felt my heart sink. At that moment, I thought to myself “this is a total crop failure.” We made the call to push hard and instead of a light harvest of half the remaining herb, we brought it all in, hammering as fast as we could to finish the job before the sun hit the plants.
On a normal harvest morning we split up, half of us harvesting and half working to hang the cannabis in the dry sheds. With the impending sunshine we all worked on the harvest until it was done, broke for a stellar lunch at Pops’, and then we went to work hanging it into the early afternoon. It was a big push, but the results were phenomenal. We saved the crop and then had a champagne celebration as has become our tradition for the last day of harvest.
Now that the hoops are empty, we’ll tie the netting up out of the way, cut the cannabis stumps, add some compost and plant the cabbages, cauliflower, broccoli and kohlrabi that have been sizing up in 3” pots. Under the shelter of the hoops, the brassica will mark time through the darkness of winter, exploding in growth as we creep back into the return of the light. As we get into February they will begin to provide stellar harvests for market and home use.
Through the trials and tribulations my spirits have ebbed and flowed, vacillating between deep demoralization and fierce determination. Seeing the destruction wrought by the pigs shattered me, but the tides are turning. Finding the budget for fencing upgrades and rebuilding the terraces will not be easy, but I have no doubt that fresh plantings will rise from the rich earth, breathing life anew into the farmscape. As always, much love and great success to you on your journey!