Soil Health

Reducing inputs: cover crops, mulching and biodiversity with Luke Spalding at Everflyht Vineyard

Reducing inputs: cover crops, mulching and biodiversity with Luke Spalding at Everflyht Vineyard 2000 1333 Sectormentor

Luke is running fascinating trials at Everflyht Vineyard, which we had the pleasure of seeing when we visited in August 2019. He sees the positive management of ecology as an investment in the long-term health of the vineyard. Improving soil carbon and biodiversity kick-starts natural cycles, building healthy soil which supports healthy vines, and healthy vines require fewer inputs. We love to see a vineyard working with nature in this way!

Reducing herbicides with under vine mulching
Luke is exploring an alternative weed control to herbicides; he hand weeded several rows in May and laid out straw under the vines as a mulch layer. The straw suppresses and smothers out weeds, as they are shielded from light and air. It’s working well, although there are a few drawbacks – the straw is expensive and it’s time consuming doing the initial weeding and laying it out. The straw they tried this year is specially formulated by Leeds University; it is infused with iron, magnesium and a natural slug repellent. One herbicide application is still required at the end or the beginning of the season, but this is a good reduction from the 2-3 applications in rows without straw mulch (which also have a healthy crop of thistles underneath!). Luke feels this method has great potential, particularly if the cost of straw can be reduced and if the weed burden gets lighter and lighter each year in the mulched rows as is predicted.

Mulching straw also benefits soil health under the vines, as it covers the soil which prevents soil moisture from evaporating (particularly useful if you’re in a drier, hotter climate). It provides a source of organic matter as it gradually decomposes, which stimulates and feeds the microbial community in the soil which in turn release nutrients for the vines to take up. Applying any herbicides or chemicals disrupts microbial activity, and so making an effort to reduce these inputs helps the natural cycles to start working with you. 

Encouraging biodiversity and soil health with cover crops
In between the rows Luke seed drilled a deep rooting cover crop of red clover, buckwheat, phacelia, cocksfoot grass and ryegrass. The phacelia sprung up tall, dramatically increasing the number of pollinators to the point where two bee hives have naturally formed on the outskirts of the vineyard in old rabbit warrens! The original seed mix only had 20% grasses but they turned out to be very vigorous growers, out competing nearly all the other plants in the mix. Luke mows the grass strips in between the vines every 2-3 weeks and the cuttings are discharged out from the sides of the mower and straight under the vines, creating a green mulch on the soil (and adding to the straw mulch where this is being trialled). Read this paper about floor management and how green mulch is can improve fruit set!

Although cocksfoot grass is great as the roots go down around 40cm Luke plans to reseed the cover crop mix in between the vines to regain the plant diversity he had before, adding red clover, phacelia and buckwheat back in. This is important for attracting beneficial insects and helps build soil health too. A diverse range of roots will stimulate the soil biology which generally improves soil structure. Deeper rooting plants in the cover crop mix are great for breaking up compacted areas of soil. A diverse and deep root system opens up new channels for water and air to percolate down through the soil profile and be stored for uptake by the vines in dryer periods and helps turn the subsoil from anaerobic to aerobic. This all helps to improve drainage, which has been a big challenge at the site. Luke’s diverse plantings don’t stop at in between the vines, he is using a similar cover crop mix to prepare a 4.5 hectare site to be planted up with vines in 2021. This invests in improving soil health, as legumes fix nitrogen and there is lots of root to soil interaction, sequestering carbon, getting all the great microbial and fungal life going before the new vines go in.

Reducing pesticides with buffer strips
Phacelia is abundant in buffer strips along the sides of the vineyard, which attracts a healthy population of pollinators and beneficial insects. At the moment Luke monitors the insects that pose a threat to his crop, but he’d like to monitor beneficial ones in the future too. Then he could see how the populations buffer each other, and if they are in balance.

Luke sets traps to catch one of the insects he would rather not have – the brown apple moth. If there are more than 14 moths in the trap in a month period he usually sprays the vines to reduce them and 11 has been the highest count so far. It’s great he hasn’t had to spray this season, which could be due to them being predated by bees, wasps and hoverflies attracted by the buffer strips. If you’re reading this and you manage a vineyard, have you also seen reduced brown apple moth pressure this year?

