Sunday, May 31, 2009

Sustainable farming practices in modern viticulture


There are many definitions but what they all have in common is that sustainable farming means:

  • Strong environmental health
  • Positive and viable return on investment
  • Friendly farming practices that nurture the human community

Twenty years ago in a California vineyard the area between the rows of vines was clean without a blade of grass or a weed, just knobby vines. The only way to achieve that was to damage the soil with rodent poison, spraying potent herbicides to kill unwanted foliage and applying powerful insecticides to vanquish the bug world

Today many vineyard managers utilizing sustainable farming methods, partner with owls, hawks, bats and other wildlife to protect their vineyards and use cover crops to encourage “good bugs” and protect the soil. They avoid use of insecticides, chemical fertilizers and rodent poisons.

Feathered Friends at Work
Erecting nesting boxes for owls and perch poles attract owls and raptors such as hawks that provide 24-hour patrol (hawks feed during the day, owls at night) that effectively keep the rodent population under control.

Bats and Birds
Vines like any agricultural crop are under attack by insects day and night. By erecting bat boxes, a vineyard can attract up to 1000 bats. Bats are big eaters, consuming anywhere between 15 and 25 percent of their weight per night as they cruise over the vineyards. Songbird houses throughout the vineyards attract insect eating birds such as swallows and bluebirds that feed during the day and thus provide for day and night protection.

Cover Crops
Another key part of farming sustainably is the use of cover crops. Today cover crops such as clover, vetch, oats and other vegetation create a lively habitat for the good bugs that eat the bad bugs. Specifically spiders and ladybugs naturally prey on vine-blighting insects such as leafhoppers and sharpshooters. The cover crops also control erosion and choke back the weeds that are not wanted. They also control the vigor of the vine and enrich the soil with nitrogen and other nutrients at the end of their lifecycle.
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For more info:

California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance

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