Growing grapes without herbicides

There will always be some controversy about organic growers who rely on chemicals to get started, although this is by far the norm in viticulture. The issue is only important for young vines, as established vines can tolerate more competition, and there is a variety of tools and equipment, such as under-vine weeding knives and slashers that will swing under the canopy. Other solutions are mulching with organic matter, flame and plant competitions (such as clovers and medics). These methods are all problematic for young vines though, as they can easily get burnt or smothered.

The best solution for non-chemical establishment is to use a weed mat of some type. There are individual stem products, such as squares or disks of hemp fibre, jute, wool or cardboard, but the purchase price of these products and time taken to lay them is high.

One of the better examples of non-chemical establishment is from the small vineyard of Ian Cairns, at Liffy in Tasmania. He uses woven plastic weed mat (organic growers should not use non-woven plastic mulch) with dolomite around the slot cut for the individual vines. While establishment cost for this is higher than herbicide use, the mulch will last for at least three or four years and possible much longer if treated with care.

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