Using techniques to encourage plant and insect diversity, improve carbon sequestration and build soil health are all ways you can take a more regenerative approach to managing a vineyard. There are some fairly quick wins with implementing practises like cover crops and straw mulching, but for the most part they are part of a much longer term strategy. A strategy that builds up natural resilience in the vineyard to pest pressure, disease risks, and changing climate, while reducing the need for intervention with chemicals that disrupt nature from doing its thing!


Interesting in learning more about applying regenerative approaches in your vineyard? Read this case study about Johan Vineyards and/or get in touch with us.

Case Study: Dan Rinke & Ian Nelson – Johan Vineyards

Case Study: Dan Rinke & Ian Nelson – Johan Vineyards 4032 3024 Sectormentor

Acclaimed vintner, Dan Rinke, tells us how he uses the Vine Health Indicator to manage his 90 acre biodynamic vineyard:
“I know if my cane weights are lighter I need to apply heavier compost, or run animals in that part of the vineyard to get the biology and nutrition cycling better. Now I’m using Sectormentor it’s very quick to compare how they change year on year and it’s immediately visualised which makes it easy for me to make the best decisions for the long term health of the vines.”

Dan Rinke, Johan Vineyards, USA

Johan Vineyards is owned by Dag Johan Sundby, a Norwegian immigrant who headed to the Williamette Valley, Oregon, USA in 2004 to establish the 85 acre Johan estate vineyard. In 2007 Dan Rinke became vineyard manager there, and under Dan’s direction, within 3 years the vineyard became biodynamically certified. It is an exceptionally beautiful spot in the Van Duzer Corridor AVA – plentiful hot days and very cool nights thanks to the winds coming through the corridor from the coast.

Being a biodynamic vineyard they have 30 acres set aside as a biodiversity preserve, which includes majestic virgin oak savannah and biologically active riparian zones, plus beautiful lakes and ponds. The air is alive with birds and butterflies. As it says on Johan Vineyard’s website, “Steiner outlined a unified approach to agriculture that relates the ecology of the earth-organism to that of the entire cosmos. Much like Steiner, we see our vineyard as an individual organism that will eventually showcase its own identity through the fruit it develops.”

Dan is a hugely inspiring farmer, he has a clear understanding of the ‘why’ behind everything and is able to marry the somewhat esoteric recommendations of biodynamics and explain it as practical grounded insights. Ian Nelson, their budding new vineyard manager, has been working with Dan for the last 8 months and is now doing much of the viticultural management on a day-to-day basis. They are continually experimenting with different techniques and practices to build a more resilient and ecological vineyard, they showed us three of their current trials which we wanted to share far and wide!

1..At Johan they practice minimal soil disturbance to enable the fungal networks to prosper and retain as much carbon in the soils as well. This means all the rows have a healthy cover of grasses and herbal mixes, though they do still do undervine cultivation to keep weeds under control there. In order to experiment with cover crops between rows, they have planted different pollinator mixes. As Dan explains, “We did the flowering reseeding annual/perennial mix in the tasting room block to increase the diversity of cover crops used in the vineyard and to add more forage for native pollinators.”

2..They cut out old wood last winter from the surrounding hedgerows and have turned them into woodchip piles, located at different sites around the vineyard. The aim of the piles is to foster more fungal diversity in the vineyard – all based on the principle that greater diversity will keep any problematic fungi in check and not allow fungal disease to set it.

3..The third experiment is planting elderberry in place of dead vines in an area with particular difficulty. The elderberry is able to form both ecto and endo-mycorrhizal associations – Dan explains exactly why this is important, “We are interplanting with elderberry (we also plan to plant some shrubby native willows this fall) because they have associations with both Endomycorrhiza and Ectomycorrhizas. Endomycorrhiza is the type of mycorrhiza that grape vines have an association with, but Ectomycorrhizas are what have been proven to work like a network – sharing minerals, nutrients, water, carbon and plant hormones between different plant species. So the plants with dual species associations, such as elderberry and willows, are what I call “hub species”. Think of the airline maps with some major airports being the hubs. It’s nice to fly direct to your destination but sometimes you have to fly to a hub airport to get to the final destination, this is just more efficient for the airline companies. The same is true for sharing needed nutrients in an ecological system. The hub species make it possible to link the two networks together.”

