I know I promised you a report on our Pellenc Sunflower Weed Abatement Program, but due to the recent and forecasted rain (and snow!), Vineyard Manager Paul Kaselionis and the rest of the vineyard team has put that program on hold for about a month. Instead, I’m going to tell you all about the cover crops we use at JUSTIN.
Cover crops are a very important part of vineyards in the winter months and through the following growing season. Not only do they protect the hillsides from erosion during the rainy season, they also add an extra root system to help with water penetration into the soil and add nitrogen to the soil.
It’s been a good rainy season so far; the early rains established the cover crop (and its root structure), which set the stage perfectly for the later rains (happening now) to soak into the soils.
There are many different types of cover crops (and strategies for planting them); at JUSTIN we use barley, beans, and oats. Dwarf Barley is planted between every other row. We use Dwarf Barley because it grows quickly to help with erosion control, and it has a specialized root structure that is perfect for helping the soil absorb any extra water from heavy rainfall.
Beans and oats are both “nitrogen fixers,” which are plants that, when incorporated into the soil, add nitrogen that the vines will use during the 2011 growing season (Oats also provide erosion control while the beans establish themselves). Later this year, the vineyard team will mow, rip, and disk the cover crops during a three-day period. This grinds up the cover crops and incorporates them (and eventually, their nitrogen) into the soil.
So far this season, we have gotten 24.47 inches of rain. Paul is expecting another three weeks of rain, which will finish out the season near our 30 inch average. The right amount of rain this time of year supports our dry farming practices, and the storms we’ve gotten the past couple weeks have been perfect! When the rains have 2-3 days of sun in between, the water has time to penetrate and filter through (thereby replenishing) the soil.
You may know that parts of Paso Robles got snow this past weekend, including here at JUSTIN! While this was very exciting for our staff (as well as guests who never thought they’d see snow while visiting Wine Country), some wondered if this would have a negative effect on the grapes. Fortunately, in the words of our winemaker, Fred Holloway, “snow equals water, and it’s all good this time of year.”
(Click to enlarge any of the above photos)