#78: Community gardens in Tāmaki Makaurau and organic no-till vineyards

#78: Community gardens in Tāmaki Makaurau and organic no-till vineyards 150 150 Farmerama Radio

Veg grown at Pourewa – image from Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei website

In the last episode of 2022, we begin by hearing from Etienne Neho, who Olivia interviews in her native Aotearoa New Zealand. Etienne manages the gardens at Pourewa, a community garden that is focused on education and nourishing its community members with food that is given out rather than sold. In 2018, Pourewa was given back to Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei (the people of the Pourewa land) by the New Zealand government as a cultural reparation for taking the land from them almost 200 years ago.

Next, we hear from Jason Jardine, president and director of winemaking at Hanzell Vineyard in Sonoma California. Together with the team at Hanzell he has created an organic no-till vineyard system, focused on natural methods of bringing nitrogen and carbon into the soil, and protecting the earth from the hot Californian summers. They graze cows, pigs, chickens, ducks, geese and sheep, moving through the vines daily in winter and spring, then into the forests for summer and autumn. Jason also details the power of crimping diverse cover crops back into the system, for building organic matter and protecting the soil.

This episode of Farmerama was made by Olivia Oldham, Jo Barratt and Abby Rose. A big thanks to the rest of the Farmerama team Katie Revell, Fran Bailey, Annie Landless, Eliza Jenkins and Dora Taylor. Our theme music is by Owen Barratt

te reo Māori glossary

Te reo means the language

Pākehā refers to New Zealanders of European descent – so te reo Māori is the Māori language, and te reo Pākehā is English.

Māra means garden, and kai means food: so a māra kai is a food or vegetable garden. 

The whenua is the land, the taiao is the environment and rakau are trees. 

Tūpuna are ancestors and mauri – like the mauri of the whenua that Etienne talks about – is the life-force.

Whānau means family, while an iwi is an extended kinship group 

Etienne mainly refers to Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei, who are the tangata whenua or people of the land at Pourewa. He also talks later about his own iwi, Ngāti Hine and Ngāpuhi. 

A marae is an iwi’s meeting place.

To mahi is to work. 

To raru is to have conflict or fight.

To tautoko is to support.