One of the reasons Dan started using Sectormentor at Johan is because he is transitioning out of doing some of the day-to-day vineyard management as Ian takes it on and using Sectormentor makes things quicker and easier for both of them. Ian nips around the vineyard on his little quad bike using the map on the Sectormentor app to take him to the different sample sites or blocks he needs to visit that day (Ian is still learning the vineyard, so the map is super helpful as he zips from clone to clone!)

Johan is planted with a number of different varietal-clone combinations on small 1-2 acre plots. These management blocks are used to ensure that each part of the vineyard is well cared for and they know exactly what is going on. We have seen time and time again, that vineyards that focus on smaller management blocks are more successful in farming ecologically and profitably.

When it comes to yield predictions and management decisions, Johan have a strong focus on data to help them make informed management decisions. Ian is relatively new to the vineyard but thanks to Sectormentor he can easily see the variety, clone, rootstock of each location. Once Ian has gone out and done the % flowering, or cluster count etc at each site, that data is all immediately available on Sectormentor so Dan and Ian can check in back at the office and see how the different blocks are progressing, as well as update initial yield predictions and harvest dates. For Dan the biggest advantage of Sectormentor is that he can easily visualise changes year on year – such as visualising the changes in cane weights and number of short shoots in different blocks – he told us that in his experience that information is key to making the best management decisions.

In the early days of Johan a few plots of the vineyard were leased out — but they will finally come back into Johan management next year. Dan and Ian are very excited to have the final plot of vines coming back into management by Johan themselves. This plot has been managed chemically for years – Dan will immediately start transitioning it to a biodynamic plot but it inevitably takes some time as the soil must recover and become truly alive once again. The team are very keen to see and document how the soil does change through this transition, so Dan and Ian will use some of the key soil health tests – VESS, slake, invertebrate counts, infiltration rate to track how alive the soil is and how it evolves.

When we visited we were lucky enough to be taken on a tasting journey through all of their wines, with winemaker Morgan – my oh my, if you ever get the chance to try a Johan Wine you are in for a treat. All that hard work in the vineyard definitely pays off, the wines are beautiful, natural wines that reflect the beauty of the complex, increasingly diverse ecosystem from which they have sprung

We’re excited to keep learning about regenerative vineyard management with Johan Vineyards!

If Sectormentor for Vines sounds interesting to you do get in touch here.

How alive is your soil? Assessing soil health at Bee Tree Vineyard with Vine-Works

How alive is your soil? Assessing soil health at Bee Tree Vineyard with Vine-Works 800 534 Sectormentor

We’re working with vineyards on exploring soil health monitoring and the value it can bring to the enterprise. Bee Tree Vineyard in West Sussex is owned and run by Vine-Works, who also provide a suite of management services from planting through to harvest for vineyards across the UK. They use their 1.5 hectare site of vines to trial new management approaches which they might then apply to vineyards they manage for their clients.

Healthy soil should be brimming with biological life and full of carbon sequestered by a diverse range of plants. Plants exude sugars into the soil through their roots during their vegetative growth, feeding micro-organisms in the soil, which can in turn unlock nutrients for plants to take up when they need them. Micro-organisms also secrete glues and slimes which hold the soil structure together, forming aggregates – the basis of healthy soil. This aggregated structure allows water and air to easily percolate around and through it, so the soil will be able to hold more water deep down in its profile for when plants really need it, as well as remain aerobic.

Synthetic and chemical inputs such as herbicides and nitrogen fertiliser, as well as turning the soil, can disrupt plant root-soil interactions and hence disrupt feeding the vital soil biology. Vine-Works have been investigating how to reduce reliance on inputs and manage soil biology positively at Bee Tree Vineyard. The Vine-Works team have replaced undervine herbicide usage with a mechanical undervine weeder which they have found very effective. They’re also trying a new type of chicken manure compost pellet made by ‘Cloud-Agro’ to further feed the life in the soil.

