Exploring VA Wines, Wining & Dining

Full Speed Farming!

Full Speed Farming!

By Doug Fabbioli
One of the parts of farming that I learned is how important timing is in the success of your operation. It’s best to work the weeds when they are small because the work is fast. Once those weeds get big, the energy has been absorbed in the weeds rather than the crop. If the weeds get high, they are difficult to remove with a tiller or hoe and have taken sunlight away from the crop as well. When grapevines are young, that weed control is critical to the health of those small plants. Between grow tubes, herbicide and hand labor, we need to keep the weeds at bay and encourage the early season growth of the vines. This spring, we had lots of rain to keep those young vines growing, but the weeds got plenty to drink as well. So the pressure was up to keep things clean on the vineyard floor.

The key part to being successful with the timing factors is scouting. I do regular visits to the 9 farms that we manage. I will be walking or golf cart driving down the rows looking for insect damage, diseases, canopy needs, nutritional deficiencies and plant progress through the season. This scouting is part of the integrated pest management program that we apply. We will take action against bugs or diseases or weeds by identifying the problem as well as the extent of the problem.

So let’s get back to our timing issue. Another area we need to keep up on is the canopy of those vines. We tuck new shoots of the vines into catch wires to train them into a “solar panel” of leaves that gather energy to ripen our fruit. But we also want sunshine and airflow around the fruit clusters. When the shoots are short, there is nothing to tuck but if they get too long, it’s like a jungle and you are wrestling with them trying to make some sort of sense of the tangled shoots. With the new vines, we want to train and protect the young shoots in order to have the trunks for the future years. If we lose those shoots, it may add another year before we get crop off of those vines.

The Japanese Beetle and other bugs can be a problem as well. We need to use pesticides in our farming operation to control these along with mildew and weeds. Many applications are organic, but because a few are not, certified organic grape growing is nearly impossible in the Mid-Atlantic region. Timing on this part of the process is vital to chemical effectiveness and usage. Spray when the bugs will best be effected by the application. Know what the problem is beforehand. Continue to monitor your crops in order to be successful.

Farming is one of our oldest professions. Generations ago, a major portion of our population farmed. With technology, much more can be produced from the land with fewer hands. However, the farmer has had to learn a lot more over the years in order to be effective with that technology. We only get one growing season per year, so a mistake in timing can be quite costly. I finally understand the phrase “make hay while the sun shines.” Make the most of every day and catch your breath when you get the chance.

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