Category Archives: Organic Vineyard

There is one Organic Vineyard in Perth.

UNDER VINE WEED MANAGEMENT

Vineyard weed control

Modern vignerons manage Organic vineyard weed control and under vine weed management in several ways.  Mostly chemical means, using glyphosate, an organic salt, other chemical herbicide means, usually by spraying a fine mist onto all the plants under vine and by mechanical means, using ploughs that cut the soil or rotary action.

Now that the European Union is looking at banning glyphosate other methods are being looked at. One of them is the “Silly Plough”

Silly Plough or Strip Digger

At Harris Organic vineyard the Spring under vine grapevine weed control uses a “silly plough”. Harris has never included any chemical herbicide usage.

The small Iseki G174 diesel tractor was used. Pulling the “silly plough” along the rows to strip away the soil and growth under the vines.  This aids to the health and fitness of the operator and to the communication skills of plough-man and driver. Now you can guess who drove the tractor and who did the yelling!

under vine weeding with a single-bladed silly plough
plough2
Strip digging
Ploughing in the vineyard
Strip digging with silly plough in the vineyard

                                                  Under vine weeding, hat on, glasses focussed

plough4
Are you ready?
plough5 under vine weed
Not too fast!

Organic weed control

Mechanical Weeding, not Chemical Weeding

There is a lot we can learn from the old ways in the Swan Valley region about organic weed control.  At a recent  European exhibition, there was not a single under-vine herbicide machine, they were all mechanical machines as many European vineyards are going to organic viticulture.

Further, this gives some context to the recent decision from the French and Belgium Governments to ban the sale of glyphosate (the active constituent in Roundup).  A large portion of European grape growers is opting for organic/biodynamic vineyards. The progress of the organic movement has allowed the advancement of chemical-free options for organic weed control.

Chemicals

Organic vignerons are turning to engineering companies that produce practical, versatile machines that combine a number of operations. These are all changeable to the base unit on the tractor.

Use an under vine blade,  mulcher or a rotary hoe which are easily attached to the side-mounted unit. as a beneficial system.

This gives the grapevine grower the ability to adapt to each vineyard situation which is crucial in Australian vineyards due to our varied weed species, vine age and differing soil types.

Here in this video is what we do now in our organic vineyard.

Strip digging

Glyphosate resistance is already a problem across the country, due to normal weeds becoming resistant to herbicides.

Then we should all be looking at ways we can manage our weed populations. Also, effective, efficient and in the most sustainable manner by ploughing. In the first instance giving the under vine area, a shallow ploughing removes the chemical-resistant weeds.

“When is glyphosate going to be banned in Australia”, that is, the question?

Tractorless vineyard

Is it possible to have a tractorless vineyard?  Yes, I believe it is possible, however, the capital cost may be prohibitive, depending on how it is set up.

A fox-proof fenced vineyard, that is filled with free-range chickens during the autumn, winter and spring, I can envisage. During the summer the chickens would need to be housed in a separate area away from the vines as free-range chickens eat grapes

The free-range chickens will clean up and weed all the vineyard and reduce ground-dwelling vine pests as well as pest control. 

Sheep may be an alternative too, but they will eat spring shoots.

A dual business between grape grower and free-range egg producer may be the answer.

Vineyard Ground cover species

AWRI has investigated several different ground cover species, such as kangaroo grass, triticale and prostrate salt bush as all possible ground cover crops to use in a vineayrd. 

This year we are experimenting with not ploughing a row, letting everything go to seed and see what happens in the coming year.

Chickens eat Grapes

Chicken eat grapes. Yes, they do. However, organic chickens in organic vineyards 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, and eat seeds and insect larvae. They are doing a lot of work for me.

Chickens in the vineyard

Ducks or 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 are all that is needed during summer, winter and spring. Autumn is different!

All chickens are 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, however, ducks do love grapes just as much as chickens eat grapes.

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 me.

My chickens ( chooks)  are much more alert and a little wiser and survive the occasional fox visit.

Can chickens eat grapes?

During the late summer months (chooks) chickens in the vineyard is not a good thing unless your vines are on a high trellis. Chickens love to eat grapes; to see them jumping is cute. But not economically viable to lose the organic crop you have worked so hard for.

