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].
Happy birthday Ma, we love you! Today is both Mother’s Day and Ma’s birthday, so we’ll gather around the table this evening to remember her. I dreamed of her last night, my brother Lito and I at a festival with Ma. We each gave her a hug and told her we love her. Then I awoke to a gorgeous spring morning, birds chirping outside the open windows; I fuckin’ love spring.
We’re pushing hard to get crops in the ground now that the heat is oncoming. We’re a little behind on our bed prep, but have some new equipment coming this week that’s gonna make moving compost easier, which is nice because our backs aren’t getting any younger. With all the snow this winter, I’ve been reflecting on a lifetime of shoveling and the realization that though the number may be in the tens or hundreds of thousands, a person has a finite number of shovel scoops he can take in life.
We’re prepping and planting just as fast as we can, finishing the last of the spring crops and starting on hot crops. Everything is up-planted and ready to go, straining from the confines of the propagation house towards the final resting place in rich, living soil. Three of the four light dep tunnels are planted, as are three of the four vegetable tunnels.
The bulk of the prep work outside remains to be done, all the terraces at Pops’, the main terraces at my place and the whole lower garden at brother Lito’s. This next week we’ll start rocking on them, mowing with the flail mower, putting down amendments and compost, broadforking, harrowing and covering with plastic to hasten decomposition of the biomass and germination and death of weed seedlings. Cannabis seed plants are on the verge of sexing and will be planted out in the next two weeks, clones await the longest days of the year and will remain in the propagation house with supplemental lighting until we start planting on June 10th.
I’ve been thinking about plant spacing more than usual this spring, evaluating the variables that make up overall productivity and revenue. More plants costs more resources (time, energy, seed/clone cost) but has the potential to yield more, up to a point. Spacing that is too close will decrease quality and possibly yields, while excessive spacing equals reduced yields. The trick is to find the sweet spot between costs, spacing and quality to bring in the biggest yield of highest quality.
In the light deps we’re shifting from two rows of plants on 2 foot spacing to three rows on 18” spacing. This is partly because the soil has become better over time, also because clone costs have come down some and finally because we’ve been talking to other farmers. In the past we spent more time encouraging vegetative growth to fill the canopy, but with more plants we don’t have to veg as long which lowers our overall effort and the time that the plants occupy the beds. Whenever you can cut the time that a crop takes to harvest, it bodes well for the bottom line, and after trialing it last fall in one tunnel, we feel hopeful that the shift will increase yields while still producing maximum quality.
The paperpot system for veggies has me rethinking and evaluating my spacing on a number of crops, trying to find ways to minimize my efforts. Earlier in the spring we up-planted 400 kale and collard starts into 3” pots, which had a cost in time, extra soil, space in the hoophouse, and effort to haul 16 trays of starts out to the bed for final planting. The stoop labor required to plant them made my back sore, but they are thriving and almost ready for their first harvest.
I read an article about using the paperpot for kale and collards, sowing them in the 6” spacing trays, transplanting them out with the machine and once growth has begun in earnest, harvesting every other plant for an early cutting, leaving the bed with the appropriate one foot spacing for the remaining plants and me without the extra labor of up potting and planting large starts. We’ve had trouble with predation on small brassica in the past, which is how we ended up at the solution of potting up to make sure we had large, healthy starts that can withstand attack, but now I can plant so many starts so easily that even if I lost half of them I’m still at my desired number.
Each year we shift our strategies in response to new learning and changing conditions. The challenge and experience is one of the most fun things about farming, leveling up each year while also weathering the inevitable failures. The old saying goes “this year is THE year, until sometime in August, then next year is the year”. Right now it feels like this year might actually be THE year! As always, much love and great success to you on your journey!