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].
In the depths of seasonal darkness I find great joy in the simple tasks and the conversations I’m having. Lessons and growth begin in the dark, with the germination of seeds and ideas, which sprout into the light of day with new energy and strength. Today is Christmas eve, and looks to be the last in a string of gorgeous days that make my heart ache with the beauty of it all. I’ve been glad to do some outside work, but I’ve got big plans for puzzles and holiday movies in the rainy days that look to be arriving.
On Thursday we attended a solstice gathering at a good friend’s place, and also had the opportunity to bring along some bulb crates and bring them home full of new goodies to plant. In one of those amazing mutually beneficial situations, there were peonies, gladiolus and irises that needed to be dug and divided. I love bulbs and plants that thrive through division and propagation so much!
The feeling of bonus or “something for nothing” that comes from digging and dividing is one of my favorite things about working with plants. Seed saving falls into the same category, a sort of incredulous “you mean I can just make copies of these plants for free?” All that’s required is a little time and effort, and such joy can be had for my future self.
Bulbs are especially gratuitous, getting better each year and splashing bright color across the duller spaces of winter and early spring. Amber and I gift bulbs to each other for birthdays and Christmas, so that we plant a few hundred each winter. The daffodils, narcissus, hyacinth, tulips and irises are all thriving and I’m super excited to add gladiolus back into the mix. We had a bed of them once before but they didn’t survive because I didn’t get irrigation onto them.
Gophers are also tricky little bastards when it comes to bulbs. They don’t seem to bother daffodils, narcissus or iris (and neither do the deer so we plant them outside fenced areas), but they sure seem to love tulips. After years of tulip bulb losses we’ve begun moving more towards planting them in containers that don’t allow for access to soil-dwelling rodents.
Bulbs are like gifts to our future selves, and the gifting and sharing of them is one of my favorite things in life, like an offering of beauty to the future. Today I’ll be planting the peony crowns with feelings of gratitude for their gift, and the knowledge that the flowers they make will brighten my life and the lives of the community members who buy Amber’s bouquets at market in seasons to come. This reflection and refraction of beauty is one of the great driving forces in my life. I treasure it and love to tend to it during the dark months, like coals for a future fire that I know will burn bright.
I’ve been thinking about what kind of gifts I want to offer to my future self. I’ve cut my coffee ration, switching to chicken broth and a garden herb tea blend I make in the morning from raspberry leaf, nettle, roses, licorice, maidenhair fern and horsetail. After morning chores I make coffee, blending half-caff with decaf to make a lightly caffeinated but flavorful cup that gives me a little boost but not so much that I get the jitters I had become accustomed to on my heavy ration.
Not drinking so much coffee means I’m not so edgy and irritable in the evening, which means I don’t need to feel justified in drinking booze to take the edge off. An occasional cider is now a real treat instead of a coping mechanism. These changes go hand-in-hand with the seasonal slowdown, but are unusual in that I’m not drinking my way through the holidays.
It’s always easier to make changes this time of year as I focus on renewal and health, so we’ll see how it goes as I start to edge back towards the light and frenetic activity of the farm. This year feels different though, like new growth that helps me focus on health and supporting my body so it can continue the hard work of farming far into the future. Sometimes it takes hard lessons to make effective change, and I’m focusing on what I want for my future self by being present and slowing down.
As I plant bulbs and crowns today I’ll be reflecting on the journey of our farm and our lives. I’ll be taking stock of my body and my feelings, continuing to integrate the lessons of these past few weeks, and of this year. It feels like a time of new beginning, as though I’m Scrooge and just woke up on Christmas day with time to change, and I’m grateful for the opportunity. As always, much love and great success to you on your journey!