The first 6 acres of vines were successfully planted this week, a major milestone in the story of Tillingham, it marks the 2 years of planning to reach this point, as well as the exciting prospect of the grapes to come in 3 years from now.
I wanted to talk about the immediate build up to this moment, the way we have prepared the soil and the choices taken, which are part of a bigger picture and a cornerstone of our approach. The fields here have been farmed conventionally over the generations, our turn as custodians began in September last year. Although we have interesting soils and geology literally protruding through the top soil, the organic matter levels were low and the soil needed a helping hand. We introduced a large amount of compost and manure in addition to some trace elements: Boron, Zinc, Sulphur, Molybdenum and adjusted the soil pH with lime. The reason for this intervention of sorts is to help the soil get back to something it resembled prior to the industrialisation of agriculture, it’s not just about the elements and pH though….
In the wild, vines thrive in soils that are rich in humous and organic matter, and with extraordinary concentrations of soil microbes, this soil supports them as they climb over trees and shurbs to reach sunlight. In this humid and tangled environment their immune system works in conjunction with the microbially rich soil beneath their feet. An arable soil with a monocultural approach, is an alien environment for a vine, that’s why boosting organic matter and providing the right conditions for microbial life both above and below the soil are so important to us.
Using BD500, the Biodynamic preparation of manure fermented in the ground in a cow horn, is a way of seeding and re-awakening the microbial populations that would have been rife in these soils once upon time. Establishing cover crops last autumn, before direct drilling additional cover crops alongside the baby vines, will help to provide additional root habitats in the soil for the colonisation of microbes that will support the nutrition and immune responses of the vine. Which in turn will reduce if not eliminate the vines’ reliance on chemical fertilisers and pesticides.