Growing Practices While Practicing Growing
I always enjoyed the joke about a lawyer telling a 12 year old that he has been practicing law for 30 years. The youngster asks when he will be able to actually do it and stop practicing. So it can be with agriculture. It may be a play on words, but it is a practice similar to medicine, law as well as other evolving fields where science, logic, research, psychology, economics and humanity has constant influence on current and future practices. This is a little write up on agricultural practices for wine grapes growing in the Mid Atlantic region and across the world.
The most important thing to recognize is how young our grape growing industry is here on the East Coast. Our climate is closest to regions of France but it is still different. Many of the best vineyards of France are grown using biodynamic practices. These methods integrate the land, the products from the land as well as cycles of the moon in order to make the most of the efforts the farmers put into practice.
These include making and spraying compost teas and attacking the weeds according to the cycle of the moon. Practices like this are “new age” but also very “old school” dating back to before the industrialization of farming. Organic agriculture of grapes here on the East Coast has been attempted by a number of growers but with hurricanes and high humidity, it is not sustainable to maintain the certification. Each country has its own standards for the organic certification. Sometimes the organic practice is not best for the long term health of the land. Conventional grape growing involves application of fungicides to the vines, herbicides to the weeds and insecticides when the bugs need to be addressed. Many of these chemicals are certified organic. Some are not technically organic but are organically derived.
Most of the forward thinking growers here try to combine bits and pieces of each practice into a model that works for the health of the plant, the quality of the crop, the health of the soil and the sustainability of the business. A vineyard, like an orchard or other perennial crops, will be in the same spot for a generation or more, so maintaining the soil as well as the plant is critical to success. Mono crops on a farm have been identified as a cause for out of balance soils. Weeds and animals can help with the diversification. Cover crops can be planted between the vines to help keep the balance as well as running sheep and goats in the vineyard during the off season. These practices can add nutrients back to the soil and the action of animal hoofs can help integrate the nutrients into the soil. Compost from our local horses, cattle and llamas are spread in the vineyard to bring up the organic matter along with the macro and micro nutrients.
We all have a long way to go as far as learning what works “best.” The practices will continue to evolve and the consumers will make their choices for flavor and favorites. Enjoy our ride of learning and improving, it is always an education.
Written by: Doug Fabbioli