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 past week brought a glorious summer rain and cooling trend that provided a respite from the heat and made me feel the sneaking suspicion that we’re gonna make it after all! Summer is the hardest season, long, hot days and warm nights that make sleep not as restful. I think it’s partly that we were raised to believe summer is great because we were out of school, so that the reality of the long work-slog of the hot months comes as a shocking difference to our childhood expectations and programming.
I’m finding time to work on some of the tasks that often fall off the plate for lack of capacity; the necessary things that have to happen a few times each year but not at a set point. Firewood is accumulating in the woodshed one truckload at a time and we’ve begun processing tomatoes, peppers and their accoutrements into the salsas and sauces that will provide that summer flavor through the colder months.
I’ve been thinking a lot about these types of tasks, the unscheduled goals that provide for the needs of our family and bring in some income from sales at the farmstand. There are so many cycles that make up the farm, from the rotations of vegetables to the life courses of animals and the steps for processing, packaging, freezing or canning. One of the things that I have yet to implement is a proper solar dehydrator for drying tomatoes, peppers, apples and the many other possible produce excesses in any given season.
In a perfect world we’d make two big batches of sauerkraut each year, one from the late spring cabbages and one from winter cabbages. Cabbage is one of the absolute staple crops and foodstuffs in my life, but we’ve had a rough go of them in the last year. Last fall we lost the whole planting to pigs, which meant no winter cabbages and no winter sauerkraut. The spring cabbages went in late because of snowmaggedon, so it wasn’t until this summer that we started having them available again.
Summer is so hectic that for the last six weeks I’ve had 10 big heads of cabbage that I saved from harvests taking up a good chunk of the limited refrigerated space. Every week I say to myself “this weekend we’re gonna make kraut”, but it just kept getting punted along until yesterday when we finally got it together. Now there are about 5 gallons of sauerkraut starting to ferment in two crocks in the cool room. In a week or so I’ll jar them up and we’ll be back into a nice run of flavorful fermented farm produce!
Cabbage is great because it doubles as animal feed; we eat the heads and the remaining plant matter goes to pigs, rabbits, sheep and laying hens. We’ve been grateful to the team at Irene’s Garden Produce for saving their cabbage leavings and old summer squash as these farm wastes make up a crucial part of our animal feed component this time of year. Local apple farmers have also been gracious and supportive, providing us with apple drops and letting us come glean from the grounds beneath the orchards.
As the sheep and chickens rotate around the pastures at the ranch, we’re irrigating some small spaces with pond water and shifting the electric fencing a little bit each day to give the sheep a few feet of green forage to enjoy. I’m learning more about pasture management each season, paying attention to species composition and available forage. I’ve also been battling star thistle, pulling them out by hand, working from the north end of the pasture and focusing on the places where irrigation is helping them thrive.
We didn’t have sheep this last spring, so the star thistle jumped quite a bit. When I go to do chores, I empty a tote of cabbage waste and hay for the sheep, and then I try to take a few minutes to fill it back up with star thistle. The stems pull out easily from the moist areas but are much more difficult in the dry places. Sometimes it feels super overwhelming, but I just try to bite off a small chunk at a time and not worry too much about the bigger picture of a landscape that has a helluva lot of star thistle on it. On the one hand, a fella could spend a whole lifetime pulling star thistle and not get that far, but on the other, I can look at the pasture and see that I’ve made a significant difference over the last few weeks.
So many tasks on the plate, rotating through the seasons with big jobs and small, maintenance and growth, harvest and processing. One step at a time, one day at a time, the work gets done. As the days grow shorter, food is processed and put away for winter, and winter crops are sown and cared for. Managing the current efforts, finishing out the motions of seasons past and preparing for the next cycles, an interlocking journey of love and care. As always, much love and great success to you on your journey!