We always try to opt for the biological solution where possible. This vignette, pertaining to management of our cover crop in the vineyards, illustrates the point I am trying to make.
A major problem for almost every wine farm at this time of the year is a weed called Ramnas, a type of wild radish. It outcompetes the cover crops and will eventually hinder the flow of air through the vineyard (increasing the risk of fungal diseases) and where it grows particularly well it grows higher than the cordon and interferes with vineyard growth.
All weeds are messengers and what ramnas indicates is leached nitrogen. Most artificial fertiliser leaches and ramnas has the ability with it’s long taproot to go and mine the nitrogen. We have ramnas because we are in conversion of our vineyards from conventional to organic and eventually biodynamic management. Spier was conventionally farmed for many, many years. Instead of listening to the messenger, my fellow wine farmers shoot it.
The standard solution to ramnas is to send the tractor in with a bossiekapper(a giant lawnmower). Usually twice a season. This achieves the following:
- Compaction of your soil.
- The ramnas lies on the ground, and because there is no life in the soil because it is chemically farmed, it will take a very long to break down.
- Diesel cost.
- Tractor driver costs.
- The cover crop is also mown which removes the primary reason for having the cover crop in the first place, namely biomass in the vineyard.
- Maintenance costs for the tractor.
What we do is put 237 cattle into 1 hectare and move them twice a day.
There are none of the above mentioned expenses and more importantly there are the following benefits:
- The ramnas has been eaten and gone through the digestive system of the herbivore(not a grainivore) and is therefore bioavailable to the microbes in the soil.
- The cover crop has been eaten by a herbivore which has an enzyme in its spit that stimulates plant growth and so the recovery in the cover crop is tremendous.
- Cattle herdmen cost a lot less than tractor drivers.
- The electric fence that contains the cattle is solar powered and movable.
- An enormous amount of free, microbe friendly fertiliser has been deposited in the vineyard in the form of manure and urine.
PLEASE COMPARE THE TWO PHOTOS BELOW, ONE BEFORE THE CATTLE AND ONE AFTER.
Below is the after