The return of warmer weather heralds the moment to start sowing our cover crops on land destined to eventually be planted with a new vineyard or orchard. In the life of a farm, it’s important to let land rest between two crops (in our case it usually lasts 5 to 7 years). This is called leaving a field in fallow.
This time after uprooting the orchard, we took soil samples in order to get a read on the composition and the needs of that particular plot of land. We then selected plant species in function of those factors, making sure that each of them brings different benefits to the life of the resting soil. It goes to say, these choices can be completely different from one plot to another and from one year to another.
In the first year of fallow, we’ve chosen to seed a mixture of 9 species
– Rye, a member of the cereal grass family, produces plenty of biomass, both above and below ground. It is also rich in carbon, which is the energy used by soil microorganisms. This is vital in creating humus, a genuine storehouse of nutrients for the life of the soil and the plants it supports.
– The remaining eight species are from the legume family. They fix nitrogen with their roots and then release it into the soil when they die. Nitrogen is necessary for the development of plant tissues. It’s for plants what protein is for us. Another benefit is that they’re very useful in reducing the populations of nematodes (invisible worms harmful to the vine).
This diverse cover crop will not be tilled at the end of the year, but rather enriched each year with additional plant species in function of the evolution of the soil’s needs and how well the previous year’s seedlings established themselves. Some possible additions are:
– crucifers (carrots, mustards, etc…), thanks to their pivoting root systems, have the ability to decompact the soil as they extract mineral elements that are more difficult for vines to access (such as phosphorus).
– tubers (turnips, yams, etc…) create a lot of biomass, particularly underground. They also loosen the soil and constitute water reserves which are slowly released when they die.
Each plant species plays a different role in the life of this soil. In addition, the variation of life cycles of these nine species offers pollinating insects a steady supply of melliferous flowers. That’s to say, they’ll have access to flowers that produce good quantities of nectar and/or pollen for the better part of the year.
It is essential that soil always be covered and the right choice of plants sown during its fallow period will help nourish, protect and preserve the soil for the new vineyard. This is our way of helping it start off on the right foot with Mother Nature. We’re looking forward to seeing how this field will grow and are eager to share its evolution with you in the years to come!
Image * : In the background, the naturally established fallow field consists mainly of weeds and dandelions. In the foreground is a fallow field we have seeded.
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