Sunday, April 22, 2007

Vine Budding and Grafting

This is Shone Farm , the teaching farm/orchard/vineyard/winery of Santa Rosa Jr. College. It's very tranquil. I really look forward to coming out here for our classes.

Friday night we had a guest lecturer, the very highly respected field graft expert, Daniel Robledo. He learned from his father, and not only is an entertaining and knowledgeable lecturer, he is one of the top experts in the country on field grafting. We were very fortunate to be able to have him teach our class.

On Saturday Morning we met at Novavine Nursery in Santa Rosa for a tour of the operations. In addition to wine grape vines, they also grown many varieties of olives as seen below.

After a general crash in the grape vine nursery industry in the 90's, Tom Nemcik took over as operations manager with a pledge to turn the nursery into a supplier of the best vines in California. One of his main goals has been to eliminate all toxic chemicals in the nursery production, which is quite an undertaking. Traditional nursery operations are notoirous for intensive use of pesticide, fungicides and other chemicals.
Here Tom explains the process of hot dipping. All plant materials brought into the nursery/greenhouse are hot water dipped to control mealy bug, phyloxera, nematodes and other pests. By hot dipped, I mean submerged in 120 degree water for 5 minutes. All dormant vines being shipped out are dipped again to ensure non-transmission of the crop-devastating diseases.

This is the grafting house. There are 2 kinds of vines here- root stock and scion. In the field, mature shoots called canes are harvested. They are cut into specific lengths, of specific diameters, containing a specific number of nodes. These folks are debudding the root stock.

The scion canes, called bud wood, are cut into 1 bud sections. The ladies at the grafting machines select matching diameter root stock and scion and graft them together in what is called an omega

Tom shows a nicely grafted cane.

Here we are at the bench grafting machine. One of these women, and they are all women, can put out 1,000 grafts per day. Tom says he likes all women because they have great fine motor control and their hearts have a lot of love, which they impart to the vines. He places high importance on having a calm, serene and joyful production environment, which he believes imparts a good vibrational growth influence to the vines. I like that!

Sanitation is of highest importance in the nursery trade. Instead of chemicals, he uses ozonated water to sanitize all surfaces, materials and the air. This makes the environment safe for the workers too.
Next the finished vines are sprayed with a compost tea and beneficial biologicals cocktail ( such as trichoderma spp), dipped in rooting hormone and packed in hydrated vermiculite. At this point is is a race to help the plant form a strong callus before decomposing fungi start to set in. he does this by strict control of 100% humidity, and temperature of 85 degrees. They also spray the tops of the bins with peracetic acid, which is concentrated form of hydrogen peroxide.

In 10-14 days the vine have reached a good level of callus and some varietals have bud break. Can you find the tiny buds peaking out of the vermiculite?

So at this point they are readied for either field planting or the greenhouse. They are taken out of the vemiculite and dipped into a parafin wax. BTW, if you know anyone who could use some slightly used vermiculite, they need someone to take it off their hands.

These are packed into boxes containing water, to be immediately taken out to their fields and mechanically planted. In a year they will be harvested and ready to ship out to the vineyard that ordered them. Nurseries graft to order, so you have to think 18 months in advance if you want dormant vines to plant in December.

So once the vines are harvested out of the field, washed clean of soil, hot dipped again, they are ready for shipping. They look like this:

They are packed in shavings of pine and fir and kept in cold storage until the vineyard is ready for them.

Another alternative is to grow them in a greenhouse for 10-12 weeks and ship out. Green vines are good for vineyards who procrastinated about their order and want plants NOW. Green vines require more intensive maintenance for success and are not recommended for certain soils or terrains.

To strengthen the plants in the green house, they formulate their proprietary blend of soiless media, which does contain worm castings, regularly apply compost tea, botanicals, and hand tip. Here the baby vines are hardening off in preparation for delivery.

It was a great trip. This nursery is to be commended for it's dedication to it's employees, as well as the vines. By abiding by a philosophy of respecting the plant's own natural defensive properties, and simply paying attention, they are able to produce a high quality plant with no toxic chemicals or synthetic fertilizers.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

On to Nevada

I'll be traveling to Nevada for the next fews days, out in the boonies- Lovelock, to be exact. While I'm there I might look for signs of the native bees, the Alkali bee and the Leaf-cutter bee.

From History of Lovelock, NV
"Lovelock boasts some 40,000 acres under irrigation in Upper and Lower valleys, most of it devoted to grain for feeding livestock, and to the alfalfa seed for which Lovelock is known around the world.
You may not think there is much romance or fascination in alfalfa, but that's only because you haven't met the bees. Alfalfa is not a cross-pollinator, and so its flowers must be tripped by insects in order to propagate. A special strain of bees was developed locally to perform this essential task. Called the leaf-cutter bee, this industrious insect does not live in hives like honey bees do, but in individual nests. Seeking to build these little pellet-shaped nests, the female bees eagerly occupy any pre-existing hole of the appropriate size and shape. Thus soda straws left unattended when the females are feeling the mating urge, will be filled with nest and eggs. So will the corrugations in a piece of cardboard, and so will empty nailholes in a fencepost. One local man had to give up on his outdoor barbecue when the leaf-cutters insisted on nesting in the gas jets of the burner.
Even more wonderful are the alkali bees, which also participate in the pollination of alfalfa. These bees are hiveless too, nesting in little burrows in the ground. They prosper in the alkaline soil of the ancient sea beds. But the alkali bee has a deadly enemy, the bomber fly. This aerial marauder comes whirring out over the desert floor after the alkali bee has laid its eggs, and searches for the little nests. When it finds one, it hovers in the air about a foot above the ground, and with the most amazing and deadly accuracy flips its own eggs into the hole as well. When the fly egg hatches, the larva instinctively digs down and devours the helpless bee larva. The full-grown fly emerges in the spring to begin the cycle again. But when the bomber fly emerges, it is as a wingless adult, and during the 20 or 30 minutes needed to shed its skin, and to dry and activate its wings, the fly is defenseless.

This accounts for one of the most unexpected (and ridiculous) rituals conducted anywhere in the Wild West: Fly stomping.
It hasn't been done in recent years, but not so long ago, over three or four weeks in late May and early June, seed company employees made a huge grid across the desert floor with stakes and string. They hired every able-bodied 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th grader in Lovelock, outfitted them with fly swatters and gave each one a patch of desert to patrol.
At the twitch of an emerging fly, the kids pounced and swatted. The sight of all these youngsters, prowling their sections of desert, yelping with excitement and lunging on the attack, is unforgettable. And fly-stomping was one of the growing up experiences that Lovelock kids carried with them to the grave. Regrettably, it was discovered that the trampling of the soil caused more damage to the alkali bees than the bomber flies, and fly-stomping came to an end."

Heh heh, so ends an inspired, but misguided attempt at IPM. :-p

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Garden Books on Sale

Update 4/8/07
All the gardening books are gone! I did manage to snag one of the last copies of "The Naming of Names" all about naming plants and finding order, beginning in Athens with some pupil of Aristotle. It's a beautiful book, with some nice lithograph reproductions. Should be a great read.

Just got back from Book Inc. on Market in the Castro, and they have a lot of really nice gardening books on sale right now, including the Sunset Western Garden book for $11.00!

Monday, April 2, 2007

Happy Easter!

Thanks to Van & Lisa for the Easter art!