Lovely Yellow Flowers in the Vineyard

Mustard

Photo courtesy of Creatures of the Earth, Flickr CC

Question from Susan: Hi! I was in Napa over the weekend and wondered where all the pretty yellow flowers come from. Are they there for a purpose?

Reply: Hi, Susan. Thanks for writing – aren’t they gorgeou? We’re so lucky because as soon as we get some rain after harvest, the wild mustard sprouts and before you know it we’ve got a lovely carpet of yellow flowers. So, they’re volunteers. There are romantic stories of Spanish missionaries marking their path by dropping mustard seed as they worked their way up the California coast. If that’s true, I guess they didn’t realize that it spreads like crazy and could throw them seriously off track!  

Mostly, we just enjoy the mustard but it does have some benefits. It has a thick, carrot-like root which helps with drainage. And, when you mow it down and turn it under it adds very nice organic matter which improves the soil structure. And there have actually been studies that show that mustard can help control soil pests – nemetodes in particular – which are a problem here in the valley. That’s a nice bonus! People like to say that mustard is a nitrogen fixer but plant scientists say otherwise. If we want nitrogen we’re better off planting legumes like vetch or crimson clover – another pretty flower!

This year the mustard bloomed really early, thanks to the October rains. It’s been so dry over the last several weeks that it’s kind of petering out, now, but I expect we’ll get another good bloom after we get some more rain – this week we hope! It’s beginning to look like a drought year.

So, that’s the story. The mustard season is fleeting – usually just from about late December to March, so enjoy the pretty yellow flowers while you can! Cheers! 

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