Hello and welcome to Farmerama! Hope you’re cosying up for those of you in the Northern Hemisphere, and everyone in the Southern Hemisphere enjoying the middle of summer.
In this episode we have 2 interviews for you. First, Olivia visited a community garden in her homeland, and then I visit a Farmer in California walks us through the organic no-till vineyard system he has created.
Olivia Oldham: Hi, I’m Olivia. I’ve been working with Farmerama for the last four years behind the scenes and I’m also working on a PhD about land ownership and agroecology.
Earlier this year, I went home to Aotearoa New Zealand visit my family for the first time since before Covid. While I was there, I visited Pourewa in Tāmaki Makaurau–or Auckland, where I spoke with Etienne Neho, the garden manager, and a keen horticurturalist and ecologist.
I’m really excited to share this interview. Etienne speaks so beautifully about why the land and the garden are so important – to him, to the iwi, and to the wider community. Pourewa was given back to Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei in 2018 by the New Zealand government as a cultural reparation for taking the iwi’s land from them almost 200 years ago. In doing so, they broke the Treaty of Waitangi – one of Aotearoa’s founding constitutional documents. The land is now co-managed by Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei and the City Council. It’s important to me to share the reality of how the land in Aotearoa – and who owns it – got to be how they are, as well as the amazing work being done on the land by those it has been returned to.
I thought it would be useful for listeners outside of Aotearoa to have a bit of a glossary of key words in te reo Māori that Etienne uses.
Te reo means the language, and Pākehā refers to New Zealanders of European descent – so te reo Māori is the Māori language, and te reo Pākehā is English.
Māra means garden, and kai means food: so a māra kai is a food or vegetable garden. The whenua is the land, the taiao is the environment and rakau are trees. Tūpuna are ancestors and mauri – like the mauri of the whenua that Etienne talks about – is the life-force.
Whānau means family, while an iwi is an extended kinship group – Etienne mainly refers to Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei, who are the tangata whenua or people of the land at Pourewa. He also talks later about his own iwi, Ngāti Hine and Ngāpuhi. A marae is a meeting place.
To mahi is to work. To raru is to have conflict or fight. And to tautoko is to support. We’ll post these definitions in the blog post for this episode so you can refer back to them easily.
Etienne Neho: Kia ora everyone uh, my name is Etienne Neho. I’m the so I’m the māra manager at Pourewa. I hail from the north. I was born and raised in Whangārei, in a little town called Pipiwai. Inland we’ve got no moana that we affiliate to. So it’s all awa and streams that we affiliate to. I’ve been part of Ngāti Whātua iwi for about 11 years now, I’ve been with my partner, married for five into the Hawk whanau.
So, this piece of land that we’re on directly is called Pourewa.It comes from the saying ‘Ka rewa te pou ka rewa te tangata’ . So to elevate the pou is to elevate the people, because they, this was a lookout point back in the day for Ngāti Whātua they would look out over the basin, for enemies or for anyone that was coming in and around the estuaries or Okahu Bay. This piece of land has been used for, um, it was a pony club, and four years ago it was gifted back to Ngāti Whātua we kind of look after the rakau, the mauri of the whenua, the native nursery, and the māra kai. I guess the project on Pourewa was developed because we had a small marae, nursery. It was like maybe 50,000 plant capacity, at the back of our marae, it was pretty humble. And we needed to expand to be able to meet our needs for the whenua as well as council contractual needs. We can house I think 450 to 400,000 plants at full capacity in our nursery, which is, which is pretty massive compared to 50,000 before.
And that’s our commercial arm. So that’s our bread and butter, which keeps us all employed. But on the other side of Pourewa, we have the māra kai, and the māra kai, or the kai garden is developed to feed the community and feed the iwi. Back in the days in te ao Māori, you wouldn’t be judged off how much land, how many people or the area that you’re in. You’d be judged off your kai. Your kai was your currency. Your kai was your sustenance of your iwi. So, back in the days we would’ve been highly revered people we would’ve been VIPs in a sense… Um, and it’s a funny way to look at it, but we would’ve been on the pedestal because the people that feed the iwi keep the iwi alive. So I guess the kaupapa that we are trying to instill within our mahi is, to provide that sustenance, but not just for our iwi, for our eastern community, for our city mission, for our less fortunate, throughout Tāmaki Makaurau predominantly and our other marae.
