Term 2 – Week 4 – Organic Certification

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Burn Cottage Vineyard – biodynamic

This week we learnt about going through the organic certification process. There are a few different ways to go about it. Either through Bio-grow, Asure Quality or Demeter. The first two are organic certification only, Demeter is for biodynamic properties. Biodynamic is a different philosophy from organic but even more strict on inputs.

The organic certification process takes 3 years to complete. There are audits each year to ensure all criteria are being met – these carry on for the whole time a property is registered as organic.

We went to Burn Cottage Vineyard in Cromwell (I’ve had their Moonlight Race Pinot Noir before and it’s really nice) which is run bio-dynamically. They make their own compost from organic materials, have their own livestock on adjacent fields, use under-vine weeders for weed control, metal poles as opposed to tanalised wood, have other crops and areas planted with different species and use many other practices that make up the biodynamic system. They feel that all these things make a real contribution to the health of the vineyard and in turn the quality of the wine.

Some parts of biodynamics don’t make sense to me, but organic practices certainly do. It seems to me that if managed properly crops can be just as good as conventional growing, better for consumers, better for workers on the property and far better for the environment. I guess the only negatives are that it takes more planning and time to execute so more labour costs, i.e. hand weeding vs. spraying with herbicide.

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April collecting wood from a cherry tree for grafting

We also started collecting some wood for grafting. The wood is dormant now so can be collected and stored until next spring when it will grafted onto rootstock. It is important to take dormant wood so that when you graft it onto active rootstock in spring the graft union will have time to form. Otherwise the union would not form (callus) quickly enough to supply water or nutrients to the scion. It takes about 7 – 10 days for this to happen.

The dormant scion wood gets wrapped up in soaking wet newspaper, put in a plastic bags and stored in a fridge or cool-store.

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Propagation update – lots is happening in the potting shed and glasshouses. The Clematis marata seed I planted a few weeks ago has germinated and I have 3 seedlings! It doesn’t sound like much, but the seed was really old so I wasn’t sure if I would get anything.

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Clematis marata seedling

The kowhai we sowed last November were ready to be re-potted into 10cm pots.

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We also did some deciduous hardwood cuttings. I did Vitis ‘July Muscat’, a table grape. Hardwood cuttings are much longer than the other cuttings I have done (softwood, semi-softwood or herbaceous). They need all that energy stored in the stem. These are have gone into 10cm pots of wet perlite. You could leave them outside over winter but we’ve put these on the heat bed to get some roots going a bit more quickly.

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Weather wise, it’s feeling a lot more wintry now. Lots of trees with no leaves and mornings switching between either crisp frost or heavy fog. Some vineyards have already started pruning.

Last week’s weather:

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Term 2 – Week 3 – Weather

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Snow that fell over the weekend

This week we learnt how to read weather maps and come up with our own forecasts. It was quite timely since we were due to get the first snow of the year that weekend – and yes we sure did get snow!

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Example of a weather map for the South Island

Some good websites for weather forecasts are MetService or MetVuw.

The maps show areas of high pressure or low pressure. The lines on a weather map are isobars that connect areas of equal pressure. When isobars are close together it means there will be strong wind.

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High pressure (over 1000 hPa) means weather will generally be calmer and will have clear skies. The higher the pressure number the slower the system will be moving. The wind will travel anticlockwise around a high (clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere). A ridge is a section of higher pressure extending from a high pressure system. Ridges give better than expected conditions. Highs move towards lows and will look like they are following them across the map. In summer weather should be sunny and warm and winter will be cool and frosty.

Low pressure is where all the drama happens. Clouds, rain, cyclones (940 hPa), hurricanes (800 hPa) and tornadoes (500 hPa). Air (filled with water vapour) is rising and expanding, when it reaches the dew point the water vapour condenses, forming clouds. Lows move clockwise. A trough is a section of lower pressure extending from the low, bringing worse than expected weather.

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Types of clouds

There are so many different types of clouds. The lowest being fog and highest are cirrus. Cirrus are the very high looking, wispy clouds. They can indicate that a change in the weather is coming in the next 24 hours.