Improving soil biology by increasing plant and root diversity is one of the first steps on the journey to reducing inputs in a vineyard. Vine-Works have been trialling different mixes of cover crops with diverse root systems in the rows in between vines to improve soil biology. When we visited Bee Tree Vineyard we chose sample sites to assess soil health based on the different cover crops to see how these have affected soil structure and biology. Bee Tree are one of our first vineyards to start recording soil health observations using Sectormentor for Vines. These first tests form their ‘soil health baseline’ so they can understand where their soil is at now and where they want to go in the future.

By comparing between different rows that were next to each other but had been managed slightly differently we were already able to see some stark differences in how the soil was structured and stored water. One row where the cover crop sewed this Spring had never taken performed significantly worse than the neighbouring row with a cover crop that was well established from the year before. It has already enabled Vine-Works to change some of their management strategy, in that they will now plant their cover in Autumn to give it plenty of chance to establish and reduce the risk of bare soil!

We wanted to talk you through exactly what we did, the different tests and what they mean:

Our first sample site was a block of Cabernet Blanc with a deep rooting cover crop planted in between the rows, including radish, chicory and cocksfoot grass in the mix. These plant species are good at getting roots down into the soil, breaking it up, and bringing nutrients up from below. We saved the exact location of the sample site using GPS coordinates in the Sectormentor for Vines app. This means the team can go back to the same place in 6 months or a year and test again to see how things have changed.

First we dug out a spade’s width soil pit and visually assessed the soil structure (VESS test) for both under the vines and in the row. Under the vines the soil structure was quite blocky, but it did break down relatively easily in one hand. It was slightly better in the row under the cover crop, where the first inch of soil in the rooting area was nicely aggregated, but the clay got harder and blockier as we moved down the profile.

Next we did a Slake test, submerging 1p sized bits of the soil in a sieve in water and observing how quickly it broke down. The soil under the cover crops did well in the slake test, only losing around 20% of its structure. If the soil is alive with micro-organisms the structure will be held together with glues and slimes they secrete, and so it will not break down so much in water. If the soil is held together by compaction, it will break down easily. This test gives you an idea for biological life in the soil and how much soil could be running off your vineyard in heavy rain.

Finally we did Infiltration Rate test by knocking a 150mm tube into the ground and pouring in an inch of water. This gives an idea for how easily water can percolate into the ground and be stored there, instead of running off and into water courses. The infiltration rate was very slow under the vines, suggesting water can easily run off from this area. However it infiltrated faster into the cover crop, which is good news as it  suggests rain water will be better stored in the soil for drier periods when the plants need it. The Vine-Works team used the Sectormentor for Vines app to record all these results so they can start to compare them with other sample sites across the vineyard.

Next we headed next to a block of Pinot Noir with a different cover crop in between the vines, a mix including clover and trefoil. Clover is a legume and has the capacity to fix nitrogen in the soil on nodules on its roots. Here we found the cover crop had not established as well as the deeper rooting cover we previously tested.

There was much more bare soil in the row, which means there are no living roots feeding the soil in these places and the soil is more at risk of running off with heavy rain. The Vine-Works team recorded the % of bare soil, broadleaves, grasses and undesirables in the Sectormentor for Vines app so they can assess how well they are improving plant diversity. We dug out a soil block and instantly noticed how much drier and blockier it was than the soil at the first sample site. It was harder to break down with one hand, breaking up into angular blocks. So, it didn’t score as well on the VESS test as the first site!

Now onto the slake test, placing 1p pieces of soil into water; due to the high clay content in the soil it held together relatively well, but still broke down more than the first sample site, losing more than 30% of its structure, showing that there is less biological life in this soil.

We really struggled to get the infiltration rate tube into the ground, showing compaction issues, which were corroborated by the very slow infiltration rate both in the row and under the vines. The Vine-Works team recorded all the soil test results and the GPS location of the pinot noir sample in the Sectormentor for Vines app; in the future they will be able to see the sample site on the map and get back to it easily to test again and see if things have improved.

At the second sample site the lack of establishment of the cover crop had clearly affected the soil health in that part of the vineyard, whereas at the first sample site the soil biology had started to get going. It was exciting to see so clearly how the different cover crops had affected soil health, allowing the Vine-Works team to understand what’s happening below ground and make decisions on how to move forward with improving soil health. The team went onto sample another site in the Pinot Noir block which had the deep rooting cover crop and did an ‘under the hedge’ test to get an idea for how good the soil could be. For an ‘under the hedge’ test you find a completely undisturbed spot of soil, by a hedge or in a woodland, which has not had any intervention. This will give you an idea for what the soil biology and structure could be like!

