Going Organic

IMG_0300It may not escape your attention, but this post is completely out of chronological sequence. My mastery of the WordPress program that generates this website is rudimentary to say the least and I have yet to figure out how to reorder the posts. My “techie” sons are also getting bored of helping me. Anyway, this is about going organic at Thorny Vines which we did around 2014. I have made the odd comment before on the subject of going organic but these were largely tongue in cheek thoughts designed to justify why we were still using chemicals to make our lives easier. Some of our friends especially Helen & Alex Derry, and Synchromesh Wines (who buy our grapes) were having none of it and bombarded us with all sorts of material to convince us that that is exactly what we should be doing, and slowly wore us down.

At the time, we knew little about farming, let alone organic farming, so our first step was to try and understand the rules. There are a couple of agencies which are probably well financed by the government to provide advice to organic wannabes like us, but trying to get them to actually visit us and provide us with the advice proved more difficult than expected. After being stood up several times and several emails which disappeared into the dark web somewhere, we decided to go it alone and hire a consultant to keep us honest. Consultants are typically those guys that prey on your insecurities in order to sell expensive services (that you don’t need) under the premise that they know more about the subject than you do. Most often they don’t. Erich was different, and would probably be offended even being referred to as a consultant, but he been a life-saver to us.

We quickly learned that becoming a certified organic operation would mean reducing the vineyard area by 25 feet around the perimeter of the property. This had some appeal because it would mean considerably less work for us, but it would be costly in terms of reduced production, and possibly loss of farm status which is an important tax consideration. The other issue we became concerned about is the use of pressure-treated wooden posts as these contain all sorts of chemical preservatives including arsenic which leach into the soil. The rules are a bit more sympathetic about this and allow you to call yourself organic once all the arsenic has leached into the soil – usually a period of about three years. I fail to understand the logic behind granting organic certification after you have already poisoned the soil, but there you are!

We are well beyond the three-year waiting period now so the 25 foot “no-man’s land” around the perimeter of the vineyard is now pretty much the only requirement for orgIMG_0268anic status thIMG_0643 Croppedat we do not comply with. Since we cannot influence our neighbors we will remain unofficial for the time being. Where we do comply is by using no pesticides, herbicides, chemical fertilizers or rodent poisons although there are many who subscribe to the theory that spraying with organic Sulphur is just as bad as using chemicals. I can attest to wanting to throw up after spraying with Sulphur, but that is a small price to pay for saving the planet.

In a small operation like ours, there is a fair bit of extra work involved, particularly with weed control. Round-Up and Glyphos are, of course taboo, and concentrated vinegar


Testing The Vinegar Weedkiller

 Testing Vinegar as a Weedkiller

is both expensive and useless. That leaves us with using a weed-Wacker as the only way to get rid of the weeds, and with 2,000 or so vines, navigating around them with a monster weed-Wacker is hard work, particularly when your only helper claims that it is far too heavy for her to be expected to handle. Another problem is that using concentrated seaweed extract or bone/blood meal (both permitted natural fertilizers) makes the place smell like a fish factory or an abattoir depending on the day of the week it happens to be.

But there are many real benefits aside from just feeling good about yourself. The bird, bees and most insects are your friends. Pocket gophers (which I erroneously refer to as moles) are not. Trapping them is more work than pouring poison down their burrows. And then there is disposing of the carcasses. However, I have to admit that the birds do their bit here, and will swoop down and remove them for you as long as you leave them out in the open, and they are not too ripe.

I have developed a number of theories about all this, but I should caution against taking it as gospel because a lot of it could be entirely attributed to coincidence:

1. Shepherd’s Purse (a common weed) at the very least discourages cut-worms if you don’t kill it with chemicals and are careful about the timing of when you deal with it using the weed-Wacker or the mower. It doesn’t look that bad either.

2. Leaving vegetation under the vines also gives the cutworms an alternative food source to the young vine shoots.

3. Letting the grass in the rows grow a bit more gives the leaf-hoppers something other than vine leaves to chew on.

4. Crushed eggshells can be quite effective in discouraging night-crawlers (including cut-worms). Collecting eggshells is a pain, but it is certainly more convenient than getting up in the middle of the night with a flash light and a pair of tweezers to pick them off the shoots.

So going organic is still a bit of an adventure for us, and there may come a time when we have to do something not considered organic to protect the crop, but so far so good.