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Photo Essay: Spring Cleaning in the Vineyard

Between winter's worries about rain and frost and summer's worries about ripening lies a busy but often overlooked spring season where we have about a month to clean up the vineyard.  This spring cleaning mostly involves making decisions about whether to mow, disk or spade our cover crop into the earth, and then cleaning up area under the vine rows so that we can get in later to apply nutrients or minerals.  It also involves removing any suckers -- unwanted sprouts on the grapevines -- that will draw off the vine's vigor and impede the easy access of light and air later to the fruit in the summer.  And this year's cover crop has been one of the thickest and lushest in memory:

Lush cover crop

The beginning of this growing season has been wonderful for vigor: we haven't had any frost, and the late rain has meant that everything (vines and surface plants) is green and growing fast.  The extra vigor now will serve the vines well this summer but it increases the pressure on us to get going before the cover crops get up at the level of the new growth and start to inhibit air flow and encourage the growth of mildew spores.  First we go through and either disk (left) or spade (right).  Disking is faster, but spading tills deeper and does a better job of breaking up the soil.

Disked Spaded but not tournesoled

Then we follow with the Tournesol, a tractor attachment that tills among the vine rows without uprooting plants, wires, or posts.  When we're done, it should looks like this:

All clean

We'd hoped to get a jump on this work last month, but one downside of the April rains is that last month's work will largely have to be redone.  In the photo below you can see on the right a row that was spaded this week, and on the left a row that was spaded last month and in which the rain encouraged a new regrowth of the cover crop:

Spading old and new

We use several different mixes of cover crops, each including various grains, legumes and ground covers to provide (respectively) biomass, nitrogen fixation, and erosion conrtrol.  In one of the sections, we used a barley-heavy mix, and with the gentle winter we're seeing more robust barley growth than we ever have before.  So, we've also been harvesting and drying this cover crop to provide supplemental food for our animals.  Below, the barley-rich cover crop (on the left) and one of the ears of barley (on the right):

Barley cover crop Barley ear

We are cutting the barley and leaving it to dry in the sun, then tying it into sheaves and bringing it into our shadehouses, from where we'll use it to supplement the foraged grasses that our grazing herd will eat this summer:

Barley harvest

We've been trying to make our vineyard as self-sufficient as possible (hence the grazing herd in the first place) and being able to feed the animals with our own cover crops, even when we aren't able to leave either animals or cover crops in the vineyard, gets us one step closer.

The transformation of the vineyard from its winter shag to its summer trim is happening fast.  We hope to have it done by Memorial Day.