Putting a kabosh on the birds’ party

Netted Aglianico vines.

Netted Aglianico vines.

A week ago, I found out I was providing a free meal to the birds of Mt. Washington. After three years of hard work, sweat, some blood and a few tears, I had my first crop. And these winged marauders were plundering it.

Birds are a ubiquitous pest on many crops in many parts of the world. Vineyards are no exceptions. The best way to deal with this problem is to net the vines. There are many ways to do this and a good summary is provided here.

Yesterday, I completed netting my vines and, hopefully, salvaged about half of this year’s crop.

I netted whole rows, or portions of rows between vines picked clean by the birds. In one row, I had two segments netted at both ends and one vine in the middle netted in a lollipop fashion – all to make the most of the netting I bought at Home Depot and which comes in 14′ by 45′ rolls.

The task was finished by tying the nets together below the canopies. Typically, commercial vine bird netting is 17′ wide and the free edges of the nets are draped on the ground, away from the vines. The nets I bought were not wide enough for that. I bought them out of urgency rather than frugality.

It’s not really a one-man job to roll out nets (especially in light of the height of the vines, the slope of the site and the amount of weeds in the vineyard this year). As I sat under the vines, tying together the netting, I wondered what could be done to make this task easy – year after year.

Commercial vineyards are mostly flat and accessible to machinery. There are tractor-mounted dispenser/applicators for laying out vine netting. I have to do the job by hand.

Simple bird netting applicator.

Simple bird netting applicator.

I got an idea for a simple netting applicator: a length of netting, rolled onto a PVC tube with PVC flanges at each end (effectively, a spool). A wooden dowel is inserted through this spool. Two people carry it above the canopies. The dowel moves freely so the spools can turn on it. With its free end secured at the end of the row, the netting will unroll over the top of the vines. The netting can then be draped away from the vines and pinned down with small metal stakes.

Next year, I will have to buy better netting. Before that, this netting will have to be collected, cleaned and repacked after harvest and before pruning.

This brings me to my final thought – weeding.

This year, the resident weeds have really taken off – likely due to the wet winter and spring as well as the fertilizer I put down around the vines at the end of last season. Some would be inclined to save the effort and not go after the weeds as aggressively, allowing them to be a cover crop and control vine vigor.

The counterpoints to that view are that these plants can

  1. serve as host plants to insect pests,
  2. provide these insect pests physical access from the ground to the vines,
  3. get in the way during netting, and
  4. get tangled in the netting, damaging it the process and during cleaning.
Vines and weeds entangled.

Vines and weeds entangled.

A video showing how I netted the fruit zone on my experimental Fiano vines is available here.



Father, husband, physician, amateur guitarist, wine lover, wine writer, wine grower and wine maker trying to do it all within eye shot of downtown Los Angeles. http://www.shutupandmakewine.com http://twitter.com/Dr_Arthur_P
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7 Responses to Putting a kabosh on the birds’ party

  1. Hi Arthur,
    netting is for sure the way to go. we lost 1/3 to 1/2 our crop the first year (2008), on 15 acres out in the wilds of Wasco County, OR, in the Columbia Valley AVA. yikes.
    we tried it all: cannons, distress calls, flashing tape, but those winged monsters had already tasted the fruit and were there to stay. so now we net, ensconcing the entire vineyard — not draped, but pulled tight like a netted ceiling; otherwise the wind wreaks havoc, blows it all willy-nilly and the grapes get caught in it.
    would love to share more about weeds, but i’d have to drink some wine first, the story is too long and sordid.

  2. Hi Arthur,
    Ah, the Russian Thistle…the first year we planted that and Prickly Lettuce + Pig Weed were our nemeses. We hoed the entire vineyard by hand that year — it was intense. Thankfully Scott has figured much of it out: we planted native clump grass to overcome weeds, and right now our vineyard rows are almost weed free — I say *almost* because one that has come on with a vengeance in places is Horse Tail.
    Gophers and/or grey diggers are out our way, too, but we also have had a good population of snakes (Bull – although I have yet to see any this year), and birds of prey, and 160 acres where they can roam (we only have 35 planted in vines, 15 producing), so we may not notice how bad they are…
    We can loan you our dog — he likes to dig, and shake things…

  3. oops – i forgot the comma after “the first year we planted,” — because we for sure did not plant Russian Thistle, Prickly Lettuce, or Pig Weed!

    • SUAMW says:

      Punctuation error forgiven 😉
      I have something that looks a bit like prickly lettuce: http://twitpic.com/6knfc1
      My folks (on whose property the vineyard is located) have five cats – one of them looks like a Maine Coon or a Norwegian Forest Cat mix, which are supposed to be good hunters. I am as of yet unimpressed by their effectiveness at eradicating gophers.
      When I was growing up, I remember seeing some garden snakes but as the area has been developed (including the vineyard) their habitat has probably been eradicated.
      There are Red Tail Hawks in the area, but I have yet to see them dive-bomb into the vineyard.

      • it does look like prickly lettuce. vineyard cats. LOVE this. i’d be afraid our would be picked up by a big bird…probably highly unlikely, but I’d still put a big “EYE” on her back, like Babar, and hope for the best…Early on we had a lot of bull snakes, big ones — I was “hit” by one when I reached under a plant (I’m convinced it was a Mama with a clutch of eggs because she didn’t go away), but haven’t noticed so many this year. Is this year your first harvest?

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