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On the farm
On the farm

Hooray for the rain! And may more come soon!  It is always a glorious feeling to awaken in the night, warm and cozy in my bed, and hear proper rain pattering on the roof. In a world that has become too dry in the last five years, the sound of rain is a welcome, glorious thing to enjoy.

The awakening of the landscape is the spring in my step; seeing growth speed up as we move past the Equinox gives the farmer a deep thrill that is tinged with urgency. Plants need to go out faster than they did earlier in the year. The real battle against weeds has begun. The warmer it is; the faster things grow and the more they need water to keep them cool and growing.

How Our Farm Handles Dry Periods in Northern Mendocino

When it rains, the landscape softens with moisture and we don’t spend hours with watering wands. The whole farm is on drip irrigation except for the trays in the hoop-houses, but tender crops need a cooling shot of water during the heat of the day to keep them from bolting. We hope to implement mister systems for our seed trays this year to save us on time and energy hand-watering.

But the rain isn’t always a frequent visitor. One of the challenges we face here in Northern Mendocino County is our climate is much milder than what most of the current gardening and farming resources are capable of dealing with. Elliot Coleman’s Four Season Gardening was formative for us, but we’ve had to adapt our practices because the inevitable warm, dry periods we get during “winter” cause the hardier winter greens to bolt and go to seed.

The learning curve has been steep for us because we have a diversified marketplace to supply with produce and because we have committed to providing CSA shares 50 weeks/year.

Planning for Planting, Harvesting and Replanting All Season

If we get a spell of unseasonable weather and have crop failures, we still need to provide nourishment to our communities. This is why we hedge our bets, growing as many crops as we can and pushing the rotations as fast as we can.  On the day we harvest a space, we’ll try to prep the beds and replant with the next crop, one smooth choreography that maximizes our total harvest out of the small space we have to farm.

It has been a joy to see our organization start to come into its own; we have now enough space under cultivation and have learned our processes well enough in the last five years to keep a steady stream of fresh, quality food coming off of the farm. We try to start seeds every 10-14 days so that as we harvest and clear space each week, we are ready with strong, growing seedlings to plant out.

Strengthening Seedlings and Maximizing Limited Bed Space

We start most seeds in trays and then plant them out. This takes more work than direct seeding but provides us a number of advantages. We are able to plant out large, healthy crops that are more likely to withstand the inevitable pest pressures. We identify and cull weak seedlings so as to plant out the best, most uniform genetic expressions. We are able to make better use of our bed space because we can shorten the time-to-harvest for a crop by planting large, healthy transplants. We are able to maximize our harvest by squeezing in as many successive crops as we can.

Applying Indoor Growing Knowledge to Outdoor Bed Space

There are a number of strands of bio-intensive gardening a la John Jeavons, Elliot Coleman, and a host of other authors. I was able to access their knowledge base because I had already developed my passion for precision timing regarding transplants and maximum bed space usage from my interactions with indoor cannabis farming.  I’m a terrible lamp farmer but a very good helper — I learned a great deal over the years about the need to maximize your harvest if you have a limited space within which to work.

We farm less than 2 acres of total crops on our farm, and we help tend a patchwork of a few beds here and there in the community. We tend a rotating ½-¾ acre plot in partnership with a farmer in the valley. On the farm, our terraces are carved out of the hillside, gently backsloped into swales to catch and slow rainwater, encouraging it to percolate into the groundwater.

It has been a slow process bringing the space under cultivation to be able to operate a year-round vegetable farm in conjunction with our medicinal cannabis crop. The complex ways in which the crop patterns interact are a book unto themselves. We are always adapting, learning new ways of maximizing our harvestable crops. We’ve been playing around with growing summer lettuces and other tender greens in the spaces close to the cannabis where they receive enough shade to provide them a more sheltered microclimate that helps to avoid heat bitterness.

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