Phasing out the habitual use of herbicide is inevitable for various reasons that we all know and as farmers we have a duty to protect the soils that we ‘borrow’ from mother nature to grow our crops in. Whilst there is no recipe to sustainable vineyard management, I like to simplify the theories into practical, workable solutions.
Weed [wēd] noun Weeds (plural noun)
a wild plant growing where it is not wanted and in competition with cultivated plants.
In an ideal world, one would eradicate weed control altogether and allow nature to take its course. If left to its own devices though, nature will maintain a balanced ecosystem allowing all plants to grow in harmony, while we want our vines to dominate the field. Thus, I find weed control in the early years of a sustainable vineyard is essential to giving the vines a head start in getting established. A strip of thick compost mulch laid onto the bare soil soon after planting helps suppress weeds for a while in the first season and contributes organic matter where it is usually lacking after pre-planting land preparation. Organic matter is key to kickstarting the soil regeneration process.
As soon as weeds start to take hold under-vine, run through the vineyard with something like the Braun Rolle Hacke disc, it’s cost effective and super quick with very shallow soil disruption. In the meantime, sow the alleyways with a diverse cover crop to suit your soil using a no-till drill. Select plants with varying root types and depths to encourage microbial and earthworm activity in all soil horizons. Repeat passes with the Rolle Hacke are often necessary to keep a clean slate under-vine while they establish. Offence is the best defence so don’t allow the weeds to take hold or you will be tempted to revert to herbicide use.
Once your trunks have established and the vines have secured dominance, the weeds will be of lesser competition but it’s still prudent to keep them under control whilst you regenerate the soil food web during the vine establishment years.
Once your soils are healthy and alive again, and conditions are favourable, weeds are no longer ‘weeds’. Instead, they perform nature’s intended purpose; they feed the soil food web (fungi, bacteria, nematodes, protozoa, earthworms, mycorrhiza…the list is endless), promote microbial activity, help regulate soil temperature and sequester Carbon.
Monitoring soil health is key to understanding where you are in the journey of soil regeneration and once you are confident that you have a healthy community of beneficial organisms, it may be time to switch to under-vine mowing and mow-and-throw solutions to nurture a low growing cover crop under the vines and maintain airflow throughout the canopy. The cover crop and your vines will develop a symbiotic relationship if conditions are good and the healthy ecosystem restored.
Steering away from cultural practices that have become the norm over decades can be a cumbersome task, but with a calculated approach one can achieve the desired effects and go herbicide free with relative ease and reap the benefits for years to come.
#Englishwine #Englishvineyard #herbicidefree #SustainableAgriculture #SoilManagement