Organic chickens in the organic vineyard are wonderful. I would like to forget using the diesel tractor ploughing between vines, the latest must-have in my organic vineyard maintenance is chickens. Leading the way in the Swan Valley I have introduced chickens to the vineyard to help with the upkeep.
As an organic vigneron in the hot climate grape-producing region of Perth’s Swan Valley I allowed my chickens to roam the vineyard. The chickens scratch and aerate the soil, peck, eat seeds and insect larvae. They are doing a lot of the work for me.
Chickens in the vineyard are an asset to any vineyard whether it is organic or not. Generally they are quite hardy and independent. A well tended vineyard and a source of fresh water and a safe place to roost is all that is needed during summer, winter and spring. Autumn is different!
Chickens are also home lovers, meaning that they return home every evening so they are easy to handle, compared with ducks. We had some ducks many years ago and they would not go home. Every day they had to be rounded up or foxy would visit during the early evening and night and have duck dinner. This must not have been pleasant for the ducks and was not for myself.
My chickens ( chooks) are much more alert and a little wiser and survive the occasional fox visit.
During the late summer month’s chooks in the vineyard is not a good thing unless your vines are on high trellis. Chickens love grapes; to see them jumping is cute. But not economically viable to lose your crop you have worked so hard for. Here the chickens are locked up behind the house in a large run until all the grape picking is finished.
In the late autumn chickens in the vineyard are wonderful. They clean up all the vineyard of old dried grapes and enjoy the fresh young shoots of new weeds.
My current flock of chickens were rescued from a local egg farm.
The pale combed feather-less things were thin and poorly, but laying eggs every day for a few weeks. Due to the lack of night lights and high protein crumbed food they stopped their egg laying. With the winter’s shorter days this makes their ovaries shut down and go on holidays until the spring comes. When the weather warms up, the days are longer and they become healthier.
When they first arrived they huddled together and did not know what to do. When allowed out of the hen house they did know how to scratch. Later they turned the wood chip mulch over in one morning. For some unknown reason they were very tame not scared of my hands and would eat food from them eagerly.
After eight weeks their feathers had all grown back and they started to look like well kept healthy chickens. Now when I open the hen house door in the morning they run out and off exploring as though they have no time to lose.
We love our chickens, they are so inquisitive and cheeky, especially Wendy. They take off in the morning to their favourite playground during the day. Sometimes the orchard, looking for grubs under the trees, the olives or the mulberry tree. Other days it’s down the vineyard, turning over the ploughed ground. They search for anything nourishing and living. Grubs and snail eggs get a work out besides the seed bank from the previous winter’s green manure crop.
During a spring long table lunch in the underground cellar my chicken named Wendy came visiting, checking us out, saying hello and seeking any food scraps we may have dropped.
Some years ago we had an outbreak of vine weevils, however since the organic chickens arrived we have not seen another outbreak.
We were given a mother and some chickens by a couple who had to move house. The mother educated the babies and at night she would spread her wings so that they could all huddle underneath and keep warm. It was such a delight to watch and so educational to myself. All the chickens I have ever seen were all orphaned at birth and sent to the chicken farm to be raised into egg layers.
My organic chickens are so tame they will eat out of my hand. They will even talk to you in their own peculiar way. Have you seen a chicken smile? I swear that once you have something for them to eat they will come running and smile, cocking their heads looking up at you and saying thank you.
Volunteer, Helpx, Workaway and Wwoof at Harris Organic Wines is a wonderful experience.
“We are all visitors to this time and space. We are just passing through. Our purpose here is to observe, to learn to grow to love…. and then we return home.” An Australian Aboriginal belief.
Volunteers are also visitors……
What is Volunteering?
WWOOF means willing workers on organic farms. WWOOFing occurs when a farmer exchanges food and board for work provided by the willing worker. But Volunteering is much more than that; it is a cultural exchange, about learning new skills and sharing a host experience. We love woofers!
Volunteers are all visitors to this time and space at Harris Organic. They are just passing through. Their purpose is to observe, to learn, to grow, to love…. and then they return home with a wealth of experience, new skills, new friends and a new way of life.
What is Helpx?
Helpx means help exchange for non/organic farms. Helpx.com is an online help exchange website where hosts and helpers can register. In some ways it is better system than WWOOFing as there is no paper book, little cost for applicants and helpers and they can have their photograph and details of wants and experience. Hosts can view the profiles before accepting the helper. Hosts are also able to turn on and off their profiles so that they are able to accept workers when help is required. Its a system that works well for helpers and hosts, we love it.
