HappyDay: ‘The Rhythm of Life’
Casey O’Neill is a cannabis and food farmer in Mendocino County who has been writing newsletters about his efforts to provide sustainable produce and marijuana. We feature his column once a week.
Farming is one part routine repetition and one part change. As the cycle of the seasons passes, our efforts shift through the varying tasks of the year, from prep to planting to harvest as we move through the journey. Some things are constant, like looking after the laying hens and rabbits, while some work comes during one part of the year.
The day always begins with caring for animals and this continuity is an important part of our lives. We always have layers and rabbits, but in spring and summer we have meat chickens and this last year we raised turkeys and ducks as well. This winter we have pigs for the first time in several years.
While the work changes, there is always work to do. This anchor point sets the rhythm of life and keeps us rooted in the land. The work is always there, providing constancy and definition for life but also adding a layer of stress that can prove dangerous. When you live where you work it can be hard to walk away from it and take enough time for self-care.
As we enter the new year I feel both excitement and trepidation for the season to come. Coming off a season of overwork, we must learn to be more efficient and capable in order to meet an increase in production without suffering burnout. We are in the process of finishing two new 14’x50’ caterpillar tunnels for row cropping vegetables. Each tunnel has 4 beds, each bed is 30 inches across. Starting in the second week of January, Amber will be using the seeder to sow lettuce, greens and root crops.
We do different blends for our salad mixes. We used to just use a lettuce mix but over the past couple years we’ve been doing a lot of Tokyo Bekana which is a mild mustard very similar to lettuce, fast growing and hardy. We also use mizuna, baby kale, arugula, tatsoi and various chois. We’ll blend whatever is available for salad mix and we also do a heartier mesclun blend that can be sauteed or eaten raw.
Quick turnaround root crops have become a big favorite, Sora radishes and Hakurei salad turnips chief among them. We’re also doing Eagle beets, Mokum carrots and the bigger storage turnips but these take a bit longer than the rapid rotations we can get with the salad turnip/radish combination. We sow half a bed of each, and since the radishes are faster we have the option to replant that half of the bed sooner.
We have very limited bed space, so we’re always trying to maximize our production/square foot. Sowings are based on expected sales so we’ll often split a bed so that we can sell all of the production and clear the bed as soon as possible for another planting. Rapid rotation crops like salad mixes and roots are quick, valuable and in high demand because they’re so damn tasty. It takes time and effort to get good at running rotations and keeping the beds occupied but we’re getting better at it as the seasons go by.
Having the two new hoophouses gives us 8 new beds that are sheltered from battering storms and freezing weather. The produce will still freeze inside the unheated tunnels but without the desiccating winds everything will fare much better. Winter hoophouse vegetables are archetypal, prime expressions that are a joy to grow, harvest and eat.
During the summer we’ll use the new tunnels for cucumbers and tomatoes in the two center rows where there is more head-space for trellising these tall growing crops. The two outer rows in each tunnel will serve well for peppers, okra, eggplants and basil.
Farming on small scale is about utilizing the microclimate of landscape, but also about using the microclimate of the farm itself. The landscape is a Southwest ridgeline at 3000 ft with afternoon coastal influences, fewer frosts than the valley but more snow load in winter. The farm has beds that get afternoon shade and can be used for summer crops that don’t want too much heat. Some places will be hotter or drier depending on air currents and the lay of the land. These observations are noted over time through practice and become part of how we farm.
We are up above the inversion layer which means that it don’t cool off as much at night as in the valleys around us. We also don’t heat up as much during the day and we usually see a cooling afternoon breeze coming from the coast 20 miles away. We struggle to do summer salad mixes because they get bitter in the heat, but if we can keep them cooler through use of shade and irrigation then they are a welcome treat during the hot months.
We have a hoophouse that gets good shade in the afternoon in the summer time but up until now has been a prime summer production tunnel for cukes, tomatoes, peppers and basil. The two new tunnels are in a sunnier location, so we’re moving the hot crop production and will use the old tunnel to grow summer salad mixes under shadecloth with overhead sprinklers.
Each year the farm changes as we grow in our knowledge, build new infrastructure and get new equipment. We are excited for the year to come, to put our studies and planning into practice to produce food and medicine for ourselves and for community. As always, much love and great success to you on your journey!