You know spring has arrived when kids, young and old, are on the lookout for a bunny hiding eggs and candy in your yard.
We celebrated Easter last Sunday amid the threat of rain and cooler temperatures.
The days leading up to the Easter weekend found the air crisp and clean after a series of small rain storms passed through the area. The skies were a vibrant blue, with billowing white clouds floating effortlessly over the green, oak-studded hills surrounding Los Alamos.
Orange California poppies and blue lupine still dot the south-facing slopes. Yellow flowers, resembling small sunflowers, seem to erupt throughout the brush-covered hillsides.
Waves of wild oats and needle grass sway gently back and forth, as the chilly north wind blows across the hills surrounding the vineyards.
The real name for needle grass is Ripgut brome, which I remember from the weed identification class I took from Howard Ramsden in the mid-1970s at Hancock College.
As I recall, we had to collect around 30 to 40 different plants that grew in the area. We had to dry them by putting the plants between two pieces of paper and then press them to get the moisture out, kind of like curing hay.
The trick was to make sure you took the plants out of the press and changed the papers every two days or so, otherwise the plant would begin to mold.
That was a great class. I still have the collection somewhere, and hopefully the plants are intact.
Needle grass can be a problem when you are growing dryland oat hay. When my brother, Dana, and I grew our first crops of oat hay, the fields we leased were full of needle grass and seeds. Those fields had not been farmed for a long time, so the darned needle grass had really taken over.
We did our best to work the ground after we thought most of the weeds and grasses had germinated after the first rains of the season so they would not compete with our oats.
We planted our oat seed and had a great stand, but in some areas the needle grass was growing right along with the oats.
When they first come up out of the ground, it is hard to tell an oat seedling from a needle-grass seedling, other than it does not come up in the drilled rows left by the planter.
Most of the hay was clean, but some of it had needle grass. There wasn’t much we could do about the needle grass in the windrows, so we baled it up, along with the oats, using the two-wire baler we bought from Tom Petersen Sr.
Later, we sold the hay to a customer who had horses back on the Woodstock ranch.
Most folks are used to buying three-wire bales of hay, which were quite a bit heavier than our little two-wire bales. Women like the two-wire bales because they are a lot easier to move around, and we sold around 25 bales to make a ton. It took only 16 three-wire bales to make a ton; consequently, people thought they were getting a better deal when they bought the hay by the ton.
Well, the customer who bought the hay for horses quickly found out the hay had needle grass in it, as the long prawns on the seed head of the grass was getting stuck in the horse’s mouth.
The customer called us out to look at the hay, telling us it was full of foxtails. I told them it wasn’t foxtails, but needle grass. That didn’t really help the situation. We replaced the hay containing the needle grass, but we may have lost that customer.
Anyway, stay away from the needle grass and foxtails if you go for a walk in the hills to admire this year’s beautiful springtime wildflowers.
Kevin Merrill of Mesa Vineyard Management is president of the Santa Barbara County Farm Bureau and a board member for the Central Coast Wine Growers’ Association Foundation. He can be reached at email@example.com.