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].
New roof complete with rain on the way! We’re buttoning up and battening down, gathering the tools and the crops for storage. Rain is glorious, and with more than an inch expected I’m glad for the oncoming moisture, but it also hastens the efforts as we move into fall. Pumpkins are in, some cover crops are sown and I’ll be sowing salad mix this afternoon for rainy day germination.
We began the cannabis harvest in earnest with two big pushes over the last two days, starting at 5 in the morning and hacking until the first rays of the sun start to kiss the plants. We try to be done as early as possible to protect the terpenes and maximize the quality of the harvest. The rain brings a sense of urgency with some strains, but also a comforting sense that it’s time to begin.
There’s a lot of conversation about when to harvest in the cannabis community, the famous “Panic Chop” meme by Mean Gene always comes to mind for me as we head out on these early sojourns to hacktown. We don’t want to harvest cannabis too early, before the plant’s full expression has come on, but it is also possible to hold too long and have quality degrade. The tricky thing is that you only know by experience, and it’s not always easy to call the right moment to begin.
I’ve always said that a bud in the bag is worth two on the bush, and this year I’ve added that a bud in the barn is worth two on the bush. I like to think of it as starting early to finish on time, meaning that the overall quality will be peak if we don’t wait too long on the early strains. If we push back the start too far, then later strains won’t get a chance to get into the dry space until they’ve gone slightly past their peak.
I like the Three D’s: is it dense, is it dank, is it done? I’ll start a harvest if I’ve got two out of the three, especially if it’s dense and it’s dank, then I’m ready to go. We have some strains like the Sour Strawberry that are old, longtime favorites but that will reliably mold at the first hint of rain, and not like, maybe a little mold, but like fully fuckin botrytis-bomb-struggle-buds.
Rather than the Panic Chop, I’ve come to believe in the Caution Cut. The first big rain late into flower governs when I’ll harvest, and there’s something deeply elemental about that feeling and expectation. The uncertainty is tricky, but being governed by the vicissitudes of nature is what farming is all about. Some years the Sour Strawberry gets to go later than others, which means the quality of the vintage depends on the weather.
Now, you might say “why keep growing something that you know will mold with rain when there are so many great things out there?” First, I love this strain so much that I’m going to grow it no matter what. I like to blend different flavors and effects in my joints, but Sour Strawberry makes it into almost every joint I roll over the course of the year. I also like the fact that it comes in super early, so it fits really well with our production plan. Finally, it’s like an old friend that has been with me for more than a decade, a part of our farm that lends definition to what I do and who I am. Sour Strawberry is part of what makes HappyDay Farms what it is, and I don’t want to leave that behind or lose it in the shifting landscape of cannabis and farming.
Successful farming is about finding the sweet spot between quality of life, quality of product and quantity produced. I was talking to a farmer friend and she compared the start of the cannabis harvest to working with salad mix; a high-value crop with a limited harvest window that can be impacted by pests and weather. You make the best choices you can, and with the skills you’ve gained over the years you evaluate your course of action to strive for the biggest quantity of the highest quality that you can.
I would always rather choose higher quality over higher quantity, which is part of why I follow the strategy of “start early, finish on time”. We’d bring in more weight if we waited longer, but the market demand is for bright colors and clear-to-milky trichomes, not for the ambering that begins as the flowers move towards their finality. It’s a fine line, because if you start too early you lose out on terpene production and end up with flowers that are premature, so we walk that line with great caution.
My brother and I check the plants daily as we close in on harvest, assessing and debating back and forth about when to begin. He tends to let things go longer than I do, so the gentle tension between process and practice plays out well with us and results in better quality than we might produce as individuals. Farming is a form of practice, a lived experience that we repeat each season with deep learning lessons and adjustments. I’m glad for the shared effort, and glad to have arrived at the beginning of fall. As always, much love and great success to you on your journey!
Some of the previously referenced Mean Gene “panic chop” memes, with permission from Freeborn Selections: