7.29.2008

Monoculture no more: German vineyards love weeds

A shot of a vineyard in the beautiful village of Weyher showcases Germany's abandonment of monoculture in wine grape cultivation.

I really do have my own garden, but it's been a rather chaotic summer. First, I was gone for a business trip to Germany, then my wife departed for five weeks to lead a summer student group to Germany as well. I've been up to my ears in kid care and domesticity, and have just tried to keep things alive. Not all is lost, so more on that in a later post.

While in Germany, I had a chance to visit what one could call the Napa Valley of Germany, the Pfalz, which goes by the inelegant name of the Palatinate in English. It's in far western Germany, near the French border, and is literally covered with vineyards and farms. According to a German friend of mine who hails from the area, it sits in a weather hole and tends to have milder winter than surrounding regions. Given that I saw figs (figs!) growing there, his account seems plausible.

One thing I observed was that Germany is in the throes of transitioning away from the curse of monoculture. No more vineyards devoid of any vegetation but grape vines. There are vineyards with flowers, rose bushes, and lots and lots of weeds. They are trying to reduce the use of noxious chemicals in agriculture, and one of the best ways to do this is to avoid monocultures. Inspired by what I saw, I'm thinking more about how I combine plants in my own yard, not just aesthetically or in a companion plant sense, but in terms of helping them fend off pests on their own.

1 comments:

Joshua McNichols said...

I'll be interested to hear about your experience. I've been planting a row of flowers attractive to beneficial insects within my garden since I read the fascinating book "Noah's Garden," which deals with what's lost in monoculture. But I've failed to find that perfect balance. In my very small plot, letting the wildflowers grow tall often means shading the peas in the morning, and I'm simply trading one plant stressor for another. I'd expect grapes to have the same problem, so I'd love to hear more details about the mix they found, or about the mix you're experimenting with. I've had better luck mixing such flowers with my plum trees, where they're in less direct competition. They upper and lower canopies seem to cycle through aphid booms, lending each other ladybugs as the problem explodes a few feet away.