Battle of the Bindweed
Early in the County’s history, European settlers thought it might be nice to import a flowering relative of the Morning Glory. They planted it and it thrived. Convolvulus Arvensis or Field Bindweed sports fragrant pink and white flowers which dot our vineyard landscape like a constellation of stars.
Pretty, but it grows up into the grapevines and fouls the equipment, choking the vines and slowing work down. Vigorous, it carpets the ground in a thick layer , growing on top of itself.
Some people liken it to the Terminator; you cut it down and it comes right back. The adult plants spread by sending lateral roots three feet underground, and then shoots up to the surface. There is no way to cultivate the deep main root, it’s so deep, and the shoots only break off when you pull them, leaving the main plant to cause further mischief.
I spend a lot of time battling this invasive plant, and contemplating how to get rid of it. Most of our Bindweed control is done through hoeing by machinery and by hand — tedious, backbreaking work, and the bindweed just grows right back within a couple of weeks.
Roundup might kill Bindweed, but our farming philosophy is to avoid the use of herbicides. We fear damaging our grape vines.
Bindweed doesn’t grow well around clover and grass — it thrives only in the disturbed soil. So if we grow a cover crop and cultivate the land less, that could reduce its hold over our soils.
Shade is also helpful, so if we can keep the bindweed from crawling up the grapevines to the sunlight in the early season, shade under the vines will reduce its vigour.
In ancient mythology, Hercules defeated a similar monster, the many-headed Hydra. If you cut off one of the heads of the Hydra, two more would grow to take its place. Bindweed is the same way. If you cultivate one stem, three more grow in its place. Hercules only defeated the Hydra by mounting another adventure to cut off the head of Medusa, then returning to use the powers of the Medusa head to turn the Hydra into stone.
If only we had a Medusa to help battle the Bindweed.
We also learned of an insect that eats Bindweed — a tiny mite that feeds on the stems, weakening it. Perhaps that’s our Medusa. Enlisting an army of Bindweed Mites might turn the battle in our favour. The Bindweed Mite is reputed to only like Bindweed — not grapevines.
But then, we’re a little reluctant to introduce a foreign species to our ecosystem to battle a foreign species. In history, that plan has often had unintended consequences. Check out our blog posting (Coccinella) about the unintended effects of foreign ladybugs and consider the fate of the Old Lady Who Swallowed a Spider. Despite our trepidation, our Bindweed affliction is so bad we are tempted to try a trial of the Bindweed mite.
I get up early in the morning and walk through the vineyards, fretting all the extra work and worry caused by the Bindweed. As the sun rises higher, the flowers open and a fresh, flowery slightly peppery aroma wafts in the early summer morning.
Aaah. Perhaps we should just live with it, I think. After all, it is quite pretty, and the bees seem to like the flowers.