Adventures of Janey Grapeseed

A Labor of Love, a Taste of Joy in Life

Why do you Water?

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“Why do you water at all?” asked J-F Pellet.

The thought, and general implication, is that since western Washington gets so much rainfall, grape growers shouldn’t need to water. Nature will provide enough.

Well, nature does provide but things are changing. Our area is 93.72 inches BELOW our average rainfall. Western Washington seems to be drying out.

I was forced to water because I love the vines. And so the story begins.

At first I was going to dry farm. Essentially, this is allowing the vine to use only whatever rain water or ground water is available naturally. It’s not an evil idea. In fact in some parts of the world it is the law. At our house, it meant lower dollar investment and decreased labor. Sounded good to me at the time.

Depending on atmospheric good fortune alone the dry farmed vine is then forced to seek out water through its own devices and …hopefully… increase in strength as its roots go deeper and deeper continually hunting moisture.

That works if you get lots of rain at the right time in the vine life cycle AND if your vine root structures intend to grow down instead of fanning outward.

Marechal Foch is a hybrid that seems to have forgotten the meaning of “tap root”. Its roots follow water in a three foot radius from the trunk with a relatively shallow depth looking something like a short version of a windblown umbrella skeleton. I can remember one of my helpers, Luke, was digging out a sickly vine; he was shocked that the roots went in a shallow radius from the trunk UP the hill. He expected them to travel down the slope if not down deeper into the soil the plant resided in. Oh well…real life has its little surprises.

At one time, I was advised, “When you see the grass along the roadsides start to dry out, then begin to water your vines.” That was helpful in that it was a guideline to follow but it did not give my vines what they needed.

Every week I’d haul gallon milk jugs filled with yummy well water up the hill. It was hard work but I didn’t mind. Exercise is good for the soul… as is caring for the vines. 🙂 (If you ever want to help out, let me know.)

What happened is that the vines needed relief. The extra stress drought pressure brought them proved to be too much for them to handle. They had other stresses I was unaware of at that time. My attempt at dry farming compounded their work load beyond their capability. I was being harsh to them even though I didn’t know it. Stressing the vines just to stress them without understanding their situation IS evil.

The vines decided they’d talk back.

Disease increased as water needs increased. We’re not talking a little episode of powdery mildew, we’re talking “Run go get the hazmat suit!” type of disease pressure. Black zit like volcanos on practically every shoot with ‘roots’ into the pith, wood boring beetles, lethal fungal triumvirates called black goo and an over zealous pruning season came together in such a way that the vines were screaming at me for help.

I had to cut them to the ground and begin again but that’s a story for a different day.

There are other watering options – bucket drip, line drip, trenching, high sprinklers and low sprinklers. I had to choose the least costly, albeit most beneficial, one.

Hauling gallons up the hill in the heat became to much for me. I decided to use the house hose. With all our hoses joined together, I can just make it all the way around the vineyard. 🙂 The vines were divided into three sections and the hose route mapped out. Each vine was allowed five minutes of a low sprinkler whose umbrella of water droplets reached a height of maybe five inches but gave the ground a good soak.

This option provided a wider root zone surface area with moisture. Remember, we have roots that travel out away from the vine and aren’t interested in plumbing the depths below it. So whetting three feet or so of ground beats targeting one drip area that might get to three inches of the surrounding soil.

Trenching would be good for the roots too if I could make it work. The slope of the hill and the cost of realigning our well to pump water directly up the hill through a network of pipes is daunting on several levels. Our piece of the Key Peninsula Esker (a long sand and gravel glacial meltwater deposit) has excellent drainage. More water would get to the lower vines than those higher up the hill and that just seemed to create more problems the longer I considered it.

A new friend recently said, “Don’t work smarter, work wiser.” Wise watering works with the site and the vine and considers everyone.

Water usage in arid climates has a fascination for me. What do they do?

I found a grape grower consultant talking about conditions in Afghanistan. Armed with information about watering priorities in conjunction with vine life stages, I decided to water between bud break and veraison; that is from April through late September.

I stop watering one month before first frost. Usually frost occurs sometime during the first couple weeks of November. So as the season turns from summer to fall, children go off to school, and the spiders cast their nets for awakening flights of rusty winged termites, that is when our vines enjoy only moisture provided by rainfall. This enables the vine to harden off; shoots become canes, berry pips mature, leaves abscise correctly. Each vine is properly readied for whatever winter can throw at them.

In a perfect, consistent world, that would be the case. But Life has its little surprises. We are so much drier this year that I am tempted to rethink the wisdom of my previous stop-watering-date.

Now that I’m reading Keller’s book, there are other watering nuances to consider. I may tweak what I do … or not. Then I will share with you here what I learn and what I decide and if what I’ve chosen works well.

Until then, May our partnership with the Creator of water and dry land make farming a joy,


Author: Christine J. Webster

I am inspired to live because my Creator sent His beloved son to share His love with me.

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