(Note to the reader: Attached is the complete final report for FNE01-366.)
This project addresses how best to increase organic matter in vineyards by finding an economical way to apply chopped or short straw and compost. The goals were improved water and fertilizer retention, less soil erosion, and better weed suppression. As organic matter reaches adequate levels, there would also be a need for less fertilizer and herbicide. As a result, there would be more vigorous vines and a larger and more stable crop.
The farmer tested the application of compost under the trellis and chapped straw in the middle of the row. It will likely take several years to see the cumulative benefits, although the farmer reports that he anticipates seeing some results in the second season.
Test plot layout: Dalrymple laid out four different treatment to be repeated five time. Twenty soil tests were taken to establish a baseline, both surface and subsoil, under the trellis, and in the middle of the row. Soil test results on request.
Materials: Dalrymple used round bales and made his own compost using a mushroom soil (peat moss, straw, and horse manure) as a base and adding other material to it.
Machines: To apply the compost, Dalrymple used a Mill Creek Row Mulcher, which he reports works well for applying material under the trellis. The straw chopper was designed and built by the farmer so as to handle a large round bale, unroll it, chop it, and deposit the chopped straw in the middle of the row. For more background on how this chopper was constructed, call or e-mail Northeast SARE for narrative and photos.
While the early results are not definitive, Dalrymple is sure that this technique will be beneficial to other growers; the building of organic matter in the soil is a slow process. He intends to continue the project for many years to come. Some of his observations on the project include:
A cost-effective source of compost was problematic, but with the growing interest and expertise in composting, he is confident that this shortage will abate in the near future.
Care should be taken that the bales do not bring any more weed seeds into the vineyard than necessary. “By baling my own straw, I was able to control weeds and also control how thick the mat in the round bale is,” he says.
The farmer plans to expand the technique to other vineyards on his farm, and hopes to use the technique to control grape aging differences and mediate the up-and-down production cycles where a smaller crop typically follows a large one.
To inquire about longer-range results, contact the farmer directly.