Why we use Cover Crops

Cover crops are annuals planted in between vine rows for a variety of reasons. We use them to protect the soil from erosion, provide a habitat for beneficial insects, and to improve soil fertility and structure. Cover crops are extremely helpful in building up the soil’s ecology by adding back “green manure” when they are eventually mowed and cultivated into the soil in the Spring. This year we are using an alternate row cultivation approach to minimize tillage of our healthy soils. Many people love the clean look of a cultivated vineyard, but there is a lot of debate over how often cultivation should be used. Most soil ecologists believe it can be harmful to the biology of a soil by creating anaerobic environments and inhibiting the creation of rich humus. We select our cover crop species to provide a nourishing mix of nitrogen-fixing annuals (e.g. magnus peas, barley, oats, vetch) which will help build the soil food web. It’s usually added in the Fall, after harvest, just before the rains come. By December, our cover crop is usually well on its way, and this year I think we’ve hit a record height. In nearly every block the cover crop is at least waist high, and in some places it is chest high! I guess we’re doing something right with the soils. No wonder there are so many earthworms, which is a good sign.