Agricultural Habitat Restoration: Connecting the Farm and Vineyard to the Ecosystem
High upon ridges above the Columbia River gorge, 25 people gathered to learn about the growing methods of the Meadowlark Vineyard and Klickitat Canyon Winery. Participants came from around the region, a few as far away as Bellingham, WA and Eugene, OR. The group included a number of vineyard growers and those interested in connecting their farm and vineyard to the ecosystem Also attending were WSU experts from the field of pest management; the Xerces Society for Invertebrate conservation, local Conservation District staff, and farmers Robin Dobson and Kathleen Perillo, who provided information and a rich discourse on creating habitat for beneficial insects, pollinators and the fauna of the ecosystem.
The Farm Walk brought us up into the forest of Garry Oak hills, carpeted with native herbaceous perennials in full bloom. We learned the history of the land, and the signs of past grazing practices, namely, the ‘fence-line effect‘, where few to no natives have been able to re-establish themselves in the sea of green grass, even after an absence of grazing for more than 20 years. Soon, we began to notice the many insects and birds. Questions flourished, and we learned about the soil and the native plants, Robin Dobson’s study for the past decades. He dubbed the yellow-flowering Balsa an ‘old growth herbaceous plant’ with roots 70 feet long; noted that the many lupines fix nitrogen in the soil; and the nectar and pollen provided by the clusters of Lomatium flowers. Inside the vineyard we learned about the native plants growing among the grape rows, and how the various plants take their turn in the bloom cycle and their peak growth. Good discussions ensued including one on the potential for grazing animals in the rows at the right time and density.
Robin and Kathleen described the learning process and the many unanswered questions they still consider. David James, entomologist from WSU Prosser, has done studies of the vineyard through a three-year SARE grant, studying which plants attract which types of beneficial insects, and the impacts of the native cover crops on yields. He feels that research on this type of farm where the native plants are already so well-established will help advance research on beneficial insects for all types of vineyards. Kerry Bodily, of the Central Klickitat Conservation district, shared information on resources available to farmers while learning many new concepts himself. Todd Murray, WSU Small Farms Team Member and WSU Extension agent informed participants of education opportunities in viticulture. Eric Mader from Xerces society showed us how to ‘scout’ for insects and discussed insect populations. He reinforced how habitat provides refuge for the beneficial insects which keep pests in balance. Even the skunks have done their part in this vineyard, eating a nest of grape-sucking yellow jackets. This sharing of resources and knowledge helps expands everyone’s experience.
Robin made it clear that there is still more to learn and study. Many of these plants take years to establish themselves – even to set their first flowers. Though grape flowers don’t need to have pollen transferred by insects in order to bear fruit, these farmers choose to provide insect habitat for the health of the vineyard and the health of the ecosystem. Their efforts for the past twelve years were born out of a passion for the land and nature.
The Klickitat Canyon Winery and Meadowlark Vineyard Farm Walk was interactive, educational and revealed a ecological process always unfolding. We saw first-hand the efforts to provide beneficial habitat for now and for the future. Robin and Kathleen, in addition to running the vineyard and winery, manage jobs in ecology off the farm. The vineyard demonstrates their dedication to the ecological restoration process, while acknowledging that we have much to learn.
Afterward, a wine tasting paired with goat cheese from Pine Stump Farms allowed for time to network and connect.
Farm Walk Booklet: Here