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 joke goes that farming is saying “just one more big week and we’ll be caught up”, ad infinitum. The trick though is that you have to believe it, otherwise you might become so overwhelmed that you’d have to give up. As we cross the threshold into July, we’re gonna be caught up by the end of the week!
Hot crops are all planted in the veggie tunnels, tomatoes are all caged and growing fast and peppers are starting to take off. This week we’ll get cages on the peppers to give them support through the growing season, and we continue trellising cukes, training the vines to grow up the nylon netting and keeping them out of the pathway. Cannabis have all gotten an initial 3’ tall cage, although the Orange Durbans need a larger, secondary cage this week and we’re getting the nylon netting laid over the top of the caged clone rows.
Lettuce mixes and Salanova head lettuces fill the greens tunnel, and I’m full of hope for a constant stream of salad mixes through the summer. At some point soon we’ll add the light-duty shade cloth to the tunnel, and the overhead sprinklers keep things moist and help cool the lettuces through the heat spells. Using the paperpot transplanter with salad mixes lets me keep pace, although if I had one more salad mix tunnel (4 x 30” beds) I’d really be able to keep up with the rotations.
Clearing beds and getting new plants in is the biggest part of my early summer workload as we transition out of spring crops and start thinking about the season to come. The constant rotations can be dizzying, but there is also a joy to be found in the impermanence and shifting cycles. I’ve been sowing 10-15 trays of paperpot seeds (salad mixes, turnips, beets, scallions) every 10 days or so, but I’m finding that I’m getting backed up for lack of space and need to slow my roll a bit.
This week I’ll direct seed a last bed of summer squash for late summer and fall harvest, with bok choy transplanted in to hold the space for a quick harvest while the squash get started. Depending on how the timing of the garlic harvest and bed prep goes I’ll either direct seed butternuts and pumpkins or if I’m lagging on prep I’ll start them in 4” pots in the propagation house and plant them out once the plants get going well. Towards the end of the week I’ll begin starting fall brassica with a tray each of Bellstar broccoli, Farao cabbage and Skywalker cauliflower.
It always feels a little strange to be thinking about the harvests of next season even as we’ve just turned the corner into the current season, but such is farming. Summer is full upon us with a blast of heat and yet I find myself planning rotations for cool weather crops. I suppose it helps take the edge off the heat, though I’m finally acclimating to it.
Cannabis is all planted and starting to really take off, especially the seed plants that went in earlier in the spring. Late planted clones are finding their legs, while the edges and hedges haven’t yet browned out so that the farm looks lush and vibrant in all respects. The heat will send the grasses to their finish, and the weeds are starting to set seeds so we’re working to stay ahead of them.
It’s a good time of year for pulling weeds because the lush greenery from irrigated and well-fertilized beds provides some welcome forage for sheep and pigs who are finding the pasture less and less desirable as the summer days march on. We haul tubs and tubs of weeds, garden waste, leftover brassica leaves from harvest and the sweepings from the cannabis plants as we clean up the bottoms and remove suckers and excess leaf to promote air movement. The cycles and rotations of forage are one of my favorite things about the farm, making use of vegetative waste to help produce meat and eggs closes a loop and also introduces more fertility to the pasture areas.
We’ve slaughtered our third batch of meat chickens with one more to go, and it feels good to be in a strong rhythm that is consistent and effective. Turkey slaughter will follow the last of the meat birds sometime next month, at which point freezers will be at capacity as we head towards the cooler months. Sometime this fall we’ll process three lambs and three pigs, entering winter with one buck, two ewes, two boars, a sow and two medium biglets. They’ll be ensconced in the barn for winter, where deep bedding packs of straw and manure will make for good compost in the year to come, and so it goes. As always, much love and great success to you on your journey!