FALL HAS ARRIVED, and the garden transition is underway. We are sowing a winter cover crop mix of oats, vetch, field peas and fava beans, inoculated with nitrogen-fixing bacteria that will help to enrich the soil while preventing erosion and nutrient leaching. We are also sowing, up-planting and planting out brassica; the first sets of cabbage, cauliflower, romanesco and broccoli went out a few weeks ago, the next set will go out in a week.
The garden is a mix of green, yellow and brown as the many species of plants go through their life cycle transitions. Flocks of redwing blackbirds offer a moving panoply among the tall sunflowers that have gone to seed. The sunflowers are all volunteers, claiming the vertical axis in large sections of the garden. They are beautiful during the summer and provide a stellar food source for birds that is up off the ground and away from prowling felines. Cats are dangerous to bird populations, but can also be important for a farm that needs to control rodents. Offering habitat to birds that is out of reach of the cats is one of many balancing acts that we use to try to mitigate our presence in the environment.
To farm a piece of land is to change it, for better or for worse. We seek to know our impacts, and to strive to mitigate the negative ones in favor of beneficial or regenerative processes. It is a learning curve, and each trip around the sun we gain knowledge of place and practice that enables us to be better farmers. It is a joyous journey; the work is hard but fulfilling, and we are grateful.
It is midday Saturday; I am inside writing in part because it is outside raining. Tomorrow is the last day of September. Each of the last two days I was up at 4:40, out the door before 5. Between the normal operations of the farm and the beginning of full-swing cannabis harvest, we are running flat-out. Yesterday I worked from 5 in the morning until 9 o’clock last night; it was a glorious day, a flurry of accomplishment that left me a little breathless.
We harvested as much cannabis as we’ve ever brought in in one day, along with packaging 103 CSA bags and battening the farm for rain. We moved the all-weather chicken coop to a new pasture and consolidated the laying hens from their summer homes into their cool-weather abode. We tarped woodpiles and machinery, and brought in tools and other items that don’t want to be rained on. The new toolshed got a covering of tar paper to keep the weather out; I still need to order the metal roofing to finish the job.
Cannabis harvest is always a delicate balance that seeks to maximize the interaction of two axes; quality and quantity. Farming is about harvesting the most, best produce possible. There is always the chance of crop failure, and some things will do better than others. There will always be phenomenal plants, and there will always be ones that don’t do well.
Harvest is a factor of drying space, plant health, timing, weather and labor. It’s a bit like gambling, in that you have to decide the point at which it becomes time to bring it in. If you wait too long, the quality begins to decline; if you go too early, the volume isn’t there. One of the dangers is in holding out too long, and then having too much ripen at once and overwhelming either space or labor. If you had infinite space and labor, you could leave the plants out to the maximum potential of the quantity/quality overlap. Given that both labor and drying space are finite, it becomes a guessing game as to the best time to harvest. Over the years, the farmer learns to evaluate the variables to make the best possible educated guess. Sometimes there are unexpected surprises, and changes in production patterns offer new, uncharted variables.
Plant health is a major factor; disease or pest pressure can create a need for accelerated timeline, as does the potential for these problems to appear. It is often necessary to take a first cutting on bigger plants to give the lower layers time to finish out and to create more light and air movement to the understory to avoid disease. Starting before the plants have finished growing gives opportunity for more growth after the first cut and avoids problems with botrytis because the densest flowers are harvested before the rain.
We tend to let rain be the guiding factor in our cannabis harvest; when the weather calls for rain we bring in those flowers that might have potential for mold. We would harvest a higher quantity if we left them out longer, but we would also have more likelihood of botrytis. We always say that a bud in the bag is worth two on the bush. It’s all about the 3D’s; is it Dense, is it Dank, is it Done? If we have two out of the three and rain is coming, we to commence to harvesting.
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.