I’ve had a few people curious to know what were our steps to becoming an organically certified vineyard, and it’s easier than you think. Because we’d love every grape grower in the world to use less chemicals, we’ll share what works for us.
It’s what we call ‘Chemical-free Ecosystems’ – working with nature to reduce input costs.
Good bugs will do the work for you
I’m all for working smarter not harder and if I can get bugs to do my dirty work for free, I will. This means making these unsuspecting, unpaid workers comfortable. On their menu, we want as many short stamen yellow and white flowers  as we can, as these are a favourite for parasitic wasps.
These wasps eat the nectar but then lay their larvae in or on any pest caterpillars (e.g Braconid Wasp) or in the moths eggs (Trichogramma Wasp). Pest pressure can be an issue for most of the grape season, so having flowers available while there are leaves on the vine is important.
Left: Trichogramma wasps lay their eggs in the Light Brown Apple Moth eggs. Right: Harmless Scorpion Flies prey on Light Brown Apple Moth, here it is pictured eating a fly in our Coonawarra organic vineyard.
Weeds – 3 reasons why we love them
Why do you remove weeds? Mostly it comes down to three considerations, and how we work around these:
If weeds are too high it can stop wind from flowing through the vineyard – still cold nights equal frost. You can use under vine mowers , but mowing all vines rows at once removes the heads of your flowers – ie your good bug food source. Dandelions are huge early on in the season, and grow back quickly, so get plenty of these amongst the vines. Mow every second row, and wait until the heads grow back before mowing the other rows. Once frost season is over, there should be no need to mow at all.
Our Koonara vineyard in Coonawarra – dandelions are low growing flowers which causes less frost issues, and are a great food source for our ‘good’ bugs.
2. Water competition.
Many people think weeds steal water from the vine, but the truth is the exact opposite. The right weeds help build your microbiome in the soil, and hold water. [2.B]
In summer, many plants (weeds) die off, and dead roots become organic matter, which actually help hold water as well as being tiny straws to allow oxygen to penetrate deeper. Every 1% of organic matter left in the soil will hold 172,000 litres of extra water per Hectare. 3% of organic material will hold the equivalent of an Olympic size swimming pool extra of water.  
“…a study in the Upper Great Plains (in America) showed that a mixed prairie had an above-ground (shoot) yield of 1.4 tons of organic material per acre, while the root yield was about 4 tons per acre. The plants were producing roots that were more than twice the weight of the shoots,” said Eddie Funderburg, Ed.D, Senior Soils and Crops Consultant in Noble Research Institute article What Does Organic Matter Do In Soil?
Organic matter…absorb(s) up to 90 percent of its weight in water. A great advantage of the water-holding capacity of organic matter is that the matter will release most of the water that it absorbs to plants. In contrast, clay holds great quantities of water, but much of it is unavailable to plants.” 
Our ‘weeds’, otherwise known as flowers and native grasses, stay green for longer because we have a lot of moisture in our soil. If it rains too much, these plants can soak up the excess. I find we water less since building this organic material in our soil.
Another key point is plants will push 40% of the carbon they capture into their roots to feed good biology, so they break down minerals into a usable form for them (18).
A neatly trimmed vineyard costs time, labour, diesel, tractor wear and tear, etc to keep mowing your vineyard. Seeding a mix of pretty flowers (example pictured: Kunde Vineyards in California) to encourage beneficial bugs to move in. Bonus points if you use varieties with yellow or white stamens and are low growing; This will encourage the 5 wasps that prey on LBA Moth and Vine moth. Low flowers will allow air flow, causing less frost issues.
Glyphosate, aka Roundup – it kills… too well
Glyphosate, aka Roundup™, is a bit of an enemy at Koonara – it kills things, but too well. It attacks micro fungi and is a great bactericide, killing off the good bacteria , hence blocking nutrients entering the roots of the vine. By using Roundup™ under vine, nutrients can be restricted from entering the plant from the soil, so the majority of nutrients will need to be added through a foliar spray .
The most important thing about being an organic grape grower is making sure there is plenty of nutrients for your vines. Trace minerals help keep the vine strong, so pests and disease have less impact. Healthier plants well supplied with minerals can make all the flavour producing substances they need, increasing your chances of producing a great wine.
Soluble silicon sprays
Mineral ratios – magnesium to calcium
I had my soil tested by Nutri-Tech Solutions to get an in-depth look at its minerals, and their ratios. If you have heavy clay soil, you might need 7:1 Cal:Mag, sandy soil the reverse, with – 3:1 Mag:Cal ratio .
Nutri-Tech’s Graeme Sait says it best:
“When comparing thousands of soil tests to associated leaf tests, over many years, I noted that whenever we achieved equal parts per million of magnesium and potassium (1:1 ratios), we increased the uptake of both minerals into the leaf. Not only did we maximise uptake of these minerals, but there was also an associated positive impact upon the uptake of phosphorus.” 
Soil PH of 6.4
Nutrient uptake is pH-dependent. An ideal soil pH of 6.4 ensures maximum nutrient uptake. A number of experts have openly stated that they have never seen a crop with pest & disease pressure when the soil has been at 6.4ph. Below 6.4 PH will have fungal pressure.
