Monday, December 21, 2009

Cerro Prieto and the Eden Project

They say if you answer the phone or doorbell often enough, you are bound to meet some mighty interesting people. For whatever reason, we have been blessed with not only charming but fascinating people, particularly of late. Ten days ago, Michael and Catherine Cutler, two of the 5o horticulturists(that is no typo) from the Eden Project in southwestern England came by for a vineyard visit. They had emailed us some 8 or 9 months ago, and mentioned they would be interested in visiting our vineyard. Well, last week they stopped by, on their tour of California vineyards. Eden Project? "What is that?" you may say.

Well, in a very brief nutshell, it is a massive strip mine, referred to as a "clay pit" near Cornwall, which was a millenium project of British environmentalists, but grew to include people from dozens of different professions...everything from architects to engineers, botanists to contractors, and a host of multiple other disciplines in between. It started between 1996 and 1998 as a group of people gathered to discuss and build a place that no one had seen before: literally, it was "a place that explored human dependence on plants and the natural world; a place that just might make a difference."

In a 180 foot deep, steep sided pit, which was as large as 35 football fields and 45 feet below the water table, they decided and planned to resurrect the clay pit into a "little Eden". Some highlights were:

---bringing in thousands of tons of soil from recycled waste

---colonizing with a huge diversity of plants, many used daily

---capturing water draining into pit for use in irrigation and grey water systems

---creation of architectural structures that drew inspiration from nature

---building of biospheres to grow plants from all different continents

---season with people from all walks of life

---open in spring 2000, for public preview

---do all the above with no money; ie, all work was donated as were funds to make the project go and grow

Still doesn't sound that exciting? Well, I cannot do justice to the spectacular Eden Project Guide, available thru . This is a remarkable, fascinating project which anyone visiting England should not miss. Eden Project has over a million visitors yearly, who see biodiversity and its applications, implications, and learn about ecology, new uses for crops, self sufficiency, beauty, and countless other ecologically related themes and issues. I highly recommend that anyone reading this blog take some serious time and learn about this historic , incredible project.

Anyway, when Michael and Catherine arrived, I had planned to do some wine tasting with them and discuss the "greening" of our vineyard. They had read our website and had been interested in how we approached "going green", in the hopes of one day being completely organic. Actually, we were the only vineyard they visited in northern San Luis Obispo County, and I was curious as to why. Essentially I believe they were curious how a very small boutique vineyard handled many of the same problems they themselves have had to deal with over the past 10 years.

In no particular order we discussed Cerro Prieto's "going green" to better serve and save the environment. Major points were:

---Use of perennial cover crops to control erosion on our steeply inclined hills/mountainsides, some in excess of 70 degrees. Also we have to manually add hay after each harvest to Bloc 2, or else we actually can lose entire rows in heavy rains.

---Changing from burning prunings to chopping them up with a flail mower, and then using the biomass as a mulch

---Using computerized bird distress calls plus netting to keep away grape eating birds, instead of using noise polluters like Zon guns (sound like shotguns), as well as Roman candle whistlers, bottle rockets, etc.

---Switching from watering to virtual dry farming of vines, leading to thousands of gallons less use of water, and also providing one of the stresses used to produce premium quality grapes

---Vastly decreasing the use of herbicides(a known cause of prostate cancer which I have already had), by virtue of decreasing herbicide concentrations where use is necessary, and switching to manual hoeing and weedeating where feasible. We have cut our % concentration of herbicide by 75% and have decreased by 90% the areas we spray

---Essentially cutting our pesticide spray by 90% by virtue of cutting our grape yields to 1 to 2.5 Tons/acre. This allows more space between clusters, and maximal airflow and sunlight around all grape clusters, thus greatly decreasing the likelihood of mildew formation

---Using organic acid fertilizers where indicated, but doing testing to be certain we absolutely need supplemental soil nutrients.

---Removing 3 acres of vines in our valley vineyard rather than using a fossil fuel burning wind machine to keep vines from freezing

---Switching from strychinne tablets to control gophers to hand set MacAbee gopher traps, thus eliminating poisoning the ground as well as hawks and owls which would be killed by eating a poisoned gopher(secondary killers)

---Use of Barn Owl boxes as homes for gopher eating owls, again decreasing need for ground poisons

There were several other topics, but these are the high points. We were delighted that horticulturists from a colossal ecologic project such as the Eden would be interested in coming to our small 20 acre boutique vineyard. But come they did, and after they left I had this satisfying feeling that
someone, somewhere, took an interest in what we were doing, altho we get no award for it, no recognition. We do it because it is the right thing to do. In the final analysis, we don't own this land; we are just its current custodians, and it would be nice to leave this land in better shape ecologically, than when we arrived. The reward? Well, it's an inside job...and visits by those such as the Eden folks truly is gratifying and makes the effort worthwhile.

Again, if you happen to find yourself in England, take a trip to the SW and visit the Eden Project. You won't be disappointed. I sure plan to visit.

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