We don’t sell any of the kai. It’s all for the love. Um, and I guess when you grow kai to give it away, knowing that you’re nourishing people and, and helping give them healthy organic kai, it’s a really, really rewarding job. It’s something that I like to see a lot more of because quite often, the importance is undervalued by the monetary figure or the monetary gain of these things in other places. For example, you know, you have big, big supermarkets and stuff that are selling the same type of veggies, that have been sprayed, et cetera. at a ridiculous rate. It makes eating healthy unaffordable, and it’s crazy that, you know, a top producer of quite a bit of this kai, you know, it charges, its own people a lot of money. So, I guess for us. It’s been an awesome piece to show, what you can do with a bit of land, the right heart, I guess. I guess, you know, if your heart’s not in the right place and you’re not there for the right reason, things won’t flow, um, or, or work as well as they do. But I guess because we’re passionate about it and it’s more than just growing kai. It’s about sustaining our iwi and our people, the people of Tāmaki Makaurau in general. It works and it flows.
Olivia Oldham: Education is also really important at Pourewa, and Etienne and his colleagues spend a lot of time with students, from primary school to university level, showing them around the māra and teaching them about growing kai.
Etienne Neho: It’s a massive education piece, you know, teaching kids that, um, you can grow your own kai at home, you can eat your own kai and. Um, it’s a lot more sustainable. Healthy, organic. But also it’s a way to reconnect with the whenua. And that’s the main part. You know, it it, you don’t have to be Māori to connect with the whenua of Aotearoa. You know,  if you’ve got the right mindset and, and your heart’s in the right place, you know, it’s for everyone. And, and that’s what I really like to try and break down any barriers about Māori land is for Māori only? No, it’s not. It’s for everyone. And that was what it was intended for to be shared. I guess we are still sharing in the way that we mahi, the way that we share our ideas and our knowledge. There’s no point in having knowledge if you don’t share it. So if you don’t disperse it or pass it out, you know, it’s how it does get lost.
Olivia Oldham: The māra at Pourewa is laid out in a circle, with a plan to have a sundial and moondial in the centre. It was designed by Rob Small to reflect the philosophy of the mara, which is based around a maramataka – or Māori lunar calendar.
Etienne Neho: when you use the sundial, we can plant east facing, which would be tūturu to how we would’ve planted east to west. So the plants get the first sun in the morning and the last sun in the nighttime but as well as that, it’s a good guiding principle cuz there’s some days where it’ll be a perfectly beautiful sunny day, but it won’t be a, a good planting day. And quite a few people go, oh you know, it’s all about the sun. Really? Yeah. The sun gives the plants the energy to photosynthesize. Right. But they really grow and develop at nighttime, under the power of the moon. That’s when the fruit grow, that’s when the actual plants grow themselves. And the moon power is massively important. To plants, to us as people and to, to the world in general, to the taiao in general. Without the, the moon power, you wouldn’t have that push and pull, you know, it would be totally unbalanced. So I guess having those mātāpono or values that we use in the māra really help guide us. There’s some days where we’ll even look at it and go, Hey, look, it’s not a good maramataka day. It’s a low energy day. It’s a time for planning. And so we’ll come up here and we’ll sit up in the hub. Talk about different ways that we’re gonna grow our kai, you know, and just, and kind of use that time to reflect like we would’ve back in the days, cuz that’s what we’re trying to, I guess pay homage to or recreate is the knowledge that our tūpuna would’ve used to grow and to read the land, like, you know, being at one with the whenua definitely means soaking all aspects of it in.
Olivia Oldham: Pourewa doesn’t sell the food they produce – instead they give it away to community members each Friday.
Etienne Neho: We have a nice sort of setup on Friday. We’ve got our signs out on the front area. We have a little table set up, with different signs of what the kai are Māori name and in te reo Pākehā. So it’s a good learning curve for all. One thing that I will say about Pourewa is that it’s a piece of whenua that’s provided massive opportunities of growth, not only for the iwi but for the people working it day in, day out. Not only do we work just, just to earn money, but we work to learn. So we are all enrolled in ITO programs, so we are getting, like level three, level four horticulture. We’ve got a couple of our lads that are qualified apiature members, so they’re, they’re bee-men. I guess it’s provided a lot of opportunities, for whānau to also see where their passions are, you know, until you come and volunteer or come down to Pourewa, you don’t know what the vibe’s like working with the whenua and how healing it is. It’s something that I’ve definitely, working in, in the side I do on the māra kai is that when, like I said before, when you’re not selling the kai but you’re giving it out, knowing that you’re nourishing and you’re providing for your whānau, for your nannies. For your favorite aunties, for your cousins, your little nieces and nephews. That’s type of mahi is priceless. I’ve been doing it for nearly three years now, and the buzz that I still get every Friday or every harvest day when I give out to the whānau like everyone goes, man, you, you look so happy about this. And I said, how can you not be happy, providing this organic beautiful kai to people and then having members of the community coming in when our whānau are there and also seeing the whānau, making the relationships and, and seeing us all as one community. That’s what it’s about. Pulling people together over free kai. 