Cumulonimbus clouds are massive clouds that go right up to the top of the troposphere. They can bring hail, lightning, tornadoes and flash flooding. They form when there has been strong heating at ground surface or from a cold front slamming into warmer air.

Fronts are a boundary between warmer and cooler air. They don’t like to mix and cause trouble in the form of clouds and rain.

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Although a warm front sounds like it would be nice, it’s not! All fronts bring worse weather. Stationary fronts can cause lots of rain and flooding. Yuck!

I’m crossing my fingers for lots more high pressure systems coming my way, although if I can’t have that, I will take the snow 🙂

Last week’s weather:

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Term 2 – Week 1 & 2 – Plant Science

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The first two weeks of term 2 have been focused on Plant Science (botany). It is essential to have knowledge around the basic structure of plants and the processes within plants (like photosynthesis) to help understand some practical things, such as grafting, wilting plants, pollination, seed production and pruning.

We started off going right back to basics and looking at the smallest part of plants – cells!

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Plant cells are a bit different to human or animals cells but share many of the same features; nucleus containing hereditary material and mitochondria as the power house of the cell. Plant cells have a cell wall that covers the cell with cellulose that is semi-permeable allowing the movement of dissolved minerals. They also have a vacuole that holds water and minerals in a membrane that is separate from the cytoplasm and supports the shape of the cell.

We also covered stems, leaves, roots and flowers.

Stems and roots have areas called meristems, which is where cells divide and the plant grows. Meristems are found in the tips of shoots and roots (apical meristem) and around the outside of a trunk or branch (lateral meristem or vascular cambium). When you are grafting two plants together it is the vascular cambium regions that need to be joined for a connection to be made.

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Cross section of a woody dicotyledon stem

The stem also contains the xylem and phloem. The xylem moves water and minerals from the roots up throughout the plant. The phloem moves sugars and nutrients made by photosynthesis and respiration down throughout the plant.

Roots help stabilise the plant, take up water and dissolved minerals and nutrients from the soil and can also act as storage tissue for energy for the plant. Rhizomes, bulbs, corms and tubers are examples of storage tissues.

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Leaves are the main part of the plant where photosynthesis happens. There are tiny pores (called stomata), usually on the underside of the leaf, that open and close to allow gas exchange. The veins you can sometimes see on a leaf if you look closely, are made up of vascular bundles that consist of xylem and phloem cells.

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Flowers are the seed bearing part of a plant. They are where pollination happens and fruit forms.

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Plants can have flowers that are “complete”, meaning the flower has both male and female parts (roses, plums); monoecious, separate male and female flowers on the same plant (pumpkins, zucchini) or dioecious, separate male and female plants (kiwifruit, ginkgo). This affects how the plant pollinates, either self pollinating or cross pollinating.

There is a lot more involved in plant science, this is just a few basics that barely scratch the surface. I find diagrams make it easier understand and to get my head around all of the terminology.

Last couple of week’s weather – winter is on the way:

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Term 1 – Week 9 – Last week of term

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Early morning at McArthur Ridge vineyard

Term one is over! Actually it’s term 3 for me since I started half way through last year. I finished off my pests and diseases assignments and successfully did my plant ID test.

We harvested the chardonnay and pinot noir grapes at the Bannockburn campus. It was exciting to see them going off to be turned into wine. The vines look so bare now, no fruit and the leaves are falling off now as well.

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Chardonnay grapes

In propagation we processed some Pittosporum tenuifolium seed. Little pods hold lots of sticky seeds. Once you manage to get the seeds out you rub them with fine sand to separate them.

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Left: seeds in pods. Right: Pittosporum young tree and seeds rubbed in sand.

Over the holidays I worked at McArthur Ridge vineyard, helping with the harvest. It was a really great experience. Long days and hard work but very rewarding and such a beautiful setting. It’s such a huge operation (170 hectares of pinot noir) so it was interesting to see how it was all organised.

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Pinot noir ready to be picked

Last week’s weather:

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