Here the vineyard chickens are locked up behind the house in a large run until all the grape picking is finished. Can chickens eat grapes? Yes, eating grapes is safe for chickens. Can chickens eat raisins and grape seeds? Yes, eating raisins is safe for chickens too.

However, dogs don’t have the right constitution for grapes. Subsequently, their kidney tubes atrophy and a long slow death is imminent. Seek the advice of your nearest vet.

There are reports of chickens devouring whole rows and looking very fat and healthy for their effort.

Can ducks eat grapes?

Yes, ducks will eat grapes just as well as chickens, however, they don’t reach or jump as high as chickens.

Video of; “Can chickens have grapes” in an organic vineyard.

In the late autumn chickens in the vineyard are wonderful. They clean up all the vineyard, after the grape harvest has finished, of old dried grapes and enjoy the fresh young shoots of new weeds and seeds.

Rescued Chickens

My current flock of rescued chickens were found on a local egg farm.

rescued chicken
rescued chicken

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.

The winter’s shorter days make their ovaries shut down and go on holiday until the spring comes. During Spring the weather warms up, the days are longer and the chickens become healthier and start laying again.

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 one morning. For some unknown reason, they were very tame not scared of my hands and would eat food from them eagerly.

Chickens settling in

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.

organic chickens
organic chicken at Harris Organic

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 workout 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.

organic chickens in cellar
Wendy, the chicken in the underground cellar at Harris Organic

Organic Vineyard

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 me. 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 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.

We love our organic chickens, so feed a few cold grapes to chickens on a hot day, they will enjoy them!

Volunteering at an Organic Vineyard – Winery

Volunteering at an Organic Vineyard in Perth and the Swan Valley’s only organic vineyard. The winery has willing volunteers during the year to help maintain the vineyard and home.

Volunteering at an Organic Vineyard

Workaway and Helpx volunteers are welcome at our certified organic vineyard and winery in Perth’s Swan Valley. We have a room for couples and a caravan that has space enough for two persons.

There is a variety of work all year round that is not too strenuous and plenty of time to learn new skills. Since 2006 we have been Certified Organic and now with Southern Cross Certified.

To go to the Workaway Australia site, visit here or email Duncan Harris to enquire about staying with us while you are in Perth.
Please state your Workaway number and your age etc.. when writing to us.


Please note.. Be prepared to cook mixed meals for everyone. Drinking organic wine is voluntary!

Couples welcome and non-smoking is essential.

Thanks to all my volunteers in 2019.

A big thank you to every one of you. You make my heart sing with joy for the energy and vibrancy you bring to myself and Harris Organic. May you be home with your family at this time of year and if you are still in Australia I hope you have Christmas with some good friends to enjoy a few hours reminiscing about your travels.

Paula and I are off to New Zealand in January for ten days and will arrive home to start vintage in what may be a very challenging year for the organic vineyard. We won’t be praying, but hope there is some good rainfall before vintage starts on January 23rd 2020.

If you are returning to Perth give us a call so we can catch up before you depart for your home shores.

All the best and Merry Christmas.

2022 Volunteers

Now that the border is reopening in March 2022 we will be welcoming volunteers again. Come volunteering at an Organic Vineyard. Volunteers have been a rare commodity during COVID and it will be lovely to have some fresh faces and great talent arrive to assist us.

Removing Caltrop Seeds from your vineyard

Caltrop (Tribulus terrestrilus) can also be called bindi eye, GG’s, Cats head.

Removing Caltrop seeds and seedlings, an obligate summer grower in the Swan Valley Wine Region of Perth, Western Australia. It generally appears after summer rains as a pioneering species that loves bare soil. In some years it is really bad, in others it will not be seen. There are also several similar native species, but these generally have less spiny fruits.

Eradication is essential, and vigilance against introduction is critical.

Readily controlled by herbicides in most situations, a few other pasture plants are alive at the same time, and selective control is easy in lawns and grass pasture. It generally grows too low to mow but could be controlled by solarising.

How to get rid of caltrop weed and seeds

Caltrop weed ( cow trop weed) is definitely a plant against which an eradication campaign is worth mounting. Incidentally, the original caltrop was a weapon of war – an iron device with four tetrahedral prongs that were strewn in the path of enemy horses. Whichever way it fell, one prong was always upright, ready to lame the horse.