“I found the soil health tests very interesting, it’s changing how I think about vineyard management.” – Matt, Vine-Works

So, what’s next on the soil health journey for Vine-Works & Bee Tree? Soil monitoring regularly will help them understand the impact of different vineyard management techniques on their soil health. After varying success at establishing cover crops this season they plan to sow their cover crops this year just after harvest (Oct/Nov) rather than in Spring. From the VESS, infiltration rate and slake tests they could easily see just how negative the impact of bare soil from a poorly established cover crop can be, so by sewing in Autumn it will guarantee plenty of water to get the cover crop established. It was also clear that undervine cultivation was greatly slowing the infiltration time under the vines, so they are much more likely to get serious run off and leaching of nutrients from this soil. They have plans to try alpine plants under the vines next season, which will provide perennial cover and living roots in the soil all year round. These are hardy plants which do not need reseeding, so it’s an exciting trial!

In the autumn the team will be heading out to do earthworm counts, as it was too dry to do them when we visited this time. Earthworms are one of the best indicators of biological life in the soil, as if they are plentiful and present and active, many of the microorganisms will be too.


Find out how Sectormentor for Vines helps you monitor soil health in your vineyard & learn how your soil is changing. Contact us if you have questions!

Case Study: Darcy Gander – Vine-Works

Case Study: Darcy Gander – Vine-Works 1000 667 Sectormentor

Vine-Works was founded by James Dodson and Darcy Gander and has been establishing, managing, maintaining and supporting vineyards across the UK for over a decade. They work with single growers, small businesses, farmers, landowners and some of the country’s largest wine producers, providing a complete range of vineyard management and technical services from concept to harvest.

Vine-Works has just started to offer a vineyard management service for small to medium scale vineyards who can’t reasonably have a full time vineyard manager. As part of the service a Vine-Works technical officer will come out to the vineyard 12-16 times a year to ensure that the vineyard is well managed and an experienced independent viticulturist is monitoring important vineyard indicators. They help with deciding how much fruit to drop, what to do for disease management and getting good yield predictions – all the key activities throughout the year.

Of course this type of vineyard monitoring and management takes time but it is extremely valuable information! Many people don’t realise just how important it is to ensure that you do a good quality bunch count, and record bunch weights at harvest in order to get a good yield prediction – this data is invaluable, an asset to the vineyard.

The Vine-Works team are using Sectormentor so that they can easily record the information they need in each season to better manage vineyards for their clients. For example, just as flowering sets in, Technical Officer – Matt – will go out to a number of random sample vines in each block and count the number of inflorescences on the vine, he enters that number for one vine and then the next, and so on. Some weeks later he goes out again and counts the number of bunches, giving a good indication of fruit set – and starting one of the most important metrics of the year – the yield prediction. This information automatically feeds into the Sectormentor Yield Predictor Tool so that a rough initial yield prediction can easily be reached, and then optimised as the season progresses.

“All viticulturalists and vineyard managers collect data in their day to day activities, this data could be perceived as the vine’s method of communicating with us, be it pruning weights to illustrate cropping potential or interveinal discolouring to show nutrient deficiency. By collecting this information we can have a greater insight into a vine’s health.

Historically, vineyard managers have recorded this type of information in notebooks but by collecting data digitally we can quickly turn measurements into viticultural information. This can further be translated into quick and easy-to-read graphics so we can provide an instant response-based vineyard management service.”

Darcy Gander, Vine-Works

Sectormentor also allows for easy data sharing amongst the Vine-Works team, so they can make full use of all of their expertise. For example, Matt sees a leaf that looks a bit unusual in the vineyard, he takes a photo in Sectormentor, records its location, and carries on with his scouting looking for disease and pest pressure around the vineyard. He can send a message to the rest of the team so they can immediately and easily look at the photo of the issue on the Sectormentor dashboard and give their feedback on what they think it might be. Sectormentor is also hugely beneficial to the vineyard owners, because they can login to the dashboard at any time and see what has been happening on the vineyard – plus they know that all the vital information such as phenological dates, bunch weights and much more are stored and accessible in one place. This kind of information is an important asset to the vineyard, and storing it in this way brings the power of the data to the vineyard owner as well as the manager.

