As you drive by the vineyards, you will see the first green shoots and leaves that herald the beginning of this year’s vintage. To help these little guys grow into strong, healthy fruit producers, there are a few things to do to help them get a healthy start. Over the next few weeks, we focus on irrigation system tune-ups, cover-crop care and pest control to be pro-active in the health of the vineyard. This post will be on the first thing we focus on, the irrigation system.
This time of year, it is extremely important that the irrigation system is tuned up and ready to go. A few posts back, I talked about spring being the time that the vines are most vulnerable to frost damage. Between now and May, the potential for for frost damage is at it’s highest and it is crucial that the irrigation system is working properly as the sprinkler system is our main defense against frost damage. As I mentioned a few posts back, the water from the sprinklers freezes on the vines and actually insulates them from the colder temperatures- like an igloo. There are three main parts of the irrigation system that we evaluate: the pumps, the sprinkler system, and the irrigation lines.
First, the pumps that suck water from the lake must be checked to see if they are working at full capacity- there are no leaks, blockages, etc. so it is reaching desired maximum pressure. The gauges must also be checked to make sure they are measuring the pressures properly. We have a company that we use that specializes in vineyard irrigation equipment that comes out and evaluates the whole pump system.
The white pipes with the sprinkler heads on them in the vineyard are our sprinkler system. The sprinkler heads must be checked to see if they are rotating properly and are free from any blockages. If there are any problems, the sprinkler head is replaced. So, if you see any of the workers in the vineyard wearing rain jackets on a bright, sunny day, they are probably checking the sprinkler system.
The third thing checked are the irrigation lines. Every row has an irrigation line associated with it that ends in a cap at the end of the row. Each one of those caps needs to be opened up and the line flushed with water to clean out the build-up of mold that happens from lying dormant for six month. Along the line itself, each little drip emitter must be checked for blockages as well. There are about 60,000 of those drip emitters so this is a long and laborious task.
So, an optimally functioning irrigation system is one way to give the vineyard a healthy start. Come back next week to read about cover-crop care.