The first step towards effective soil preparation is the soil analysis and pH. Soil samples are collected every year during wither. Many farmers collect soil from 4 different spots of the field, and they make a good mix of those. The sample is then sent to the laboratory for analysis. The soil analysis will reveal any nutrient deficiencies so that the farmer can take corrective actions under the guidance of a local licensed agronomist. In many cases, it is beneficial to add 8-10 tons of well-rotted chicken manure per hectare and plow well a couple of months before planting. In cases of severe nutrient deficiencies, farmers can apply slow-release soil fertilizer N-P-K 20-20-20 (400 lbs. or 180 kg per hectare) at the same time or a couple of weeks after planting and irrigate well the young seedlings. Keep in mind that 1 ton = 1000 kg = 2.200 lbs. and 1 hectare = 2,47 acres = 10.000 m2.
In general, grapevines thrive in a wide variety of soils due to the several different cultivars available. Grapevines have strong drought tolerance. In fact, some high-quality wine producers prefer not to irrigate their grapes at all, provided there will be many rainy days during the growing period.
As optimum growing soil conditions, many farmers suggest loose well-drained soils with a small percentage of gravel. In such soil types, it is easy for the vine to develop its roots vertically as well as horizontally. Proper drainage and aeration are also good in this type of soils. In general, soils with clay content over 25% should be avoided. A sufficient content in CaCO3 and organic matter also gives better results, although again there are varieties with totally different requirements. Most varieties grow best in 6.5-7.5 pH levels, although there are varieties that can tolerate pH levels from 4,5 to 8,5 under special handling. Tolerance in salinity levels largely depends on the variety.
Nowadays, technology offers the opportunity to examine soil characteristics, using chemical soil analysis, as well as GPS and GIS systems. By taking advantage of the unique technological capacities, we are now able to have detailed reports of the field topography, soil structure and levels on the potential depth of the roots. We are also able to collect data regarding CaCO3 and organic matter content, macro and micronutrients, pH and salinity levels and all the information we need in order to make fact-based decisions regarding all the cultivation techniques.
The basic soil preparation starts with plowing. Most producers remove any previous cultivation remainings and weeds many weeks before the vines planting. Plowing improves soil aeration and drainage. At the same time, plowing removes rocks and other undesirable materials from the soil. However, plowing may also cause unpleasant consequences, mainly in inclined fields. If we plow deeply at that type of fields, we will most probably cause erosion effect. In addition, heavy plowing may bring on surface inappropriate subsoil components. A crucial step in soil preparation for grapes plants is the address of the inclined field. Grape farming in fields with steep slope will most probably force water to rinse from upper levels and gather in lower levels causing water-soaked conditions. In general, in cases of heavy inclined fields (20% or more), it is suggested to form terraces.
Most farmers integrate top dressing at the day of planting, using tillage tractors and rippers. Some producers prefer to apply top dressing only across the lines they are going to plan, while others apply it on the entire soil. Of course, the first method is more cost-saving.
Cover Crops in Vineyards
Cover Crops in grape farming is a controversial issue. You can find fanatic supporters and fanatic enemies of this approach. We know from theory that cover crops, in general, tend to reduce soil erosion during heavy rains or wind storms. They also suppress weeds, improve soil aeration, and orchard stability, while some of them fix nitrogen. Finally, they work as a filter for crop irrigation, and they adjust the farm’s temperature. Alfalfa, vetch, legumes, lupin, barley, peas and Trifolium fragiferum (strawberry clover) have been found to be beneficial when they are planted as cover crops in some orchards and vineyards. However, in some cases, grape farmers reported that cover crops increased pest population, increased the risk of various diseases, and decreased soil moisture. Every vineyard farmer must make a detailed research on the need for cover crops as well as the time of cover crop seeding. Many farmers proceed to the seeding of cover crops 4-6 years after planting the vines.
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Soil Requirements and Preparation for Grapevine Farming
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