Soil & Vineyard Floor Management
On this page we review the annual tasks (except fertilising) for maintaining the soil and vineyard floor:
Cover Crops are plants, mostly grasses and legumes, that cover the vineyard floor
Ripping & Tilling is about removing weeds from the vineyard floor and aerating the soil
Mowing is about keeping the cover crop dense and short to see rodent activity
Weeding is about removing vegetation that competes for nutrition and sunlight
During winter we grow a cover crop on the vineyard floor, mostly perennial clover. This prevents erosion during the winter rains, replenishes the soil with nutrients (mostly nitrogen). The selection of cover crops and the practices to manage them are complicated, and I don’t yet understand them adequately. The resources section refers to a good book on the subject: “Cover Cropping in Vineyards”. We introduced cover crops around 2005 when we decided to stop spraying the vineyard floor with herbicides to control weeds (not a healthy practice).
Tilling & Ripping
After pruning round 1, usually late February, we till in the cover crop and weeds under each row of vines with a rotary tiller that can be manoeuvred around the vine trunks and trellis posts (Weedbadger Model 4000-SST attached to a John Deere 3720 ). Prior to 2004, we used pre-emergents and weedkillers (Roundup) to prevent the growth of cover-crop under the wines. While this was efficient in terms of labour, we realized it was harmful to the vines and vegetation around, so we switched to mechanical tilling.
In May we re-till under the vines with a small hand-held tiller on wheels to eliminate the remaining grasses and regrowth (we use a Stihl MM55C).
We rip the ground between the vines every 5-10 years to reduce compaction from the tractor, to aerate the soil, which helps to keep it healthy and to destroy gopher burrows. We can only rip in late spring when the soil is still moist – in summer; the soil is too hard to get the ripper to a depth of 2 feet, in winter the soil is too soft for the heavy the tractor.
From January through April we mow the cover crop every 1-2 weeks between the vine rows to promote growth and to detect gopher mounds (we use a John Deere X749). There are two benefits of regular mowing: a) the cover crop grows more densely and b) when the grass is cut low you can easily identify the new gopher mounds (see Wild Life Control)
We remove weeds under the vines. In the lower field, we do that by mechanical tilling as described above. In the upper field, we weed by hand because of the terracing. This is very labour intensive. The picture shows the upper vineyard after the rows have been tilled between the vines and the weeds have been removed under the vines (only the cover crop, clover remains).
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Last updated: December 8, 2018