Charming – but walk on the plant with bare feet and you will agree that it has been well named!

Harvested Caltrop Seeds
Harvested Caltrop seeds and weeds

Caltrop seeds in an Organic Vineyard.

Occasionally, Duncan finds some caltrop seeds and seedlings in the vineyard. It grows after summer rains and we have had a few showers this year.

In row three in the shiraz plantings, right in the middle of the row, was a larger plant 800mm diameter, with lots of dried seeds besides some 20 other smaller plants.

What is an organic vigneron to do? He can not use herbicide!

A wheelbarrow, pair of snips and a dustpan and broom are all required besides some patience.  Watch the video to get a better idea of what we do.

Firstly, spot the bright verdant green caltrop plant in the late afternoon sun. Using the snips cut the taproot, then lift the plant carefully and remove it to the wheelbarrow. Then with the dustpan and broom sweep up all the loose sand and seeds from the plant area. Most dried seeds are within a hand span of the crown.

The removing caltrop seedlings are nearly done.

Next is the hard part, walk all the rows to check for other plants, then return in two weeks to check for new plants again before the Autumn rains.

Removing Caltrop Seedlings is another video.

You may ask, what do you do with the contents of the wheelbarrow? Duncan puts it in the waste bin for the local tip to compost it. Once he tried to burn the plants. The local authorities saw the smoke and believed that a conflagration was occurring.

Growing Pedro Ximenez in the Swan Valley

What is Pedro Ximenez?

Pedro Ximenez is the name of a white Spanish grape variety. Sometimes it is called Pedro Ximenes or PX. It has been grown in Spain for centuries.
The first plants that came to Western Australia were taken by British settlers as cuttings from the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa in the early 1830s. The vines are vigorous on the rich alluvial soils of the Swan Valley with its Mediterranean climate. The vines produce large bunches of white grapes. To maximize the grape sugar levels the vines have to be meticulously maintained through the growing season. To make the rich and luscious liqueur wines that are renowned worldwide the sugar level has to be extraordinarily high. This is achieved by letting the grapes ripen and shrivel as raisins on the vine in the autumn sunshine.

Growing Pedro Ximenez

Pedro Ximenez grows readily in the Swan Valley in Perth’s Western Australia.  It is a white wine grape best known for the sweet sherries of Spain.  Pedro Ximenez comes to the fore as a fortified wine either as a Sherry style or as a fortified single-variety wine known as Pedro Ximenez (PX).

In the Swan Valley, we make the greatest sweet dessert wines in the world. Once called sherry in Australia, and now called by its varietal name Pedro Ximenez, as the Europeans own the name, Sherry.

Planting Pedro Ximenez

We have 300 Pedro Ximenez (PX) vines planted in our organic vineyard, situated at the top of the Swan Valley, 29 km from Perth, in Western Australia.  Harris Organic Wines is the only certified organic vineyard and winery in Perth with 3 ha of land.

The vines cover an area of 20,000 square metres. The PX was planted in 2002 as part of our efforts to continue making our great fortified dessert wines. The clone of our Pedro Ximénez is unknown and here they are grown on their own roots and do well.

The vines are planted with 2.1 m spacing. The rows are 3.0m apart. The vines are trained to the wire at 900mm high and are rod pruned to 5 or 6 buds per rod. The vines are trained on the Vertical Shoot Position (VSP) trellis to 1.8m above the ground.

We spray the vines during spring. The vines are sprayed with wettable sulphur after rain and Bordeaux mixture before any rain events.

We continually maintained the vines with summer pruning. After the fruit set, the vines are leaf plucked on the southern side to perform fruit thinning at veraison.

To reach the highest sugar levels the un-irrigated vines are only allowed to have one bunch of fruit per shoot. This leaves 6-8 bunches per vine and approximately two kilogrammes per vine at 25 Be’.