The fascinating reason is explained by Head of the Department of Agriculture at Eastern Washington University, Bruce Tanio:
“At the ideal of 6.4, the hydrogen content of plant fluids is approximately 12%. If you calculate out all of the frequencies attributed to each element – add up their individual frequencies – you’ll come to the ideal frequency of a living plant. If there is more than 12% hydrogen and the plant sap is acidic, it will mean that you have displaced one of those elements and usually it turns out to be calcium or potassium. This displacement alters the vibratory frequency of that plant. So this is how I got into the pH concept in the first place.” 
Other than in seaweed and humus, we don’t add nitrogen. Water-soluble inorganic fertilizer force feeds the vine, causing excess watershoots from the bottom of the vine, costing more to shoot bash later. Naturally occurring nitrogen from the roots of clover (low cover crop – Ben Harris from Treasury recommends red clover) or lupins (higher growing crop, but better nitrogen return) uses nitrogen as it needs it. Salt fertilisers dehydrate fungi and bacteria in the soil and thereby reduce earthworm food . And it’s bad for global warming: “The nitrogen cycle involves a gaseous form, and that gas, nitrous oxide, thickens the heat-trapping blanket of greenhouse gases, 310 times more than CO2. Agriculture contributes 80% of that nitrous oxide, and this factor is often ignored in the wider consideration of global warming solutions.” Says Graeme Sait from Nutri-Tech Solutions. Nitrogen also creates an explosion of Nitrogen hungry bacteria, and if no carbon is put on, then they eat the next best thing; organic material in your soil, robbing the soil of it’s water holding capacity, and starving all other microbiology that feed on this organic material/humus (Organic material break down to humus, a more usable form for your soils micro-biome). 100 kilograms of soil carbon is lost for every 1 kilogram of nitrogen we supply [14.5].
Research has shown Vermicompost created from earthworms is the best of all composts. Earthworms love protozoa and bacteria as a food source so introducing or increasing this food source will attract more worms. Worms have the best microfungi and bacteria in their guts, so as they eat the protozoa and bad bacteria, they leave behind the Protozoa can easily be supplied by brewing up your own Lucerne tea. 
Here is a 20 litre recipe courtesy of and branded by nutri tech. It can be upscaled to whatever size you require.
20-litre Lucerne Tea Recipe
- Take 500 grams of (chemical free) lucerne and place in a 20-litre bucket of water
- Add 200 mL of SeaChange KFF™ (kelp, liquid fish and fulvic acid).
- Add 100 mL of molasses.
- Aerate for 24 – 36 hours using a twin outlet fish tank aerator, fitted with two 6-inch airstones.
- After brewing, you can dilute this mixture with water in a watering can and apply to your gardens.
- Include some Nutri-Sea Liquid Fish™ with the lucerne tea when it is applied, as earthworms also love liquid fish.
Vermicompost from earthworms is the best of all composts. Image https://krishijagran.com
Products named in our spray program
I’m sure there are plenty of different variations of organic copper/sulphur, but these are what we usually use. I should state, we have no affiliation with any of these companies.
UPL Uni-Shield – Fungicide
ACTIVE CONSTITUENT: 800 g/kg SULFUR
Champ® 500WG Fungicide
ACTIVE CONSTITUENT: 500g/kg COPPER (Cu) present as CUPRIC HYDROXIDE
DiPel DF – Biological Insecticide
Control Light Brown Apple Moth with a formulation containing live spores and endotoxin of a naturally occurring bacterium. Once a caterpillar eats treated foliage, it stops feeding.
NOTE: This should only be used when there is a serious outbreak. The aim is to have an ecosystem – if you take LBAM completely out as a food source for your beneficial hunter bugs, they diminish or die, so when your LBAM come back (which they will), there are no natural predators left.
We have had reasonable success with this; the one year we didn’t apply it in time we got frosted. Its active ingredient is a bacteria that eats other bacteria on the leaf that causes water to freeze. It’s much cheaper than a frost fan. I would love any feedback if anyone else has had success with it – please email me at [email protected]
NOTE: Like with all live bacteria sprays, the spray rig needs to be super clean to avoid killing them before they get out on the vine. Many contractors have a rig kept separate for organic additives. I like the idea of putting it with seaweed, as the seaweed can also protect the plant down to a rumoured -2 degrees.
NTS Nutri-Life B.Sub – Snails and Millipedes
- Plant growth promotion.
- May assist in reducing chemical usage.
- Aids in bio-balancing.
- A powerful probiotic.
While it doesn’t say on the box it’s good for killing snails & millipedes, I can highly recommend it. Based on work by Prof. Elaine Ingham , we sprayed it and it cleared a millipede and snail infestation in our vineyard, as well as noticeable difference to earwigs and cockroaches.
The active ingredient Bacillus Subtilis is a pro-biotic which, before antibiotics were invented, was given to humans to treat intestinal and other diseases . It also stimulates immune activity in the body, and helps the development of proteins toxic to tumour cells. As with Sudo-Shield, a very clean spray rig is needed.
Example spray diary for Koonara Wines Coonawarra vineyards
Footnotes and references:
- “Nutrition Rules!” By Graeme Sait – Interview with Prof Elaine Ingham, Pg 42
- “Nutrition Rules!” By Graeme Sait – page 105, Interview with Bruce Tainio
14.5 – https://blog.nutri-tech.com.au/the-sad-story-of-nitrogen-1/
- “Nutrition Rules!” By Graeme Sait – Interview with Prof Elaine Ingham, Pg 42