You know, people are looking at it and going, oh you know, it’s, it’s not a big thing in my eyes. It’s a massive thing. It’s a way, that the whole of Aotearoa should be, we shouldn’t be paying for organic fresh produce like this? Like I said, being one of the main producers of it and export and exporters of fresh produce, it’s crazy that our people don’t have access to this type of kai readily, it blows my mind actually. And, and until you work in this type of field and I guess experience it from, not from a monetary game, but from a mana again, it really, it really shows, it’s really evidence. For me, I’m not out here for fame or for, for kudos about the mahi that I do directly. I want to uplift Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei’s image in regards to what they’re doing for the iwi, what they’re doing for the community . So, I’m, nothing but a mere servant to the iwi. And I wouldn’t have it any other way cuz in the day, a small narrative: Ngāti Hine came to the aid of Ngāti Whātua um, they housed them when they were having battles with Ngāpuhi-nui-tonu with my bigger iwi and, didn’t engage in those conflicts. And so marae were gifted to Ngāti Hine from Ngāti Whātua And for me, my story is yeah Ngāti Hine will continue to tautoko Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei because. Us, as Māori need to stick together this day and age. Yeah, we, we had a lot of raru and fights back in the day, but, now it’s us as a people as one to look out for the whenua, to look out for the taiao and to look out for each other.
Abby Rose: Jason Jardine is a president and director of winemaking at Hanzell Vineyard in Sonoma California. He has been there since 2014, and together with the team there he has created an organic no-till vineyard system. They graze cows, pigs, chickens, ducks, geese and sheep, moving through the vines daily in winter and spring, and then moving them into the forests for summer and autumn. Originally I had thought that the animals were the most important feature of the system, but actually as Jason explains there’s other parts that are maybe even more important! 
Jason: The system really started with just integrating sheep into the vineyards in the very beginning and because at the time we were so interested in collecting and looking at data and really understanding the impact of what the sheep were having to not only the soil biology, but the growth of the cover crop and the vines, the fertility and, and everything around it. You know, the, the obvious things in the very beginning were, of course, it just, everything felt different.
You know, when you have animals interacting in a symbiotic way with your soil and the plants and they’re walking around and you’re integrating with them and the people are in there, it’s just a very different feelling, you know, there’s a different life associated with the place. And so we did that for many, many years. And, and this was in 2004, 2005, we started with sheep. And what I wasn’t really seeing at the time was a lot of the integration of the manure. Because here in California, you know, your rainy season is very short, and so what I really was seeing was a lot of manure was just sitting on top of the soil surface and then drying up and volatilizing off. So we weren’t getting a lot of integration of the fertility of that. And more importantly, sort of like. That connection with the, the humus layer that I was looking for. And so then he incorporated chickens cause we’re like, okay, we’re gonna bring chickens into the system cuz the chickens are gonna scratch through that manure and they’re gonna be a partner to the sheep. That was a game changer at the time. So I wouldn’t graze today without the chickens. And you’ll see down there where, where our cows just gave birth to the two calves. We have 45 chickens in with them. And not only does it keep the flies down because they ate the larvae and things like that, but it’s really in terms of a soil health environment and keeping the overall balance there, they’re just constantly scratch scratching in that manure.
So in the beginning we were doing research on just composting versus grazing because we didn’t have enough sheep and enough chickens to kind of graze all the acres we were farming. I was also practicing biodynamics at the time, so the compost was being made up here in Santa Rosa. We were putting in the biodynamic preparations. I was also bringing rock phosphate in and lime from out of state, organic straw from the Central Valley and or Oregon to mix with it. And then we were needing massive amounts because of the acreage that we were farming, as well as these vineyards were on volcanic ash and Monterey shell and shis and things. So the pH was very low. So in order to incorporate enough lime into the system, we had to bring it through the compost. Because I didn’t wanna put just raw lime out there because that is an issue with biology as well. And so we, we were just using massive amounts of compost. And what was interesting in the areas that where we were just composting, we weren’t really seeing – and this, I followed this over about 10 years. We really weren’t seeing an increase in overall fertility, and I was seeing an increase in bacteria levels. 
