Winter is a wonderful time of the year. Time to wrap up, eat rich, heavy foods – and to reflect.
I’ve been thinking that it’s now nearly six years that we’ve been applying biodynamic principles in our vineyard and by far the most difficult management issue with this type of farming has been the ‘under-vine’ management.
In conventional farming practices it is normal to simply spray herbicide once or twice a year in the under-vine region to keeps this area tidy, clean and weed-free.
Unfortunately, this immaculate, herbicide-denuded area at the base of the vines is also a desert in terms of biodiversity. The chronic use of herbicides not only clears out all the undergrowth beneath the vines, but over time, it wipes out all the little beneficial critters, such as earthworms, that dwell in the soil.
When you decide to farm organically or biodynamically, you have to develop other strategies to deal with the undergrowth beneath the vines. You can regularly till that soil, or destroy the weeds with heat or steam or try to smother them with mulch. Or you can simply let the weeds and herbs and grasses take over. This latter option sounds perfect, but in reality the new growth under the vine can very readily get out of control and adversely compete with the vines that you are cultivating.
If this new under-vine growth is particularly heavy on water demand, you might even run into a relative ‘drought’ problem with the actual vines struggling to survive. Double-click the adjacent image, which was taken in my vineyard two seasons ago, and you’ll get a clearer image of the potential problem.
I have used various techniques to attempt to control the under-vine growth that include my Italian under-vine mower that slides in and out under the vine, whipper snippers and weeding by hand. None of these tools are perfect and each has their own specific disadvantages. For two successive seasons, I have also used the services of sheep over the winter period and at last it seems that a combination of all these tools might produce the best results.
Lovely picture of sheep working away in the winter vineyard.
And this image shows what a great job they’ve done.
And here is a picture of Bacchus who is exhausted from lying there and watching the sheep. Hope you all have a wonderful winter – Just looking at that first frosty pic, and I was about to wish you a wonderful Christmas!