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Vineyard Newsletter

17 March 2020

buckwheat at cloudy bay.250x0

Sowing a cover crop is a wonderful way to work with nature on various issues in the vineyard.

Cover crops can be used for weed control, erosion control, building healthy and fertile soils, attracting beneficial insects etc. By choosing the right type or combination of cover crop various boxes can be ticked at the same time.

The idea of sowing Buckwheat to attract beneficial insects into the vineyard is fabulous and plenty of people have done so in the past successfully. Buckwheat is usually planted after the last frost. It thrives in cooler seasons and will establish quickly (starting to flower usually 6 weeks after sowing) smothering warm season annual weeds. It`s also believed that Buckwheat has an allelopathic weed suppressing effect, which is very useful to know. Furthermore, Buckwheat has a dense fibrous root system allowing the plant to scavenger nutrients in particular P and other minor nutrients which aren`t available to other plants until buckwheat residue breaks down. While growing, its roots produce mild acids that release the nutrients from the soil. The acids also activate slow releasing fertilisers such as RPR.

During recent year`s Buckwheat has worked brilliantly in most vineyards here in Marlborough. The heat and dry weather have kept the buckwheat short with plenty of flowers on offer. All benefits could be seen. This year we were experiencing a cold spring and summer, which has allowed the buckwheat to grow into large plants causing issues with powdery mildew in the rows for the first time in a local vineyard who has been using it before for many years.

What can we all learn from this season to help manage the Buckwheat in the interrow better in years to come?

  • What worked last year doesn`t necessarily work next season, so keep monitoring and check weather predictions for your area.
  • Be prepared to adjust your management. Is the prediction looking likely to be on the cold side again? Either delay planting time or manage Buckwheat differently. Buckwheat can be mowed and will regrow if cut before it reaches 25% bloom. Check height of the last growing points, you don`t want to cut below. Because Buckwheat is so quick to establish it could also be rolled at beginning of flowering, if timing is correct the plant will keep growing and flowering closer to the soil surface. You could also oversow at this time extending the total flowering period.
  • The sowing rate should be dense enough to outcompete other weeds, if this is the main reason you are using the plant in the interrow for. At the same time, it should be light enough to allow air and sun to get to each plant. That way each individual can stretch and grow into a healthy plant, vine included.
  • Planting Buckwheat in a mix with other plant species, which are also attracting to beneficial insects such as lacewings, ladybirds etc rather than another monoculture sward is an option.

Tall species could be mowed if needed to increase the airflow between the rows with small species still flowering and providing food and habitat.

Increasing biodiversity in the vineyard by introducing plant communities has many benefits, agroforestry principles can be used here.

I trust there are plenty of cover crops going into the soil again this autumn/ winter. Healthy soils are needed to grow healthy produce, vine included. We have been working against mother nature for many years. It takes time to overcome an addiction and to grow healthy soils and environments the mother nature way. I would like to encourage you to keep cover cropping and increase biodiversity, above and in the soil. It will take time to see the benefit`s but they will show one day.

Regards Maren

16 October 2019

What a season so far….

September has been very busy for me with 6 workshops on cover crops organised through OWNZ up and down the country, on top of the usual business.

After the Organic conference held in July here in Blenheim and the amount of people who have attended these September workshops I can confidently say: “The wave of change has well and truly reached NZ.”. The regenerative farming community is actively sharing their experiences on various occasions as well, which is great to see.

The ”new” interest in cover cropping is immense. I must say even after 9 years the topic still fascinates myself. The amount of species available and combinations possible are incredible. It just doesn`t get boring and there is always something which could be done different the next time to improve the system even further.

MPI has proposed a “control – management system ” to overcome the freshwater – nitrogen leaching issue caused through overstocking and overuse of urea applications. The restrictions and costs involved to farmers and taxpayers in the government proposal are unbelieveable.

Yes, this is an issue, which needs to be sorted out, but is this the way?

At every introduction course for parenthood they teach you that shouting, control and punishment aren`t a good solution to a problem but education and support when required, will help to grow young responsible and reflecting people.

Why aren`t we focusing more on education at schools and all universities on how to produce food in a sustainable, reflecting way? Why aren`t we setting up backup structures to support the farmer during difficult times? It takes time and support to heal the wounds of drug addiction. It takes consideration and strength to turn down the dealer.

Many NZ farmers are today already working closer with nature, not against nature.

To build healthy soil, to support beneficial insects (including bees, ladybirds, lacewings) with shelterbelts, whereever possible is so important for future food production. Grains, veggies, fruit, vine and meat included.

Cover cropping, permanent multispecies mixes, communication and reflection have the potential to solve issues like the nitrogen leaching caused through general miseducation and the chemical industry.

We might be able to travel more easily to the Moon and Mars in the future but home will always be planet Earth and it`s our home we need to look after as much as the people that live on it, including producers and consumers.

Submissions to freshwater proposals will be accepted up until the 30th of October, email your submission directly to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Regards Maren

28 May 2019

Time for a newsletter


Autumn 2016 Lachy Hynd (local Farmlands) and I put our heads together.
The idea was to find an alternative approach to continuous herbicide applications undervine for obvious reasons.
I have come up with a couple of different mixes, and together with Lachy, spread the seed undervine in a local vineyard end of May 2016.
Since then we have inspected the trial block multiple times, added a few more rows with different mixes (August 2017) and Lachy has collected some additional data on nutrient levels through leaf analysis.
Yes, available nutrients were lower in the first year after sowing but this was less obvious in the second year, presumably because the vines have established deeper feeding roots.
Beck`s from Soil Matters joined us and will keep taking samples to yield any valuable data.
Today Lachy and his team measured the pruning weights again to add to the existing data for comparison. Bunch weights need more time to see any trends in vigour.

A couple of other local vine growers have also put in some trial rows and so far the feedback is very positive.
Living mulches are a very valuable management tool in vineyards and orchards, especially when we are heading towards dryer summers with lots of water restrictions. 
This seems an “outside the square” idea, as common belief is to keep as much soil bare to avoid water competition to vines.
 
But imagine this:
The soil surface is cooler under the sward and the organic matter is increasing in the soil. This increase results in a better water holding ability and leads to increased microbial activity and will in time benefit the nutrient cycle.
Weeds (incl. wild carrots and mallows) are being suppressed by the living mulch sown. 
The sward will also take up surplus moisture during the year, can help to regulate very vigorous canopies through competition and as a result will reduce the botrytis levels in the vines. Lachy`s data confirms this.
In March 2019 another great benefit of living mulch became obvious- it appears that vines with a living mulch have less mealybugs in comparison to adjacent weed sprayed vines. (Plant and Food in co-operation with Kiwi Seed is looking at this matter as well.) The mealy bugs are still present in the block but seem happy enough to stay in the undervine area. There is obviously no reason for them to climb up onto the vines. We`ll look at this again next year.
 
Please feel free to contact for a chat or quote on this matter. The results we got are so positive they are worth considering under every management system.

See you at the conference next month.
Regards Maren

01 April 2018

Cover crops are becoming more fashionable and so they should be for very good reasons.