And so we were really looking at the soil food web closely because one thing I did determine early on is that our greatest path to sort of sustainable fertility and combating climate change here in California. And working with these shallow, rocky soils was just boosting our fungi levels, solidifying that mycelium connection between all the lands that we were. And creating the humus layer, creating soil and all those things. And with the composting system, because we were spading it, which I thought at the time was the best, if you’re gonna till, you know, use a spader. And so we were spading it and then we were hand hoing under the vines and we were throwing compost under the vines, which then really didn’t get any integration into the soil whatsoever. I was spraying 500 – the biodynamic preparation 500 on top of the barrel compost and then we’re doing silica and then all the, most of the other preparations were kind of brought through the compost system.
And then through tillage, we would open up the soils in the spring and then they would pretty much remain open all the way until fall rains and trying to get cover crops seated. And that was always the sketchiest time of year because we were on slopes and luckily we were pretty rocky soils, so you didn’t have a lot of surface runoff. But I kept looking at that system and questioning it every single year. And then I was looking at the small amount of animals we had that were starting to integrate into some of the blocks, and it just all felt better to me. It felt right. And then, because we weren’t seeing really a significant difference in the fertility of the blocks that we were composting versus the blocks that we weren’t and that we were just cover cropping and we were not crimping yet at the time – we were just grazing.
So that kind of what is led into the crimper, because I was like, okay, so if we can just sort. Cover crop, graze, move the animals out, get another full growth of the cover crop. So we’re about four to five feet of biomass that we can crimp down then at the appropriate time, and lay the surface armor over the whole vineyard floor. Not only we get much more protection from erosion, but with the conservation of water moisture and carbon sequestration, you know where I was basically contributing carbon versus sinking carbon, which is my overall goal. And this is still in the mid two thousands when you know these things really yet, it was hard to find examples, but you know, we were really, no one was really talking about it yet, and so I didn’t, and I’m not a scientist, never went to school. I’m not agronomist, you know, it is just all stuff from, trying to be thoughtful and do the right thing and and et cetera. So I didn’t really have the tools. I didn’t really know what we were going to accomplish. But all I know is it kind of kept feeling good, just felt better.
So the other key thing at the time is that really no no-till drill seeder existed. So it’s like, then how do we get new cover crop into this crimp down material? So that was a challenge for several years and I was trying to use kind of like the traditional Schmeiser Drill seeder and it was sort of successful but it wasn’t very successful for larger seeds like peas and fava beans and things which are kind of key into the system so I was going pretty heavy with other legumes like vetch and clovers cuz they’re super small seeds and they tend to work their way down in through the crip material much easier.
I would say that system will consume nitrogen for about three years. And I think this is the other key piece that unfortunately, I think deters people early on because they see, okay, I’m not gaining any nitrogen or my peteols are showing low nitrogen or my soil. I’m not really seeing it yet. And there’s a lot of things that have to happen sort of in the interim. If you’re going from, in particularly in California, rocky soils, if you’re going from a tilled system or even a system where you were perhaps just mowing heavily, you’re most likely gonna have fairly low organic matters and those organic matters are gonna be anywhere. Like here at Hanzell when we started in 2014. With the system here, our organic matter is 0.5%, so not even 1%, but we’re on shallow volcanic soils, relatively lower phs. But we have this beautiful red hill series clay on top. So the potential for retention of not only water and nutrients but mycelium and organic matter and boost and fungi levels is absolutely here. So that was one of the most exciting pieces about joining Hanzell.
So early on, until you get the organic matter up to about 5%, you’re consuming nitrogen because something needs to feed the growth of that organic matter. You need to make the adjustments, like where you’re grazing, what you’re just solely gonna cover crop and crimp the areas where you’re not grazing. You can boost your legume counts up to a little bit more than than 60%, 55%. And go as heavy as maybe 80% in the interim in the first couple years and just decide to solely crimp. Where you’re grazing, you have to be cautious, especially with sheep and things where you don’t get a lot of bloating. And so you don’t want it to be too rich, and so you wanna add some carbon, but then also carbon’s very important into the system. So you wanna make sure you at least have, you know, 20% carbon. So it’s like this very complicated thing. So here I do like, we’ll, some years have three cover crop seed mixes on different parts of the vineyard based on if the plan is to solely graze, if it’s to solely crimp or if it’s to bale.
