One of the things I love about living in Mendocino County is that January often brings a period of mild, sunny weather. This time arrives after we’ve had significant rainfall, so the landscape is beginning to green up and the creeks are flowing with abandon. It is a joy to work outside during these sunny days, and we are gearing up for the season to come.
We’ve installed new caterpillar tunnels; 14’x50’ gabled metal frames are a huge step towards professionalizing our operation, and we are excited for their snow-load capability. In the past, our simple PVC constructions have not been strong enough to hold the snow and we’ve had to spend tremendous time and energy knocking it off to keep them from collapsing. In addition, most of our previous hoophouses were no more than ten feet in width, so the additional square footage gives us opportunity for more seed starting and more direct cultivation.
One of the tunnels has four beds that run the length of the structure, giving us opportunity to direct-seed salad mix, radishes, bok choi, and arugula. We were able to adapt some of the infrastructure from the previous hoophouse and refine it into a series of tables that will hold trays of starts in the second caterpillar tunnel. Having this ability means that we’ll be able to start more seeds, while also producing more food, earlier in the year. As we look to the future, we expect to have more winter production than we have been able to accomplish these past few years.
These periods of false-spring always get us excited, as though spring has arrived. In reality, we know that we’ll be headed back into many weeks of cold rain and snow, but the sunny weather gets the sap moving in us just like it does the trees. We’re making plans for the season, drawing up job lists and expectations and refining our binders and processes.
The difference between farming and gardening is the business aspect; the old saying goes “you’re a gardener until you sell something”. These days, I spend more time on the business aspect of things than I might like, but such is the reality in which we find ourselves. Each trip around the sun, I become more accustomed to dealing with the paperwork, and it becomes a bit less overwhelming. I’ve learned that one of the most valuable things I can do is to schedule a regular time for administrative tasks and that so long as I do this, I can stay on top of what needs to be done without feeling stressed about it.
Farming is all about balance; settling into the rhythm of the seasons and finding acceptance around the reality that there will always be more work to be done. The steadiness that is required is reminiscent of the tortoise, not the hare. It has been a difficult lesson for me that in order to survive in the physical realm of farming, I have to slow down and not push my body too hard. As I age, I find that injuries are slower to heal and I come up against the inevitable mortality of my physical form.
I’m striving to learn to follow the old adage of “work smarter, not harder”. As I experience the transition from the boundless strength of the young man to the realization of my body as a finite entity, I pause to reflect on the journey. Reaching a point in life in which I can’t just throw more muscle at the work makes me consider the future and my place in the world. I am striving to do so now, while it is a choice before it becomes a necessity. I love my work, and I am learning to love my body enough to treat it well so that I can continue for many years to come. As always, much love and great success!
Casey O’Neill co-operates HappyDay Farms, a micro-diversified farm in northern Mendocino County, California. His family raises two acres of Sun&Earth and DEMPure Certified vegetables, poultry and medical cannabis in a small-farm setting while working towards sustainability. He is stoked about sharing food, medicine and cultivation techniques with others. He is passionate about representing small farmers and works to support Mendocino County policy-makers in crafting sensible regulations. You can find his radio show on podcast at HappyDay Farms - Farm and Reefer Report on iTunes or Soundcloud.