As we reach the coldest depths of winter here in the Okanagan, there are still signs of life in our vineyards. Much of this life can be seen in our everchanging compost pile. Our philosophy here at Lightning Rock winery is simple. Compost is life. Did you know that the affects of compost will remain in the soil and be evident in the vine for 5 to 7 years after the compost has been applied? I had a chance to catch up with Tyler, winemaker and vineyard manager to discuss the use of compost at our 3 Summerland vineyards.
Vicky: Why use compost in our vineyard?
Tyler: The main benefits are carbon (organic matter) and micronutrients. This allows for lots of things to grow, not just vines, which is when you get into rebuilding soil structure and preventing erosion, rebuilding the soil food web which in turn fixes and cycles nutrients and enhances nutrient uptake.
Vicky: Why chose to make you own compost when commercial compost is readily available?
Tyler: There is nothing wrong with commercial compost. We have been buying nice organic compost for the first 3 years while our own matures/we had time and space for making it. Ideally, the compost is made from mostly material from your farm. The idea of putting back 95% of what I take from the vineyard each year just makes sense. It keeps the yeast populations recurrent too.
Vicky: How much compost is generally needed in our vineyards?
Tyler: How much depends on the relative vigour of the area it's being applied to. For example, Elysia is extremely variable in soil depth and quality, so I can be doubling the amount in one area and in the next 10 feet not adding any. We do petiole analysis every few years, just to keep an eye on if there are any specific deficiencies, but a lot of it is just knowing the vineyard by spending time out there.
Vicky: Tell us about application methods and timing?
Tyler: We use the side by side with a trailer, loaded by the tractor. Then we spread it with 20L buckets by hand. Its hard. Usually do it in the spring when I have time.
Vicky: How do we know the compost is doing its work on the vines?
Tyler: Noticed a difference after the first year. Things grow more evenly, I water less, etc.
Vicky: What effects does composting have on our wine?
Tyler: Happy vines make better wine.
Vicky: What’s your favorite part of composting?
Tyler: I love the cyclical nature of it. It's rewarding to see the positive effects it has on our little system.
Vicky: What’s our compost pile looking like right now?
Tyler: The windrow (fancy word for long skinny pile of compost) from 2020 has transitioned from a bacterial dominated stage to a more fungal dominated stage. This spring, we will spread the mature windrow in the vineyard. This will make room to turn the 2020 windrow, to mix the outer (less broken down) layer to the middle. Which will make space for the 2021 compost pile! And so, the cycle continues.
Interested in checking out our compost pile? Tyler is always happy to show off his pride and joy! The Lightning Rock Winery tasting room will open for the season April 1st, with options to book guided tours along side your wine tasting.