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Stories from the valley

The farming equivalent to “It’s raining. Turn off your sprinklers”

Contributed by Tim Johnson

The late May rain (just in time for the holiday weekend no less) triggered a lot of reminders in urban areas to turn off sprinklers. Good advice to be sure. At Walker Vineyard, we have been getting a nice late Spring shower perking up the grass and wetting our boots. We would turn off our sprinklers too but we have not even started watering the vines yet this year. Why – you may wonder? The answer lies at four feet.

Irrigation at the vineyard based on two key factors. First, the vines need to stop growing. We actually withhold additional water for the vines until they use up the water stored in the soil from winter and stop growing. We don’t want excessive vegetative growth but rather a balance of leaves and vines to support the fruit. By looking closely at the end of the shoots, you can see that the growth slow and finally stop. Too much water and the vines would never stop growing becoming long and trailing with growth everywhere and the fruit would lack intensity of flavor.

The second factor lays four feet under the top of the ground. That is the last moisture sensor that reads how much water is at 1 foot, 2 feet, 3 feet and finally 4 feet at the push of a button. When that sensor indicates the soil is dry, then we will turn on the drip system.

The objective is to give the vine just the right amount of water, right at the base of the plant and only when it needs it. With technology and a modern drip system, we can refine our irrigation, keeping the vine thriving while producing great fruit for our winemakers.

We share our urban neighbors desire to save water a resource we share. We just do it with technology and by paying close attention to what the vines are telling us.