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].
We’re under deep snow up here on Bell Springs. We see a couple of big storms that drop a foot or two on us each winter, but I can’t remember being in the position of still having significant accumulation on the ground as another big one rolls in. We’ll be canceling CSA this week and won’t be at market on Monday as I’ll be defending the hoophouses from collapse under the weight of this new storm.
There are a wide range of winter tunnels on the farm, some more durable than others. The big propagation house is well fortified with 4×4 posts underneath the center purlin, and the three gabled caterpillar tunnels shed snow pretty well. The 4 quonset style caterpillar tunnels don’t shed quite as well, but the ones that have the strength kits of bolted center purlin and wind braces also do all right. I reinforced them with posts underneath earlier this winter, so they hold up pretty well.
The final two quonset tunnels are the tricky part, because we got them with the idea that they wouldn’t be used during the winter so we didn’t buy the strong purlin and wind bracing kits. We installed a weaker purlin to provide some steadiness during light dep season, but I didn’t manage to get anything more than that done and I’m kicking myself for it now.
One tunnel has slumped pretty bad during the first storm, and it will be tough to maintain it through this next one. The other one I did a couple of weak supports on and it made it through so far. I’ve learned my lesson and am putting together an order for the proper purlins and will add 2×4 posts underneath to prevent future disasters.
This last storm came in heavy Thursday afternoon and I spent a long 4 hours clearing snow off the tunnels, starting around 5 and not finishing up until after 9. It was more than I bargained for and reminded me not to be complacent and to get out there more often to sweep the snow off. The tricky part is keeping the sides clear enough that the snow has somewhere to go when it sheds off the tunnels; collapse happens when the snow no longer has anywhere to go and builds up too much on the tops.
Some aspects of winter farming are much easier and more mellow than the summer efforts. Weeds grow slower, less irrigation is needed, crops have a much slower turnover. Microclimate also has a lot to do with it; our high elevation puts us above the inversion layer so that we stay much warmer than the average valley temperatures, except for when the cold fronts blow down out of the Gulf of Alaska.
When I was a kid we hoped for those magical words from the forecast; “a cold front will come out of the Gulf of Alaska bringing snow to the area”. Now I dread them, knowing how much extra effort will be required. I remember Pops saying to us kids “enjoy it now, when you’re older you probably won’t like it so much”, and he was right, I don’t.
For all my grumbling though, we sure had a great day yesterday with a little neighborhood sledding party in the bright sunshine of a gap in the storm fronts. Watching the kiddos play brings up all the fond memories of childhood, and seeing my brothers and I as adults makes me think of my folks and uncles and aunties playing with us when we were kids.
Life is generational, and I relish the turning of the wheel, the sense of continuity and place that comes from having lived here my whole life. Playing bridge is a pastime in the O’Neill clan, and Pops started teaching the three of us when we were small children. Over the last few years we’ve rekindled that joy, and with all of us living on the hill, snowy afternoons are perfect for trekking down to Pops’ for a game.
As I sit writing by the woodstove with our old livestock dog asleep near my feet, I watch the new snowfall commence. I know that it means extra work to care for the animals and to keep the tunnels standing, but I take a moment to appreciate the beauty. As always, much love and great success to you on your journey!