Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Using chickens and turkeys: Grapes and weeds

I put in some grapes not too long ago, and what a difference 60 days makes.  Here's what it looked like when I planted it:
First week of april, all of the bare-root vines in, trellis constructed
The bane of every farmer is the weeds, and the growth here sure does make me like black plastic mulch!  It kept the growth on all sides of the young grape vines down to a dull roar.  I still did have to do a bit of hand-weeding around each vine, but it was pretty easy and quick.
First week of June
 The areas between the rows are covered in a lush, green covering.  Which isn't really as bad as it seems.  when I planted it I planted alfalfa down the center of each row, for two reasons:  Alfalfa actually adds nitrogen to the soil, and crowds out other weeds.  The picture below illustrates that.   I'm not trying to fight things growing on the fertile ground, I'm just choosing some stuff that provides a little better forage than random volunteer weeds.

There are a few weeds that are making a living trying to out-compete the alfalfa, but it's a losing battle.  My plan is to run chicken and turkey tractors up and down between the rows of vines and have the chickens remove everything; and the alfalfa is actually a favorite forage for the chickens, too. High protein, highly digestible.

One reason I can do this sort of thing is that I'm not going to be selling anything from this vinyard for years; modern contracted farming, where I'd be selling to someone, usually forbids the use or presence of animals in the crop area, and if animals are found, sometimes even prescribes a sacrifice area -- so if a deer walks across your lettuce patch  you might lose 20 or more feet on either side.

the same is true for orchard crops; cherries, peaches, nectarines; orchard owners aren't allowed to run their dogs through.

But I won't have any grapes for a few more years yet, so a bit of chicken labor to keep the vinyard weeds down is a welcome bit of help.  Plus tasty eggs.

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