Here are all the 2015 wwoofers, with Eva, Carl and Charlotte staying twice. 🙂
Today was a typical day. What did we do; we walked three rows of vines doing some thinning of the grapes, before the sun was too hot. Mowed some grass to clean up some leaves, made some pizzas for lunch in the shade of one of our large gum trees and after some sleep, cleaned some windows, watered some plants and then watched a movie before dinner.
During the year we have a number of organic wine events to tickle your taste buds.
Organic Wine Events at the Organic Winery
Breakfast Crush Club – 2nd Sunday in February
For those who want to experience a real organic vintage, come and help us pick some grapes and enjoy breakfast on us, plus a tasting of the wine variety you just picked. 7.00am – 10.00am. Get tickets here to ensure your place – a paid event. Harris Organic Wines.
The Post Vintage Weekend – 3rd Saturday in March
Harris Organic Wines is celebrating the 2020 vintage with a special Swan Valley Food and organic wineSundowner at the Vineyard. Come and join us for a glass of our hand-made ‘Methode Traditionale” organic sparkling wine, followed by several vintages of verdelho, accompanied by Mediterranean tapas. You will also be treated to our speciality dessert wine ‘pedro ximenez’. Sundowner event – 6.00 pm Friday eve. Organic Sundowner Tickets
Breakfast Crush Club – 3rd Saturday in March
Start your Swan Valley Vintage weekend adventure with us at the Breakfast Crush Club! Arrive at 7.00am and help out with putting fruit through its first stage of processing, followed by breakfast in the cellar and wine tasting in return! Get tickets Breakfast Crush Club here to ensure your place.
How long have you been operating Harris Organic Winery?
We invited Duncan Harris to give some questions and answers about his venture into winemaking. He purchased the property in 1998. He has always grown organic grapes and made organic wine, however, only became certified in 2006. Prior to him purchasing the property the land had 13 years of rest as the vines were removed in 1985. The Baskerville property was sold by the original owners who held it from the 1920’s in approximately 1985.
Obviously you grow organic grapes, do you grow anything else or are you a mono crop?
I grow lupins, sour sobs, turnip, radish, vetch and grasses of varying kinds between the 30 rows of vines. I use these plants to create green manure. That is there’s a lot of goodness in the plants, I chop it up and turn it into the soil which provides nutrients to the soil. In the summer time I grow watermelons, and pumpkins. I also have olives and oranges growing in the orchard.
Do you do companion planting?
Yes and No. I plant lupins which produce nitrogen for the soil. There are nodules on their roots which are released to the soil microbes and plant roots to use. I grow it and harvest the seed for the following year. The plants take in carbon dioxide and produces cellulose, a carbon based material, which in turn returns carbon to the soil.
Do you sell anything other than wine?
Yes, certified organic vodka and an un-oaked brandy I call eau de vie and three and 10 year old wood aged vintage brandy.
Have you ever had a year wine where you didn’t have any grapes to harvest? No, the Swan Valley is a most congenial place to grow grapes.
How long does it take to create wine from beginning to end?
From the planting of the grapes it takes 7 years for the best vintage wines. You can get a crop of grapes in 18 months but it’s not very good for high quality wine. From the picking of the grapes to the bottling of the wine can take anything from nine months to ten years.
I grow 24 madeleine vines that produce delicious table grapes that go to organic retailers between Christmas and New Year. If you keep the grapes in your fridge they can last up to a month.
What do you do to manage pests?
I employ a variety of techniques. Chickens, known as chooks in Australia, help to manage the weevils and other soil based bugs, usually the larva of such and we love the spiders in our vineyard – they eat some of the bugs and some of the bugs eat them! They also catch lots of different flies.
What are some sprays a conventional grower could use on their crops? Any known side effects? There are many sprays available to conventional farmers. Ask Monsanto about herbicide resistance and residue levels in domestic animals and humans!
Would you personally ever drink conventional wine?
There are lots of conventional wines I have tried. This gives a good basis to understand what good wines are available in particular styles. All part of a good education!
What kind of nasties can you find in there? Heavy Metals?
See our page on additives: Wine Additives and the mean residual level in the grapes can be found here: Some of the greatest users of chemicals is the table grape industry. Poisons used in vineyards.
What do you use to preserve the wine? There are natural preservatives in wine, they being alcohol, tannin and sulphur dioxide (SO2). SO2 is added to keep the wine fresh, clean and clear appearance in the bottle and give it longevity. The organic standards allow up to 150 ppm SO2 even more in dessert wines.
Question: Do you have any preservative free wine?
What does this entail?
I have some small quantities of “pet nat wines”. Pet nat stands for petillant naturel. An ancient way of making a fresh preservative free sparkling wine.
Question: Have you seen much growth in the organic wine market?
The organic industry continues to grow, promoted by the amount of exports to other countries, including the USA and EU.
Question: If you turn back time would you do anything differently?