The grapes are all harvested, the leaves are changing colors and they are beginning to fall from the vines; all signs that another growing season has come and gone at Talley Vineyards and it is time to put the vineyard blocks to bed. It seems like we should kick back after picking the fruit (and it would be super great if we could), but this is a very important and busy time in the vineyard. This is the time when we rip vineyard rows and spread compost and, most importantly of all, we sow our cover crops.
Our cover crops are hugely valuable to our vineyards in a multitude of ways. For one, they root in the soil and keep sediment from eroding downhill, preserving the soil structure of our vineyards and neighboring roads. They also attract beneficial bugs, such as lacewings, as well as beneficial mycorrhizae with their roots. Mycorrhizae are “the symbiotic association between a fungus and the roots of a vascular host plant.” These fungi colonize the root system, making it easier for plants to absorb water and nutrients, which is clearly vital.
The types of cover crops we plant vary based on the unique needs of individual vineyard blocks. The majority of our blocks are planted with a legume and oat seed mix. The legumes are great for adding nitrogen to the soil that will be used during the vine growing season. The oats add organic matter to our vineyards’ soils and, in turn, the bacteria and fungi in the soil decompose the organic matter, releasing carbon dioxide and nutrients that the vines can use. Some vineyard blocks get a cover crop of oats, vetch, and beans. This particular seed mix is helpful in the same ways as the legume and oats, but is additionally good for aerating soils with the deep root system of the vetch plants. This aeration helps break down heavy clay soils, helping us when it comes time for tillage in the spring.
It isn’t easy to be busy sowing cover crop when everyone is tired after harvest. However, we know that the work we do now is vital to the health of our vineyards and will benefit us in the long run.