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].
We are coming off an absolute crusher of a week; harvest produce on Monday and Thursday, early morning cannabis harvest on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and early morning pig slaughter on Saturday. With mornings given over to harvest the afternoons are a frenetic rush of chores, planting, sowing and maintenance, but I couldn’t be more thrilled with where we are in the efforts.
More than half of the cannabis crop has been harvested, and we’re making good time at clearing the beds and replanting with either fall crops or cover crop. Using the Jang seeder I’ve been sowing salad mixes, cooking greens, turnips, rutabagas and Asian greens. There is enough fertility left in the cannabis beds that we just pull the stumpes, rake the bed smooth and sow the seeds. If I’m really in a hurry I don’t even pull the drip and just shove the seeder in between the lines, but I get much better spacing and germination if we pull the drip aside.
After sowing we make sure the drip is evenly spaced and then lay out insect netting flat on the bed surface. The netting provides a little sun protection, and if it’s going to be hot we lay a double cover of netting for the additional sun break and moisture retention. Setting it right on the bed surface means that we don’t have the added labor of putting in wickets to make low tunnels, and we find that the crops will push it upward just fine as they grow. We hold the netting down with a few t-posts or sand bags and make sure to keep the bed surface wet with daily hand watering or overhead sprinklers.
I’m slowly installing sprinkler systems on each section of the garden so that we have the capability to water both from drip irrigation and overhead. We’re using both wobblers and mini-wobblers depending on the distance I need to cover and the volume of water I want to put down. I’m still experimenting between the two types, especially in the salad mix tunnel and the other veggie hoophouses. At first I ran one line with 4 sprinklers to a 50 foot tunnel, but now I’ve upped it to 6-7 sprinkler heads to get full coverage.
We run tall summer crops in three of the veggie tunnels, which presents some difficulty because once the tomatoes or cucumbers get tall they block the sprinklers from reaching the outer row, so I’m going to make the shift to overhead sprinklers that hang from a line run along the apex of the hoophouse. I have the materials already and plan to find time to do the upgrade this winter when things slow down a bit.
This year has been one of tremendous irrigation system upgrades all due to the grant we received from CDFW to purchase the materials. This week was kind of a watershed moment in the process, both in terms of efficiency of work and culmination of a years-long effort. On Friday, we harvested cannabis in the morning, cleared the stumps, sowed cover crops and put down row cover to keep the birds out of it. I built sprinkler systems with the materials from the grant and got the water going on the beds.
There is so much feeling here for me. The last two years we had cover crop failures that had me questioning myself as a farmer. When done well, the soil shows the benefit of cover crop with added fertility, porosity, microbial activity and vibrant life through the cycles of growth and decomposition. Getting the seed down this early and having the sprinklers means we’re on track for our best cover crop ever, and a lot of the impetus comes from the grant we received.
As the cover crop gets going, it will use up any leftover nutrients to build soil, sequester carbon and provide food and habitat for birds and beneficial insects. We’ll harvest it as forage for animals, and I’ll harvest pea shoots and mustard greens to eat and as a small income stream in the early spring when there isn’t much in the garden.
Ten years ago, when we started down the road of becoming a public cannabis farm, we dreamed about the possibilities of public-private partnerships that could store water, build soil and sequester carbon. I believe in the potential of a restoration economy that creates jobs to manage land for beneficial practices that draw down atmospheric carbon, bring water back to parched landscapes and manage forests for health. The grant we got is a small step in that direction, yet is also a meaningful milestone in a long road that I look forward to continuing on. As always, much love and great success to you on your journey!