The variety of crops we see in our travels around mid-California astonishes us. We have made two trips from Alameda south to Lompoc to admire our newest grandson and his sister (along with their parents), and we travel twice a week to Sonoma County Commercial flowergrowing near Lompoc Lompoc flower fields north of San Francisco. The hills have turned the rich brown they will keep over the summer and autumn months, but punctuating the scenery are gardens everywhere -- from small truck farms of individual growers to the vast acreages of agribusiness.

This was our first visit to Lompoc late enough in Spring to see the flower fields in bloom. Lompoc farmers raise and sell both cut flowers and flower seeds. One of their major crops is sweet pea seeds, which they export to England and sell in this country. Yet it seems that in California every new acre under cultivation is devoted to wine grapes. Even in the Lompoc area, with its flower fields and horse ranches, we found Sweet peas to be raised for seed Sweet peas destined for England boutique vineyards as the wine trail starting north of Santa Barbara stretches into the countryside.

Sonoma County is adjacent to the more famous Napa Valley wine country, but Sonoma valleys are more pleasant to visit because they have fewer visitors but equally tasty wine. We have visited several separate regions, notably Alexander Valley and Dry Creek Valley. The latter is one of the oldest winegrape-growing regions here. They have been growing zinfandel grapes here for over a hundred years. While Napa Valley has enormous tasting rooms with Out tomato plants Our tomato plants flamboyant architecture and cellars and tours and cooking schools and shops and even a wine train running from San Francisco, Sonoma wineriers are mostly smaller, quieter, and pleasantly welcoming.

We spent a day in Dry Creek Valley recently, stopping at a couple of small wineries to taste a variety of their wines, then pausing for sandwiches at the Dry Creek Market, where we joined a dozen or so leathered and leathery motorcycle riders and several carloads of tourists at the shady picnic tables where we could admire the views of the rolling hills. Most of the wineries here have such a small production that they sell mostly to visitors, although a few have made arrangements with supermarkets or liquor stores.

The Snorkel car The Snorkel car With all of this greenery to admire, we purchased two tomato plants, now grown large, to shade our kitchen window from the afternoon sun. We could never succeed with tomatoes when we lived in the desert, so we're delighted with the small green fruit.

One day while we were having our breakfast in Windsor, in Sonoma County, we noticed an SUV with an odd black tube running down the side of the windshield. It didn't look as though it did anything useful, but it was certainly an eyecatcher. The vehicle owner was happy to explain. It is a device commonly in use in Australia, he said. Australia has many large sudden rainstorms which can flood roads and lowlying areas. This tube is called a Snorkel, and prevents the engine from flooding. It also enables the owner to have interesting conversations with California strangers.