I love the idea of having animals integrated into the system. I think that’s very, very important and especially if local communities are utilizing these animals as a food source, as a sustainable way to feed our communities. That’s really not happening yet today. So I think in the early stages, I would not graze at all if you weren’t prepared to have kind of the diversified grazing system in place. So I would really recommend dialing in an annual cover cropping system and utilizing crimping as a way initially to start building organic matter and get through that kind of three year hump. And then what do you do in the interim? And so I am a proponent of plant-based fertigations, supplements. So whether it’s hydrolyzed soy protein or pea protein, particularly cuz although the amino acids and everything else associatet, as an interim kind of step to help offset some of the consumption of nitrogen, you’re gonna build phosphorus and potassium through your cover cropping. I don’t bring any fertilizers to this ranch, never did from the start in 2014, and we’re about at 7% organic matter now here and sustain fertility, with no need for anything. So it is possible. And so it is just, you have to be patient and sort of thoughtful in the approach and what you don’t want to do is expect too much too soon. And allow that to detour your goals and your ambitions to ultimately kind of getting through it and, and achieving a system that works for you.
Abby: I have one question here, which is, maybe you could just expand a little bit on why is the crimper so key?
Jason: We really as farmers, should and can have a major impact on climate change. I mean, we really can. And it’s, I know it’s like a hard subject or whatever, but the truth is, we’re major contributors to where we are today. And so carbon sequestration is one way of doing that. And I think by laying down rather than pulverizing this biomass, both carbonous and leguminous. And you have also in connection with that, these massive daikon radish. So I’m a huge advocate of incorporating any root crops, and we even sow beets and carrots out and turnips out into the vineyard. The animals love it, and I think they’re a great store for the exudates from the legume crops to then re-release that nutrition as that moisture of that root crop slowly decomposes through the growing season when everything else is already dry or carbonous, so if you were to just mow it, you basically don’t get any of that armour on the soil. You you can’t lay down eight inches of mulch. You don’t get slow decomposition. The crimping also allows for longer root activity in the soil throughout the growing season. So that’s another key step, the ideal is having living roots in our soils for as long as we can in the growing season or in the year in general. It’s hard to do that. So crimping is a way that you can terminate top growth, but still stimulate root growth. That material then on top doesn’t get blown away, doesn’t volatise off. It provides a lot of moisture, helps to feed that humus layer, so 80% of all of our active biology in the top 10 centimeters of the soil, so this goes to another one of those ideal things like what are we trying to accomplish and to achieve if we know that, I mean, these are things, I’m not a scientist, but I think that’s fact, right? I mean this is something that I think we know. And so I try to take the little bits of knowledge that I actually have and say, okay, if we know that, then why would I do anything to destroy it. I wanna build on that. I want to, I wanna make that 10 centimeters, 20 centimeters, and then next year I wanna make it 30 centimeters. I wanna do everything I can to expand on that layer, not destroy it once or twice every year and start over again.
The other thing that I have determined is that the higher the fungi levels to bacteria ratio, I can get, not only am I seeing greater retention of organic matter and cover crop growth and water retention and vine interaction development within the soil, it’s the vine’s ability to adapt to different climate situations, but that biology is really what is breaking down the cover cropping and the manures that we’re integrating through our grazing program and actually making ’em functional, you know, making ’em usable. And that was a real breakthrough too, it was like okay, I’m seeing fungi and, and as I’m seeing this happen, I’m seeing all these benefit and observations at the same time. So there’s a correlation there, and that’s just something you cannot achieve without crimping. It’s just you can’t do it. You can’t achieve it with just grazing, it will not happen. So that’s when I go back and say, if you can only do one thing, if you can only commit to one thing for a period of time, commit to cover cropping and crimping.
