A Little Bit of High-Tech in the Vineyard

Friday, May 6, 2011

Back in 1998 the year of our first planting, I invested in a simple hardware store max-min thermometer. It reset manually via passing a magnet over the previous maximum or minimum temperatures.  I tracked summer highs and the winter low, the last frost date in the spring and the first in the fall.  Sometimes I forgot to go out to the vineyard and reset the previous max or min, and lost track of a critical event.

Since then I’ve gotten to know Steve Arms.  He runs Microstrain, a very dynamic, local high-tech company.  His firm developed a very sophisticated instrumentation cluster, and he has installed two prototype sets in our vineyards.   One at Meach Cove (within a few hundred feet of Lake Champlain's shore) and the other at our new planting site in Charlotte (more than a mile from the lake’s shore). The stations read not just temperature, but record and keep a history of temperature, humidity, leaf wetness, soil moisture and solar radiation.  The stations are connected to the internet so we can view the results from the comfort of our home computers…or cell phones.

Some of the key points we keep track of are the seasonal low temperatures.  Anything lower than –15 F or so and we lose fruit for the following season on our more tender varietals such as Riesling and Vidal.  The ‘10-’11 seasonal low at Meach Cove where these tender varietals grow was –10.5F on Jan 24, 2011.  The low at Charlotte was –15F.  We have only the hardier Minnesota hybrids planted there and they have withstood the temperatures well.   Proximity to Lake Champlain may account for the more modest low at Meach Cove.  The combination of parameters we track will give us early warning of danger for black rot and mildew during our growing season. These diseases occur with just the right combination of temperature and soil and leaf wetness.  This should be a big help in planning and timing our application of pesticides.

We are working with Microstrain to have some of our readings available on our website for the curious among you to observe.

Ken