Kevin Merrill

Kevin Merrill

The foggy mornings of June gloom stayed with us through the first week of July. It is one of the worst years for mildew in our vineyards in a long time.

Daytime temperatures of around the mid-70s are perfect for mildew to take advantage of. We will, hopefully, keep it at bay until we get either warmer days or sweeter grapes.

My wife Karen and the kids and I got away to Las Vegas a few days before the Fourth to see Reba, Brooks and Dunn perform at Caesars Palace. There was no June gloom in Las Vegas, with temperatures hovering near 101 during the time we were there.

The show was great, but for the most part I like going to Las Vegas during the NFR in December. I think it’s a lot easier to try to stay warm than it is walking down the Strip when it’s over 100 degrees. Any time you go there are always plenty of interesting folks to see out and about.

A nice, cool breeze greeted us as we got off the plane in Santa Maria around 2 p.m. Once home, the kids checked on their lambs and the rest of the animals. I checked the weather forecast for the week ahead. Foggy mornings and mild days.

This would not be a good year to be raising alfalfa for hay due not the mild weather. We used to like hot days between 90 and 100 degrees this time of year in Santa Ynez to help cure the hay before baling it. Foggy mornings used to bleach the nice green color right out of the hay. I do miss the sweet smell of freshly cut alfalfa this time of year.

Now the closest I get to alfalfa is when I buy it for Kathleen’s horses. At least I can tell when the hay looks good and when it doesn’t. Lots of places bale when its too dry and the leaves just blow away when you open the bale to feed. Lately I have been buying hay from our long-time family friend Dr. Jim Buell at his ranch in Buellton. I believe his hay comes from his ranch in Nevada.

Years ago, when my brother Dana and I were farming in the Valley, we used to do some custom farming for Dr. Buell. He always planted a crop of barley or oats in the hills and farming fields surrounding the horse paddocks. He hired us to do the land prep and apply the aqua ammonia fertilizer to the fields before his crew planted them.

We were always looking for a little extra money to help pay International Harvester Credit, which financed our tractors. I think I have mentioned working for Dr. Buell in past columns, He would always negotiate a lower price for our work than we quoted. We needed the money, so we did the work for him over a two or three-year period.

Every time I go to get hay, I remember spending all day driving a tractor and working in the fields near Buellton. I haven’t had much luck negotiating with him on a cheaper price for his hay.

Remember, this year’s Santa Barbara County Fair runs from July 10-14 in Santa Maria. Come out and enjoy seeing all the kids showing their animals, along with the exhibits. Should be great weather.

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


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