Site characteristics

The site characteristics of Swan Valley Pedro Ximenez is grown at an elevation of just 19m above sea level. Situated about 30km from the Indian Ocean, the vineyard is flat, as is the surrounding Swan Valley prime agricultural land. The Pedro Ximenez vines are planted east-west direction in soil that comprises a duplex sandy loam over clay. In January, the site experiences a mean maximum temperature of 33.2°C and a mean minimum temperature of 17°C.  Further, the average annual rainfall over the last 10 years has been 650mm dominated by 140mm averages for June and July. The site doesn’t experience frosts while winds are predominantly southwest in the afternoon, with some easterly gales in spring and autumn.

Trellising and canopy management

The row and vine spacing of the Pedro Ximénez is 3m x 2.1, respectively, and is trellised to a five-wire Vertical Shoot Position (VSP).  Sometimes we practise leaf plucking on the south side of the vines, shoot trimming around Christmas time, shoot thinning and shoot-positioning when putting the wires up in November and bunch thinning to carry the fruit through to 25 Baume.

Irrigation and soil management

The Pedro Ximenez vines are unirrigated. Between rows, we grow lupins, vetch and a mixture of wild radish, sour sobs and capeweed to increase soil carbon and nitrogen. Strip digging and ploughing the vine rows in spring produces a dry earth mulch. This helps to conserve soil moisture and help manage weed growth.  Wood chip compost is spread out along the vine inter-rows to act as a fertiliser in autumn.

Pest and disease management

Pedro Ximenez is more susceptible to downy mildew than the other varieties grown here. Furthermore, to reduce its susceptibility, we prune the vines late in the season so that budburst is up to two weeks later than the other varieties. Budburst this year occurred on 10 October.

Pruning Pedro Ximenez

We spur-pruned the Pedro Ximénez to two-bud spurs as recommended by the Handbook of Horticulture and Viticulture of Western Australia. This book was first published by Adrien Despiessis in 1895.  Due to my 1921 second edition of the handbook by the Western Australian Department of Agriculture started to fall apart,  I undertook the task of reprinting this wonderful book on behalf of others as well as myself in 2007. We intend to produce a small amount of PX fruit at 25Be for a PX sherry liqueur. After 5 years of spur pruning, I have changed the pruning method to cane pruning. This reduces the amount of time required for hand thinning of the shoots during Spring.

Future methods of management

Changing from a four-wire to a five-wire trellis helped reduce hedging time, and increase the verticality of the shoots and changing from spurs to canes, to reduce shoot thinning handwork.

Harvesting

At veraison, all excess fruit is removed leaving only one bunch per shoot, i.e., about 12 bunches per vine. A typical analysis of our Pedro Ximénez at harvest: Sugar (Baumé) 25, Acidity (TA) very low with a pH of about 4.0.
We harvest less than a tonne of Pedro Ximénez per year at this sugar level.
Average phenological timing:

Budburst early October
Flowering November
Fruit set December
Veraison late January
We harvest usually about the 1st of April but sometimes this can stretch out to May due to the weather.

Pedro Ximenez Winemaking

Pedro Ximénez fermentation is carried out on its skins for a few degrees Baume’ before pressing. The fermented juice is returned to the tank, before fortification. Once fortified with certified organic neutral brandy spirit the wine is racked and allowed to settle for a few weeks before racking to barriques. Ours is an organic fortified version, fortified with certified organic brandy from the only organic distillery in Australia. We mature our PX for many years in our underground cellar. The award-winning Pedro Ximénez sherry is packaged in 375ml bottles.

The biggest challenge in producing Pedro Ximenez

None really, it’s a matter of learning more about the variety and the terroir as the vines become more mature.  Although PX does require a lot of handwork, particularly fruit thinning to improve flavour and ripeness, it is well worth the effort.

Advice to other growers

For best results, the more handwork the better.  Love your vineyard and the vines will perform for you.

Crown thinning Pedro Ximenez
Crown thinning Pedro Ximenez with Rosie the cat.

Where to buy Pedro Ximenez?

You can Buy Pedro Ximenez at Harris Organic Wines cellar door or purchase online with Australia wide delivery.

Autumn Pedro Ximenez
Autumn Pedro Ximenez.

Volunteering at Harris Organic

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. 🙂

[wppa type=”slide” album=”1″ align=”center”]Any comment[/wppa]

For more information about wwoof & helpx.

What sort of work happens at Harris Organic?

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.