Granite Creek Vineyard: A Model of Conservation
USDA Certified Organic Garden Works With NRCS to Install High Tunnel
CHINO VALLEY, ARIZ. - August, 2012 - More and more people are finding organic foods readily available down the aisles of their local grocery store. Kit and Robin Hoult do their part in contributing to the organic market. They have been ahead of the curve and growing organically since 1974. Starting with an abandoned dairy farm, a lonely cottonwood tree, and a passion for gardening, the farm is now beaming with life. Their passion has continued to fuel the thriving 15 acre organic vineyard and produce garden for nearly four decades.
The Hoult’s have been a model of conservation during their time on the farm. Granite Creek Vineyard was the first USDA certified organic farm in Arizona. They continue to find and use new ways to utilize and conserve their land. With the technical and financial assistance provided by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the Hoult’s completed a 2100sq. ft. high tunnel in April. The high tunnel was funded through NRCS’s Environmental Quality Initiative Program’s (EQIP) Organic Initiative. High tunnels are one of many organic practices NRCS can provide assistance for. Their new high tunnel helps improve their garden in several different ways.
“We can control the weeds”, explained Kit as he pointed out the weed free plant beds under the protective cover. Rain and other natural elements usually provide a growing environment to all plants including weeds. With the high tunnel in place, these conditions are easier to control. Robin uses drip irrigation to water the garden, which also aids in weed control. Drip irrigation improves water efficiency and leaves little to evaporate. Water is emitted directly to the plant’s root zone.
The high tunnel also provides opportunity for a longer growing season. “We were able to start about a month earlier this year and we can start even earlier next year”, said Robin. When the high tunnel is closed, it can stay up to 25 degrees warmer during the early winter and spring months, protecting plants from freezing. The added length in the growing season provides more mature produce for a longer duration, increasing overall yields and success of the garden.
An extended growing season not only helps their garden to produce more vegetables, but it also allows time to grow a cover crop. They use a cover crop mix of legumes and barley to provide the soil with nitrogen and other nutrients, while also creating beneficial organic matter that brings nourishment to the soil. Cover crops play a significant role in the health of the soil and productivity of the garden. The Hoult’s make their own compost from grass clippings, leaves, garden residue, and chicken manure to fertilize their crops.
The garden is filled with about 25 varieties of heirloom tomatoes in addition to the several varieties of peppers, eggplant, squash, and many others. Plants that mature quicker were planted outside the high tunnel to make room for more sensitive or slower maturing plants. Robin also strategically planted corn along the south end of the garden to act as a windbreak, protecting smaller plants inside the high tunnel.
When asked about the beautiful flowers at the end of the garden, Robin smiled and said, “The flowers were part of the deal. I love flowers and if I was going to plant a garden I would plant flowers too.” The flowers also attract pollinators. The pollinator garden is diverse enough to attract several species of butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds, just to name a few.
At Granite Creek Vineyard, the major crop has traditionally been organic table and wine grapes. As the garden continues to evolve, Robin will have a farm stand on their property where she will sell her hand harvested produce locally. They also plan to have their produce in local grocery stores in the future.
The Hoult’s have demonstrated their lifestyle of conservation and being stewards of their land. They are pleased to include their children in the Granite Creek Vineyard business and will continue to leave a legacy of organic farming for generations to come.
Conservation planning is a free service provided by NRCS technical staff to help producers identify resource concerns and strategies to improve those concerns. Contact your local NRCS field office or visit www.az.nrcs.usda.gov to begin your conservation plan today and to learn more about NRCS’s Organic Initiative.