Working with Abby, Inti and the team has always been a pleasure. They’re driven, insightful and reliable and we look to working with them long term. Sectormentor has enabled us to cover more ground, analyse data quickly and make informed management decisions immediately. We have been impressed by how much time we save using Sectormentor and how it efficiently and effectively helps us to deliver our vineyard management service.

– Joel Jorgensen, Vine-Works

We are excited to be working with the Vine-Works team to introduce some of our recommended soil health monitoring into the service as well. Due to the damp conditions in the UK managing vines more ecologically can be quite tricky – but focusing on building soil structure through increased biological activity in the soil can really help to guide you in creating a more ecological and diverse vineyard system. Vine-Works aims to introduce this soil health monitoring to the vineyards who want to focus on more ecological farming methods.

We look forward to continuing our journey with Vine-Works! If their service or Sectormentor for Vines sounds interesting to you do get in touch here.

Know Your Vines #1: Soil Health in your Vineyard

Know Your Vines #1: Soil Health in your Vineyard 1701 1276 Sectormentor

In our new Know your Vines blog series we will share practical tips on what metrics to monitor in your vineyard. This is the first instalment, stay tuned for more as the coming seasons unfold!

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” 


Healthy soils are vital in an unpredictable climate and to drive profitability for a vineyard in the long term.

A healthy soil acts as an ecological buffer, it absorbs and allows water to percolate underground in heavy rains, and retains moisture for much longer in periods of drought. For anyone who farms, mitigating climatic risks is key and improving soil health is a low-cost and long-term way to do that. Plus healthy soils means healthy plants, and healthy plants require less inputs.

To begin to understand your soils, you need to go out and a take a good look at what is happening below ground in different parts of your vineyard. After all ‘you can’t manage what you don’t measure’, so assessing soil health is vital to build soil health for your vineyard.

To help you get started with monitoring your soils, watch our short videos below on how to do a few simple soil tests and how the Sectormentor For Vines app* helps you record and learn from your results.

For your vineyard we recommend doing the VESS, earthworm and slake tests all featured here, as well as the infiltration rate test that you can learn more about here. It is always good to look at rhizosheaths as well which is shown in the final video.

*please note: a basic version of the Sectormentor app, just for soil monitoring is shown in these videos. Soil monitoring in the Sectormentor for Vines app is the same, but has additional features to connect with your other vineyard data.

VESS TEST

Learn what to look for when you visually analyse your soil structure:

 

EARTHWORM COUNT

The best technique for counting earthworms in your soil sample:

 

SLAKE TEST

Watch how to collect a soil sample in the field and see how well your soil structure withstands water:

 

HOW TO ANALYSE YOUR RESULTS

How to log in to your Sectormentor account and analyse your results:

 

RHIZOSHEATHS

This is an additional test to assess biological activity, although not considered a key test. Find out what to look out for:

 

INFILTRATION RATE VIDEO COMING SOON..!

Here is a picture of the setup and tools you need for the infiltration rate test to whet your appetite, and here is a bit more info.

 

 


Check out 10 key metrics to monitor in your vineyard and find out how our app Sectormentor for Vines helps you record data & manage your vines for the best quality grapes.

Soil health in your vineyard: Do you know your earthworms?

Soil health in your vineyard: Do you know your earthworms? 590 442 Sectormentor

A quiz created by Jackie Stroud, soil scientist at Rothamsted Research, also known as ‘The Worm Lady’!

Did you know there are three different types of earthworms at work in your soil? Each type lives in a specific layer and performs a unique function which contributes to the soil’s health and therefore your vine’s health. Find out why a decline in soil health is worrying for all wine lovers on Decanter.

Really you want to have all three types of worms working in harmony. The living litter feeders break down organic matter on the surface making nutrients available for uptake by vines, the top-soil worms work on building good soil structure (aggregation) and nutrient mobilisation, and then the deep-burrowers keep water flowing from the soil surface to deep pools below, as well as increasing aeration and root development.

