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’ve come to the end of the year! One chapter ends as the next begins, and I’m full of reflection on what has gone even as I edge into the early stages of the hope that springs eternal. I love the planning process, the idea stage of the farm that happens on cold winter days with hot coffee and excitement for the future. I also love the times of reflection and processing, the cementing of lessons in their application so that they are not forgotten.
In one sense, the seasonal recharge has only just begun, yet with my return to farmers market on the 8th, I will need to balance the different needs of self, family and farm. As we pass through the holidays I’ve made a conscious choice not to do production farm work until after the first of the year. This may create a gap in crops sometime in late February, but I think I’ll be able to manage since I have starts already rocking in the propagation house.
It was a tough decision for me to set aside the production work this week, but it was also a clear fork in the road that represented my recent reflections on what I want to prioritize in my life. Instead of doing the hoophouse bed prep that I was thinking about, I moved compost and Amber and I planted 21 peonies in a gorgeous, 60 foot bed that curves just below the cherry and mulberry, and above the roses, right out front of our house. I interplanted the peonies with tulip bulbs, and I’m already looking forward to the beauty that this bed will bring to our lives come spring.
It’s perennial season, and I have a couple dozen potted plants (figs, flowers, sages, rosemary, walking onions, etc) to get in the ground, which always feels exciting. I love planting things that I know I’ll live out my life watching them grow. The sense of continuity and rootedness that comes from each season of planted things anchors my soul to this land in a way that I treasure. It can also be daunting when I try to make changes, for roots hold us in place, so I’m spending time reflecting on this.
I ask myself, “what is work, and what is life”? I suppose I could draw the line around things I sell for money and label that “work”, but it’s so porous. I eat the same vegetables and meat that I sell, and I tend the land regardless of the outcome. Is planting perennials work, or life? How about cooking? As I seek more balance in my life, I ask myself these questions.
I’ve also come to reflect on how much time our livestock efforts take from my schedule. This winter we have 10 pigs, 5 sheep and 60 laying hens, and keeping everyone dry and fed takes time and energy. I’m also deeply grateful for the team effort of a shared chore schedule and group work projects, which means that my work time at the ranch is a few bigger blocks each week instead of multiple, daily requirements.
The four enterprises of our farm interlock together in a shifting kaleidoscope of needs and returns. Vegetables run on the shortest cycles, requiring constant maintenance and harvest but also yielding returns each week. Cut flowers are slower this time of year, with a focus on planting bulbs and perennials, and getting ready for the season to come. We’re still working through the cannabis harvest, but we won’t be starting seeds or getting clones for several months to come. The animals are off pasture, but will soon be returning to grass and there will be electric fencing to set up and rotations to manage.
My goal these days is to sow 2-3 beds worth of starts each week; some are direct-seeded with the Jang seeder, and some are sown with the drop-seeder into the paperpot trays for transplanting out once they’ve established true leaves. All fall I kept to this planting schedule and it worked magnificently, with far and away the best lineup of fall crops we’ve ever been able to offer.
In the first week of the year I’ll sow the Asian greens and salad mixes that have become the staple driving crops for us, along with radishes, turnips and beets. I’ll transplant all the same plus scallions into their final homes, and we’ll be off to the races for a new year. Towards the end of January I’ll begin starting the heading brassica, first cabbage, then broccoli, cauliflower, romanesco and kohlrabi. I’ll do one or two 72 cell trays each week so that there will be a steady supply coming in through the spring.
This is the time of year for reflection and evaluation. I’m thinking about our lives, our practices, the ways we are with each other and I’m paying attention to habits of work and play. I’m looking at our farm with an eye to improvements in crop planning, rotations, harvest plans and equipment. I’m evaluating our cash-flow as it compares to the bills we have to pay. I’m looking at available produce in our local foodshed, comparing it with what we produce and planning out what my market table and CSA bags look like in the weeks to come. Lots of fun, and lots of work! As always, much love and great success to you on your journey!