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].
This series of storms has left me feeling like I’m in the movie Groundhog day, repeating the same clearing of snow from tunnels day after day. Each time I think we’re done, another big storm appears on the horizon. At last, it seems like we’re reaching the tail end of it with possible rain later in this coming week.
It’s been brutal, and my back and shoulders are paying the price for removing the literal tons of snow from the sides of the tunnels over the past two weeks. If we had more space to farm, we’d put the tunnels further apart and wouldn’t have the problem of excessive snow buildup in between them, but alas such is not the case.
The tunnels are fine so long as they can shed the snow, but when there’s no place for it to go because it has piled up too much on the bottom, that’s when you have trouble. We’ve been shoveling out the areas at the end of the tunnels and then using one of the black and yellow totes (minus the lid) with baling twine for a drag rope. We shovel the snow into the tote and it slides like a sled out to the end of the tunnel where we dump it into the growing pile.
With the last storm we had used up pretty much all of the space for snow to go, so we had to get creative building snow packed ramps to slide the totes along, and shoveling high up onto large piles which made for even more strenuous work. One storm, no problem. Two storms, tough but doable. The oncoming third storm left me demoralized and bitter, but now that the work is done and we’re riding it out by the fire, it’s not so bad.
We had to admit defeat on one of the less-fortified tunnels; it had slumped so much that the hoops were starting to bend and the poor-quality purlin had snapped in two places, so we dug it out and took the skin off. The crop of broccoli and cauliflower underneath will have to weather the storm, we’ll see how it goes. The plants have sized up enough that I hope to still get a salable harvest from them.
The tunnels of salad greens and other tenderlings fared much better, though in each one a flock of small birds managed to gain entry and did quite a bit of damage before I realized and chased them out. Winter farming is always a gamble, and this year it has gone from soaring success to crushing defeat in the matter of a couple weeks. On the bright side, the trays in the propagation house look great and will be able to be planted once the snow dissipates and work can begin again.
It feels odd to go from two weeks ago, when I was full steam sowing and planting, to marking time and doing the busywork of keeping the tunnels clear. Everything is on hold while we weather the storms, and there is an odd mix of downtime for reading and puzzle working, coupled with the ultra-heavy snow removal efforts. Overall, I’m glad for the downtime, and for the slow-release moisture that will melt and recharge the groundwater.
This has been a winter of intense weather, from the massive atmospheric river that dumped on us at the end of December and early January, to the series of huge snowstorms. I always say that the bell curve looks like “if it’s sunny we work, and if it’s really shitty we have to go out and work, but if the storms are smaller we get to sit by the fire and hang out”. This has been a winter of “really shitty”, so I’ve been out in it most of the time.
The cold came on early this year with the snap at the beginning of November, and I’ve burned up more firewood than any other time since I’ve been responsible for a woodshed. I used everything I had stored and have been hammering the stuff we cut in early winter. I’m planning to cut twice as much this year to be better prepared for a heavy winter.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what it takes to be prepared at high elevations in the winter. We stock up on the things we need from the store, harvest meat all year for the freezers, storage crops for winter use, and plant food in the tunnels to get us through. I clear the solar panels and store gas for the generator when we need it. We leave sleds at the top of the driveway to haul supplies down with; in that sense it’s nice to be below Bell Springs, but it means that getting out with a vehicle is much more difficult because of the steep uphill climb.
The last 6 months have been a series of experiences that have affected my crops and ability to field a market table and manage the CSA program. From wild pigs in the fall to epic rain storms to massive snow, it’s been tough to bring in salable harvests. I’m learning some hard lessons about farming, but such is the nature of the work. As always, much love and great success to you on your journey!