Monitoring earthworm activity will give you a good overview of the soil health in your vineyard. All you need to do is dig a 20cm deep hole in the ground and count the different earthworms you find in each layer. Counting the number of worms is a good indicator of life in the soil. If you go one step further and identify what type of worm it is, then this can tell you much more about what the worms are working on and help uncover any necessary changes you need to make in your soil management.

However, you need to make sure you can identify which worms are which before you head out to the field! Jackie has created a fun and fantastic quiz to help you learn about and test yourself on different worm types.

It only takes a few minutes to complete and you’ll learn everything you need to know about earthworms from the surface dwellers to the deep burrowers.

Take the earthworm quiz

You can also use this AHDB info sheet that Jackie put together as a resource for learning about the types of worms and how to effectively count earthworms.


Find out how Sectormentor for Vines helps you record earthworm counts & learn how your soil is changing. Email info@vidacycle.com for more details!

Capturing Carbon on your Vineyard

Capturing Carbon on your Vineyard 659 353 Sectormentor

“If you want to capture carbon, you have to think like carbon!”

Check out this Short from Farmerama Radio, a podcast sharing the voices of smaller scale farmers, about Carbon Farm Plans and monitoring carbon from Charles Schembre at Napa County Resource Conservation District.

Charles Schembre is a Soil Conservationist at the Napa County Resource Conservation District, working primarily in Vineyard Agriculture. He received grant funding from California’s Healthy Soils Program to start the Carbon Farm Plan project, a scheme to support vintners with increasing soil health, sequestering carbon and improving water retention.

Sequestering or increasing soil organic carbon is the process of plants absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and transforming it into carbon in the soil through photosynthesis. This is beneficial for reducing greenhouse gases, in addition to increasing soil fertility.

Charles is working with farms and vineyards to create holistic ‘Carbon Farm Plans’, which assist them to increase their agricultural resilience and productivity, and mitigate the impact of our rapidly changing climate with sustainable farm management practises.

In this short episode of Farmerama, he explains how ‘Carbon Farming’ works, what a carbon farm plan is and how you can monitor this on your farm:

You can see an example carbon farm plan from the USDA Napa County vineyard here.

Carbon sequestration is a win-win, right?
Yes, however, making a plan and monitoring it’s success is the challenge. The idea for the plan is to put all potential options in, and then chip away to find what’s realistic. In terms of soil health there are several different tactics he suggests you can use to increase carbon in your soil and monitor how they are working:

  • No-till: This is the practise of not ploughing, leaving soil undisturbed, protecting against soil erosion and allowing microbes, fungi and worms to do their great work building soil health. This is one of the easiest practises to implement as it doesn’t involve much financial commitment, so a lot of the farms using carbon farm plans try it first.
  • Compost: Adding compost to the soil builds up it’s soil organic matter content. The benefits of this practise are much longer term. Charles recommends adding large compost applications to soil perhaps every 5 or even 10 years.
  • Ground cover: The more ground is covered in plants, the better. If you want to capture carbon, you need leafy green plants, absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere and putting it into the ground. So those, ‘untidy areas’ of the farm, rife with riotous plants and weeds, might actually be doing your soil a favour. Think twice about getting rid of them next time!

Soil monitoring
To understand how much carbon sequestration you are achieving Charles advises you start monitoring these three soil health indicators (identified by Soil Health Institute):

  • Wet aggregate stability (Slake test): this is the soil’s ability to withstand disintegration from water erosion. You can do the slake test at home! (our soil health expert Jenni Dungait has put together a great simple protocol that she has used extensively in research with farmers)
  • Bulk Density: this is the unit of dry soil & air per unit of bulk volume. It changes depending on different land management practises. The test is best done in a lab, and involves drying a soil sample in an oven at 105 degrees for 18-24 hours.
  • Soil Organic Carbon: this is a part of soil organic matter which is traditionally measured with the Loss-on-ignition test (also best done in a lab). However recent research by Soil Health Expert Jenni Dungait has shown that the wet aggregate stability test (or slake test) above is a proxy for Soil Organic Carbon when following this protocol.

There has already been a proven reduction in greenhouse gases on several of the farms using carbon farm plans. Do you think you can make your own carbon farm plan? Check out Charles’ Carbon Farm Plan for their demo vineyard, Huichica Creek.


Contact us to find out how our app Sectormentor for Vines helps you record & learn how your soil is changing.