Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Mustard Fields Forever

As we know, there are two kinds of people: Photographers and others...

For "others" the Napa Valley is considered one of the best wine regions in the US. Due to a healthy mix of almost Mediterranean climate, sheltered geography and fertile soil the area around Napa County is ideal for growing grapes.

Now photographers, although certainly enjoying the wine, are coming here for a different reason: The Mustard!

Vineyard owners plant the mustard not only for the photographers pleasure but actually it makes a perfect cover crop for the dirt in between the rows for multiple reasons: It improves water penetration, it fertilizes by capturing nitrogen out of the air and contributing it to the soil once plowed under and best of all, it functions as "biofumigant" warding off nasty pests.

Whatever the reason from late February to early April it's simply beautiful!

I hadn't been to Napa in spring for a few seasons, so this year two photographer friends and I headed up there to indulge ourselves in yellow!

Since the morning weather was close to rain we decided to start our trip at the Oxbow Market in Napa.

A culinary as well as very photogenic destination!

Not your simple cupcake from Kara's Cupcakes:

Delicious Olive Oils from The Olive Press
Their Blood Orange Olive Oil is to die for!

Spices from all over the world at Whole Spice

and much more, but we wanted to photograph mustard, right?

Our first stop was Quixote winery, which is secretly tucked in a side valley off the Silverado trail. As a Hundertwasser fan, I first had to photograph some architecture, before diverting my attention to the mustard:

Here now, Mustard everywhere:

Not much mustard here, but these old vines reminded my of fencers in a bout, ready to attack:

After spending quite some time at and around Quixote winery, we were off to our next destination, Yountmill Road. But on the way, we found these rows, just bursting with mustard at Baldacci's winery:

At Yountmill road photographing the mustard proofed to be a bit tricky, since workers were swarming all over the place to give the vines their spring cut. Here a scene with the yet uncut vines...bad hair day?

Our next stop was Chateau Montelena, not much mustard here, but such nice grounds, that we decided to give in to our growling stomachs ( it was after 2 pm already) and have lunch. Of course with a sip of wine.

After these highlights we drove along Hwy 29, looking out for mustard and stopping at promising sights. As for example these "striped" vineyards at Trinchero Winery:

Or these really old vines along Hwy 29:

It always amazes me how fast a day goes by when photographing. It seemed we just had started, when we noticed the light was fading and we had to part and head home.
I want to close with my very favorite image of Napa Valley, that I took many years ago at Rattlesnake Acres. Unfortunately these vines are no longer, they became too old and had to go a couple of years ago.

Misty Morning at Rattlesnake Acres:

For more of my Napa Valley images, please check out the Napa Valley Gallery on my website.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

March Conservation Tip

Gardening Tips

Spring is in the air, or let's say should be in the air, our spring here in Northern California gets drowned by rain on a daily basis.
Nevertheless, at some point the rain will stop, hopefully, and we will spend more time outside and in our backyards and gardens. So I thought some "green" garden tips could come in handy.

In order to spruce up these tips with some color I was on the lookout for some spring flowers. Not much luck outside, the few flowers that braved the rain here in Half Moon Bay got flattened by last weeks hail. Hungry for some color, I went to the Half Moon Bay Nursery and was not disappointed!

A group of local artists, seeking refuge from the weather, had the same idea.

In spring mode now? Good, here now some better weather gardening tips:

1. Try to look for natural and organic alternatives to fertilizer.

The use of inorganic fertilizer is causing a toxic buildup of chemicals in our soil and drinking water. Residential users of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides apply more pounds per acre of these chemicals then farmers do. As these pollutants run off, they harm aquatic life, especially here on the coast, and contaminate the food chain.
And natural fertilizers, compost and organic materials encourage native earthworms. Earthworms are nature's soil conditioners and manufacture great fertilizer.

2. Compost your kitchen waste and garden clippings. It is easy and keeps green waste out of the landfill. Compost improves soil structure, texture, and aeration and increases the soil's water holding capacity. It also helps soil fertility and stimulates a healthy root development. Best of all, it's free.

3. Mulch, if you are mulching your flower beds and trees with 3" of organic material you will conserve water, add humus and nutrients, and discourage weeds. Bonus: It gives your beds a nice and clean appearance.

4. Problems with aphids? Try natural predators like these little critters

or try spraying infested stems, leaves, and buds with a very diluted soap water, then clear water. It works even on the heaviest infestation.

5. Plant native plants, they are adapted to your local climate, are less prone to insect infestation and need less fertilizer.

6. Think of replacing high maintenance lawn with herbs

or a vegetable garden

7. Weed problems? Normal vinegar, applied on a sunny day takes care of them, it's a safe and organic weed killer.

8. Snails? Instead of poisoning them, which also might poison the birds that later eat the snails, try collecting them early in the morning. I once offered the kids a quarter for each snail they found in the garden, it was a VERY effective way of getting rid of a lot of snails...I have lowered my price per snail since, it got a bit expensive...;-)
If you absolutely need to use a deterrent, try Sluggo, it is a non toxic snail killer. After digesting Sluggo, the snails will stop eating and die within a couple of days.

Now, let's hope we have less of this

and more of that

If you have another great "green" garden tip, please add it in the comments!

Happy Spring!