Vineyard Field Day at Ramona Ranch

flyways wildways

On a spring morning in May, more than 30 farmers and others gathered to learn about vineyard management practices that incorporate the benefits of biodiversity (pollinators and beneficial insects and birds), and about the conservation resources available. We met at Ramona Ranch Vineyard’s home site, which is one of three parcels they farm in San Diego County. The growers, Teri Kerns and Micole Moore, also strive to optimize energy, water and nutrient use. We co-hosted this field day with the Resource Conservation District of Greater San Diego County, part of their week-long series of events about pollinators. 

Ramona Ranch manages rodents by encouraging raptors with perches and Barn Owl boxes, and Coyotes with water trays, instead of using rodenticides.

Leading the Way – Teri and Micole (Ramona Ranch) described how they are San Diego’s first certified Sustainable Winery. The vine rows are ‘no-till’, which saves on tractor passes and energy, and allows a diversity of plants to thrive. One plant in particular - mustard is a star - it helps to drive out nematodes and its roots provide a pathway for rain to sink in deep instead of eroding the hillside. Lower growing, flowering annuals support pollinators and other beneficials. Rich compost made from their barnyard animals’ waste boosts the soil’s fertility and tilth. They use a drip irrigation system and several energy- and water-saving practices in the winemaking process. 

The growers shared how they are reducing toxins on the farm. They use metal pipes in their trellis system instead of pressure-treated wood so nobody (human or wild) touching them are contaminated with arsenic. They encourage raptors with perches and Barn Owl boxes, and Coyotes with water trays, instead of using rodenticides. They also allow insectivorous Cliff Swallows to nest under the eaves of their house.

Native Habitat
Ceanothus, buckwheat and laurel sumac seen on the native plant walk around the perimeter of the property.

Conserving Habitat - Teri and Sam Earnshaw (Hedgerows Unlimited) guided the participants on a native plant walk around the eastern perimeter of the property where naturally occurring habitat was nestled in their rocky hillside. Many of the plants we saw – buckwheat, sugarbush, laurel sumac, lupin, bee plant and ceanothus - can be planted in a hedgerow for supporting biodiversity. Some had showy flowers or would be blooming for many months, and all were drought tolerant. 

Fortifying the Vineyard – Jo Ann Baumgartner (WFA) discussed natural enemy insects farmers can attract -the lady beetles, lacewings, syrphid flies and parasitoid wasps to name a few - that feed on nectar or pollen provided by borders of flowering plants. She gave many examples of how these natural enemies help to reduce some of the worst vineyard pests, and shared how certain types of native plants are better than others with supporting the beneficials. This work is part of a guide on natural enemy habitat that WFA will be publishing later in the year.

Beneficial birds can also fortify the vineyard by providing their pest control services. Jo Ann shared how growers can use WFA’s Beneficial Bird Habitat Assessment and Native Plant Tool to determine how best to support birds on their properties.

Jo Ann presents at field day
WFA's Jo Ann Baumgartner discussed natural enemy insects farmers can attract and the benefits of pollinators in a vineyard ecosystem.

Supporting Plant Diversity – Jo Ann also discussed that while grapevines are self-pollinated, pollinators are still important for supporting the reseeding of groundcover and the native plants in the surrounding ecosystem. How to best support wild bees depends on what they need to reproduce – some require old gopher holes or old birds’ nests, others need well-drained sandy soil, while still others must have insect holes in wood or pithy stems. 

Planting Hedgerows – Sam Earnshaw shared the many functions of hedgerows and how to establish a successful planting. He stressed how it is critical to choose the right site, so the hedgerow won’t get run over later; and to make plant species selections of natives local to the region that sequentially flower throughout the year. He described techniques setting up the irrigation correctly, adding compost, protecting the plants from vertebrate pests (gophers, ground squirrels, rabbits, and deer) and how maintenance is key for a vibrant hedgerow.

Wildlife Up Close – Andrea Burgan (Critter Encounters) showed off a Red-tailed Hawk, a Great-horned Owl and a Rubber Boa Snake that live in her sanctuary as examples of wildlife that can help farmers with pests.

San Diego Regional Conservation Resources 

  • Codi Hale (Resource Conservation District of Greater San Diego County, [email protected]) discussed their Working Lands for Pollinators Program and how they are scheduling site visits to determine if they might help growers with implementing habitat. 
  • Jonathan Snapp-Cook (USFWS Partners for Fish and Wildlife, [email protected]) shared how they provide consultations for conserving and improving additional wildlife habitat on private land. 
  • Tracey Rice (Point Blue Conservation, [email protected]) discussed their Roots Program and how they help growers with increasing and/or restoring wildlife habitat on working lands