I still plant cover crop seed every single year and that’s something that I’m starting – now that the system is built and we have the biomass levels that we have, we have the organic percentage where it needs to be, we have not only a sustained level of nutrients, but where fertility is growing year over over year. It’s something that I start to scale back on a little. And so I start off. That’s something we didn’t talk about earlier on too, in terms of pounds per acre. So I start really heavy in converting these systems, you know, 250 pounds per acre of annual cover crop seed, and then that gets scaled down as you start to see an increase in biomass organic manner. But it’s more about that carpet, that armour, making sure you’re getting it enough mass in your cover crop to have a significant amount of armour left onto the soil for our summers and our desertification of our area and then the high solar radiations. So this year, you know, eight years now or so into the system, I’m still looking at about 175 pounds per acre. And again, that’s a mix of, I try to use five or six different types of legumes, and then as many diversified cereals as possible, whether it’s red oats, white oats, triticale, barley, buckwheat, whatever, annual rye. We’re pretty successful here in growing all those things, fortunately. And then, you know, peas and clovers and vetch and, and fava beans and things like that. And then we’ll incorporate root crops into it. So it’s all about sourcing cover crop seed this time of year.
Abby: So you’ve had the grazing going for a little while. Then when do you decide to crimp and what does that look like?
Jason: I try to hit it when the vast majority of the species are at full bloom. Hard to do right when you’re growing a combination of a lot of cereals and legumes, but that’s the goal. And they’re at their full fertility at at that point. And then you still have significant moisture in a lot of the legumes to have, slow decomposition and then provide that connection to the mycelium level that was there and rebuilding it, and the humus layer and everything else. But then the carbonous plants are just starting to carbon up at the stock. Crimp too early, things flop back up on you. They’re just too springy, right? So you want to pay a lot of attention to the surface area level, and then how carbon is the stock of the plants at that level?
Crimp too late – which is, I guess in a way better than crimping too early. But the advantage though of crimping too early is in the worst case you make another pass a week or two later, which you try not to do just cuz of, you know, extra tractor work and everything else, compaction and all that, but you crimp too late and you really miss out on providing the amount of moisture that you need for the breakdown of nutrients. It’s like you might as well throw straw, dry straw out there and that’s not the goal, right? So I choose like every year it’s the time changes. I can change a good bit here actually for us it can be four weeks apart. From the time that we crimp. Um, so you just pay a lot of attention to again, what you’re observing, where different areas mature at different rates. And so we’re, we’re spot crimping in some locations. Steep slopes tend to dry out on top faster than they are on the bottom. So we’re looking at those sort of things as well. But timing you’re crimping is as important as crimping itself, if that makes sense. And then once things are crimped that’s it for the year. The other thing I get asked a lot too is how do you manage the understory? Cuz you can’t crimp under the understory, which I wish, I haven’t found a tool to do that. I wish there was one. That would be awesome if you can do that. I tried to get a crimper that is as wide, so I would try to crimp as much as you can. So if you like here, unfortunately we have anything from 7 to 15 foot wide rows on Ambassador’s vineyard. So we have to make multiple passes. So I chose to get a 5 foot crimper,  because it fits in the seven foot rows and it kind of like leaves a foot on each side, which is still relatively tight, but about as good as you can get.
My preference for managing the understory, because even though we’re not seeding the understory, seed gets spread there, right? So it’s a massive amount of material that grows in the understory, which we want. I like to use a sickle. So if you can use a sickle bar attachment onto like a weed whacker to where you’re just basically cutting it at the soil surface and then letting all that material fall and mulch in full length, that’s ideal. It’s hard. That’s one thing that is hard on the vineyard staff is, is going through and doing that. I’d love one day – whoever can build an attachment on a tractor to do a sickle bar cut under the tractor would be awesome. Cause I don’t wanna till it, of course, for all the reasons we discussed earlier. And weed whacking does tend to pulverise the material and it just kind of gets blown away. We’ve kind of come up with these weed whacking blades in the technique now that where we can use regular weed whackers and it kind of just lays down where it’s at. And that’s another way to do it. If you use like the blades instead of the string, tends to work better. And because you want that mulch on the understory, I would say it’s almost more important in the understory to keep your soil temperatures cool, and particularly for wine quality, than it is in the vineyard rows. So why hand hoe it. Why crimp in the vineyard and then hoe or till under the vine, you’re not gonna see the results as quickly by doing that.