Monitoring soil health

Photo credit: Vineyard at Dodon

Introduction

A fundamental principle of RV is good soil health, therefore it is essential to monitor:

  • Soil Organic Matter (SOM)
  • Soil Biology, including invertebrate diversity, soil microbial biomass, enzymatic activity, soil microbial community, mineralisable C, N, and P, and soil respiration
  • Soil structure, including aggregate stability, infiltration, and water holding capacity

Soil samples should be taken for all the blocks which have different conditions or are subject to different management operations. They should be sent to specialist soil sampling labs for analysis.

Regular testing should be undertaken of samples taken from the same locations at the same time each sample year. This will enable you to compare your blocks, assess the impact of activities you are implementing to improve your soil health and inform next steps. Some parameters will be helpful to lab test annually, although that can be expensive. Testing SOM every three years can show trends over time, and there are field tests for soil structure that a field manager can perform without lab analysis.


In detail

Regenerating the soils is essential for rebuilding the symbiotic relationships between vines and the microbiome.  To do this, you need to monitor the contents of your soil.  There needs to be enough carbon in the soil for:

  • Plenty of beneficial microbes, especially mycorrhizal fungi
  • Enough pore structure in the soil for conditions to be aerobic
  • A good structure which improves water infiltration, soil aggregate stability and therefore water holding capacity, while decreasing soil erosion, nutrient leaching and run off

Best practice is to:

  • Divide your vineyard into blocks according to soils, management and/or specific areas of concern
  • Take a sample from each of those blocks
  • Take your spade (farmer’s most important tool!) and dig a hole. Feel the soil, smell it, look at the crumbs, check for worm casts, feel the bugs crawling around. Do a slake test and a water infiltration analysis.
  • Send samples to a lab for analysis for measurement of:
    • Soil nutrient profile, including macronutrient ratios, pH, Cation Exchange CapacityAnalysis of soil microbial activity and diversity
    • DNA or PLFA analysis
  • Record the results and the operations performed on each block during the year to enable analysis of the impact of any amendments you have made
  • Repeat the tests at the same time the following year

Further information

To find a lab for analysis, contact…

In the UK, labs include:

In France:

Please note that this list of laboratories is for information purposes. The RVF does not endorse, recommend or guarantee the suitability, accuracy, or quality of the services provided. You should exercise due diligence before engaging any advisors.