PAN: How did you get started?
Ben: As the fields had been farmed conventionally over the years, it took some time to prepare the soil for planting. Having established that the soil organic matter levels were low we introduced a large amount of compost (made from leftover grape skins and stalks) and manure, about 50 tons/ha, including some trace elements of boron, zinc, sulphur, molybdenum. We also worked on adjusting the soil pH with lime. Vines prefer soils that are rich in humus and organic matter and I wanted to create a strong microbial base to support their root systems. I chose to use BD500, the biodynamic preparation of manure fermented in a buried cow horn, as a way to encourage these microbial populations that were lacking in the soil after a long period of agricultural monocultures.
We planted a cover crop of radish, mustard, vetch and rye grass in the autumn, before direct drilling additional cover crops alongside the baby vines. My hope is that this will help to provide additional root habitats in the soil for the colonisation of beneficial microbes that will support the nutrition and immune responses of the vines. This year we’ve also planted a wildflower cover crop mix in the field headlands, buffer strips and alleyways to prevent soil erosion, help control weeds, retain soil moisture and encourage wildlife.