Monday, December 10, 2007

Planting The Cover Crop

Last Friday (Dec. 7) we were blessed with another rainy day (that's two Fridays in a row in a drought plagued land) so the plan for the weekend was more digging, terracing and sewing a cover crop. Planting a cover crop on a steep slope is an intersting proposition (some would say "foolish"), especially since I can't get a lawn mower, much less a tractor, up there to cut it once it grows. Planting a cover crop is asking for more work -- how will I find the time to maintain it? And what if the seeds migrate down to the vines? More trouble. On the other hand, having a natural barrier of grasses or flowers will help control erosion and return nutrients back into the ground. So this year, I decided to experiment. I picked a couple of relatively flat areas (which are rare in our vineyard) to give it a try. If it turns out disastrous, I'm only looking at problems in 2 rows out of 40. As the earth was moist from the rains, I was able to combed her easily with the rake, creating a path down the center of the selected rows. I spread some annual grass seed, and covered with hay. Temperatures were in the 40s on Sunday (cool by California standards) with clear views to snow capped mountains to the North and out to Catalina Island in the Pacific to the West -- with very few birds except for circling hawks. (One of my concerns was that this effort would simply result in a feast for crows .) The clay and decomposed granite that make up most of the the Blue-Merle Vineyard drain quickly, and by Sunday evening, the muddy & moist areas that I had raked earlier in the morning had begun to dry. (I was beginning to wonder if I would need to water the seed after all of that rain.) The seed has been set; let's see what takes. (Hopefully, we will not find grass sprouting at the base of the vines -- but an emerald green carpet running straight down the row, accenting the land with the promise of spring to come.)

Gustavo came out and inspected the routes for delivering a 20 ton truck-load of rock, slate, ledger, mortar, rebar and concrete blocks for continuing our work on The Great Wall. He thinks he can maneuver a fork lift onto key areas of the property, and make the drop. His planned date: This Friday. Although we survived the second set of heavy rains without catastrophe, there is erosion, and the retaining walls will be helpful long term. "Vineyard is art" and the retaining walls are the frame.

Will the fork lift get stuck in the mud? Will weeds sprout faster than the cover crop and take over? How will we cut the grass if it starts growing? If we hire the neighbors goats to graze the grass, will they eat the vines instead? Will rains continue next week, eliminating the mandate for growers to cut their irrigation by 30% next year?

January 3rd, 2008 -- update on the cover crop. The seed has taken root and there are paths of green where we sowed. Another winter storm is on the way. Fidel says he wants to spray "roundup" herbicide to kill the weeds that are also beginning to show their green tops -- he'll try to kill everything green that isn't a vine. We've got to keep that sprayer from him. So far so good on the cover crop-- as I have 15 lbs. of grass seed left over, I may sow some more this weekend after the first rain (as the earth has turned rockhard again after three weeks of no rain).

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