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].
|I wonder yet if I’ve sowed a million seeds, and I think the answer is yes. I love the magic of the seed, the renewal, the growth. My spirit soars when I see the freshness of the sprouting plants, the mystery of life sprung from that which was dry and seemed inert. Soil, water, seed, soul, magic. |
The first frosts brought the kiss of death for squash and other tender plants living in the air corridors of the center of the gardens, but the edges and sheltered spaces are still thriving. The tomatoes at Pops’ that are just to the South of the big oak trees around his house have been sheltered from the North winds and look great, while the not-quite-ripe pumpkins and butternuts in my garden linger on plants that have wilted down and look to be giving up the ghost.
We’ve been sowing cover crop like mad, loving the short bursts of rain that have come through to help with germination. After two years of failure, I swore to myself that we’d have the whole farm sown by the end of October, and we’re almost there in both date and effort. We’ve also made adjustments in our techniques to achieve better germination, and it’s working out fabulously.
We have three methods for sowing cover crop depending on the status of the previous plantings in the beds. If the bed is clear, I broadcast the seed, we rake it into the soil surface to get good contact and then we cover it with row cover or insect netting to prevent the birds from eating the seed. We lay the cover flat on the bed surface and hold it down with sand bags, rocks or t-posts. If it’s dry, we irrigate heavily for the first couple days, or we sow when the rain is coming and don’t have to worry about it. Once the crop is up and growing well enough to strain upwards against the netting, we pack away the covers to await the coming of spring crops that need sheltering.
If the previous crop is still in place and growing, we undersow the cover crop seeds by scratching them into the soil, especially under the drips from the irrigation, where the seeds are most likely to germinate and grow well. It’s usually still pretty dry if we’re undersowing, so we focus more on soil contact and the moist spots, but the shade from the previous crop also helps prevent drying out.
We planted a super late row of Gelonade cannabis clones at the end of August, and then a couple weeks later we undersowed the cover crop mix. We harvested the clones this last week, and the cover crop is already 8” tall and growing vigorously. Undersowing is the most effective method because it gets the seeds sown when the irrigation is still running for the main crop and there is still plenty of strength in the sun to support strong growth, but it’s also the most labor intensive because we’re working on hands and knees scooting down the row with the bucket of seeds and scratching them in. We use this method for crops that are caged or trellised, like cannabis and tomatoes, because the soil surface is easy to access, but the plants don’t block the seeds from visibility by birds, so we try to scratch them in good so they’re well planted.
The third method is kind of a hybrid of the first two, in which we broadcast seed into an existing crop that is already winding down. We do this often with summer squash, and other sprawling ground crops, where the seed can settle through the leaves and will do pretty well with germination. It’s not quite as effective as either the rake and cover method or the undersow and scratch in, but it’s super fast so we’ll use it when we’re pressed for time, especially if an extended period of rain is coming. The shelter of the leaves helps combat bird pressure in a similar way that the insect netting or row cover does.
We’ve also been using the method of sowing, raking and then harvesting comfrey to spread a thin layer over the soil surface to act as a mulch, fertilizer and protector of the seeds until they grow. This is my favorite method but we have a long way to go before we have enough comfrey to do the whole farm this way (which is what we’ll be focused on this winter with our comfrey nursery efforts).
The cover crop we use for garden beds is the Organic Soil Builder from Leballisters, which has bell beans, field peas, vetch and oats in it. We add mustard seed to it for an early flowering nectar flow for the bees and other beneficial insects, and also to harvest for a spicy addition to winter mixed greens (pea shoots too!). This year we got a bag of mixed mustards and daikon radish seed for the blend, and I’m excited for the possibilities for late winter harvests. I think I’ve sowed a million seeds and I hope to sow a million more.
As always, much love and great success to you on your journey!