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].
Big rain coming this week so we’re putting the farm to bed and finishing up the last of the fall tasks. The last cannabis plant comes in today, a personal-use Colombian sativa that took forever to finish but I’m super excited about. We always have a little champagne celebration to mark the end of harvest, and today feels like a good day for it.
We’ll also finish the last of the garlic planting today after a marathon session of garden bed reconstruction. All good things happen with a little help from our friends, and we were blessed with a visit from some buddies who helped with the first big push earlier in the week, and we’ll plant the last four rows today again with help from friends. Many hands make light work (or maybe just means we get way more work done) and I’m feeling the glow of a season well on the way to completion.
The garlic rows were built as modified hugelkultur beds in 2020, and we used the rotary plow on the BCS walk-behind tractor to dig the trenches. Usually we use a mini-excavator to dig the trenches and make a nice wide bench for the bed to sit on, but we were going for a lighter impact and working with the equipment we had on farm during lockdown. I made several passes with the plow and then we filled the trench with branches, cannabis stems and used poultry bedding that was super high in nitrogen content.
After the fourth year of cropping these beds, the slope had begun to reassert itself and the bed surface was no longer flat and was starting to move downhill. We needed to shore them up, and we had extra compost leftover from the season that we needed to move because the space where the pile was located was needed for another use. Last year we just made do and planted them anyway, but since we had the extra oomph from the homies we decided to go for it.
In a related yet separate tangent, the oak woodlands are often being overgrown with fir and pine which grow up so tall that they choke out the oaks and change the habitat. We harvest poles and biomass from some of the younger trees which then provide us with the material to shore up the garden beds. Opening up the oaks feels good, like giving them space to breathe (actually space to receive the sun’s rays, but hey), and the poles work great to shore up the terraces, although they will decompose over time.
I’m all about trying to make the most use of the materials we have to work with, and to stack functions to accomplish multiple goals at the same time. Harvesting the poles helps the health of the oaks, while using them to make better garden beds helps the productivity and thus the bottom line of the farm. We’ll use the branches from the fir and pine as a base layer in the hugel trenches that we’ll be starting on in the next couple weeks along with woodchips and cannabis stalks.
We grow four varieties of garlic, Metichi, Music, Red Siberian and a softneck that my Ma gave us when we started farming. Amber sells braids made from the softneck and flowers that she harvests and dries, turning them into gorgeous, ephemeral art that brings a brightness to the kitchen wall and a revenue stream to the farm. The softneck holds longest, so we process and sell the hardneck varieties over the course of summer and early fall. We got the Music from our friends at Briceland Forest Farm, and Amber brought the Metichi from John and Marbry when she moved from their farm to live with me. The Red Siberian came from our friend Caroline, although we’re not totally sure of the name but it seems to work.
Garlic, like so many plants and seeds, is a treasured part of our farmscape and is woven into the fabric of our lives and community. As we traverse the years, our seed stock expands and we grow more rows as the farm slowly grows in capacity. Adding flavor to our meals and a spice to life that speaks of health and vitality, garlic is part of the essence of being a small farm and part of a community that makes me feel wholesome and centered.
It was a big push, but we got 6 more beds shored up with logs (in addition to the two we’d done earlier in the fall) and hit with a heavy layer of compost. They are light and fluffy and likely to produce the biggest, best crop of garlic we’ve ever grown, so I’m super excited about it!
Once the garlic is planted we’ll cover the beds with a light layer of straw, and we’ll straw the bare spots that remain on the road into the garden. We have some more work with straw and seed at the ranch to repair a few spots the pigs dug up, and once the rains begin we’ll be out in the mornings making sure the animals are dry, checking flow, movement, waterbars and making sure that we aren’t having erosion. I’m glad for the moisture, and looking forward to some time sitting by the fire reading and starting to plan for next year. As always, much love and great success to you on your journey!