Annual grasses like barley are commonly used for reducing soil erosion and increasing frost protection. Perfect for cool and dry growing areas, barley is often found throughout Santa Barbara County.
The grass has a fibrous root system, which reduces soil loss and nitrogen leaching that can occur during heavy rains. Since barley tends to use more nitrogen than other cover crops, it is often planted with legumes, such as fava beans and sweet peas, to maintain a healthy balance of this important element. Barley is also inexpensive and extremely easy to grow, making it a perfect cover crop for large vineyards.
Barley can grow quickly into a thick green carpet, producing more biomass than any other cereal crop. So, along with outstanding erosion control, it provides exceptional weed suppression. Interestingly, this plant is more salt tolerant than other cover crops, which makes it perfect for drought areas. During the past several years, California’s rainfall total has been very low, causing an increased need for irrigation. Since water used for irrigating has a higher salt content, the resulting vineyard soil has a higher salinity. Luckily, barley is able to easily withstand and thrive amid these increasing salt levels.
In early spring, the green matter is mowed or tilled back into the soil. This allows for greater heat absorption during the day, and the energy is released at night through a composting effect. Ideally, this warmth can help prevent severe frost damage in a vineyard and potentially save vintners from losing too much crop.