The Importance of Spading on a Vineyard


After mowing our cover crop a couple of weeks ago, I needed to spade the legume-and-pea foliage in every other row into the soil to feed its nitrogen-rich growth to our growing Pinot Noir vines.

Spading is the oldest and most inefficient form of tillage – which includes plowing or disking – because spading was done by hand with a shovel. Now you can buy a machine to mimic the actions of hand digging. Spading is the preferred method of tillage when growing fine winegrapes.

Spading has several advantages:

  • A spader penetrates deeply into the soil to loosen the soil, improving drainage and aeration.
  • It leaves the soil rough, with clods rather than powder (the result of disking), which means weeds have a harder time germinating and the soil resists compaction.
  • It incorporates organic material (in our case last year’s prunings and the residue of our cover crop).

"Spaders maintain the basic organic structure; and because they tear and do not cut or slice the soil, they help maintain the soil's tilth," said Mike Benziger of Benziger Family Winery in Sonoma, California. "The worst thing we do to our vineyards is drive over them. With a spader you do not intrude; you maintain the quality of the soil, prevent erosion and ultimately get better cover crop growth. You literally bring garden-quality farming to a commercial application." (Thanks to for quote.)

On the negative side, spaders are very slow. We move through the vineyard at approximately one mile per hour, meaning it takes us two days to do every other row of our 3.75-acre vineyard. On the other hand, spading the vineyard by hand would be slow, too, and a lot of hard work!

Our spader was custom made for us by Tortella in Italy, where lots of winemaking and vineyard equipment comes from. It works a 48-inch wide swath (perfect for our six-foot-row spacing) with six spades that go eight inches deep.

Take a look at the video that Celeste shot of the spader in action—definitely a “heavy-metal” farm implement!