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Kevin Merrill

Kevin Merrill

Our summer season began last Friday, but you wouldn’t have known it, as cool and gloomy as it was.

We haven’t had much hot weather yet this year with the exception of a few days in mid-June. Our vines are growing well despite the cool weather. Perfect conditions for mildew to start down inside the canopies of our grapevines.

This time of year, we try to keep the mildew at bay by applying sulfur and other material that keeps the mildew from getting started. The challenge is getting the spray down inside the vines and making sure we don’t miss any grape clusters or berries with our applications over the next 45 days or so. Once the sugar levels in the berries begin to go up, the mildew pressure goes down. Hard to believe we are only 65 days or so away from harvest.

A couple of weeks ago, when we did have some warm temperatures, I attended a water committee meeting of the California Farm Bureau in Sacramento. My intention was to leave by 2 p.m. for the five-plus hour drive north putting me in Sacramento around 7:30.

That did not work out because the engine light came on in my pickup as I was just getting into Santa Maria. I made it into Home Motors Chevrolet where they got me in quickly. Three hours and a new fuel pump later I was on the road to Sacramento.

After my meeting the next day I made my way down the Valley toward Tulare, where I was going to meet my wife Karen and our son Clayton. We were going to celebrate an early Father’s Day with my father-in-law, and Clayton was competing in a 4-H trap shoot hosted by the Elbow Creek 4-H Club in Visalia. Our daughter Kathleen volunteered to stay home and take care of our animals, including the lambs, destined for the fair, and her horses.

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As I made my way down Highway 99 past Fresno, I turned off just past Kingsburg and headed east. I passed row after row of peach and apricot trees, some harvested and some still teeming with fruit. Forklifts working along the roadside were busy picking up palettes of freshly-picked fruit, loading them on waiting trucks bound for nearby coolers. I had actually forgotten how early they begin picking stone fruit, since its been over 20 years ago that I worked over in the Valley.

It was one of those rare, clear days where the orchards seamlessly spread out, making their way to the foothills of the snow-capped Sierra Nevada mountains to the east. A little further down the road I turned south toward Visalia, where orchards gave way to fields of green alfalfa and rows of corn, surrounding some of the most modern and largest dairies in production today.

Clayton and I left early Sunday morning heading for home before it got too hot, leaving Mom behind to visit with her dad awhile longer. We traveled down some back-country roads toward Highway 46, a route Clayton was not too certain about. I assured him I knew my way as we passed by fields of cotton, reminding me of my days living in Corcoran, working for Salyers back in 1985.

Summertime brings out the best in California agriculture, providing a showcase for the plethora of crops and animals we produce throughout the state. We are truly blessed, to be able to enjoy the bounty our farmers and ranchers provide.

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Kevin Merrill of Mesa Vineyard Management is a board member of the Santa Barbara County Farm Bureau, and a director on the Santa Barbara County Fair Board. He can be reached at kmerrill@mesavineyard.com

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