It’s Time to Prune… No It’s Not….Yes It Is….No It’s Not, No It’s Not, No It’s Not!

Late October.  We are sitting on the porch and enjoying a crisp fall day.

Jed:  “Don’t you think it’s time to prune the vines?”

Me: “No it’s too early.  We’ll do the winter pruning next year.”

Jed:  “But can’t we get a jump on things and do it now?”

Me:  “Both the vineyard managers I worked with did their pruning in winter.”

Jed: “Well, that doesn’t mean there aren’t vineyards that prune in the fall.”

Me:  “OK, so you can point them out to me.”

Driving past Heritage Vineyards the following week.

Jed:  “Look. Heritage has pruned their vines.”

Me: “Those aren’t pruned vines.”

Jed: “They look pruned to me.”

Me: “Look again Those aren’t pruned vines.”

Jed: “I can’t look again.  I’m driving.”

Me: “Well, those were not pruned vines.”

Jed: “…….yes they were.”

It’s late November.  We head to Spain for Thanksgiving, on the Costa del Sol, where there are lots of olive orchards, and avocado orchards, and vineyards.  Thanksgiving Day and we are driving to Seville.

banner-vinedosMe: “Oh look!  Vineyards.”

Jed: “Cool.  And those vines look pruned.”

Me:  “Hmm.  I see canes.”

Jed: ” No, I think this vineyard has been pruned already. We should start pruning when we get home.”

Me: “It’s too early to prune.”

We pass another vineyard.

Me: “Jed, here’s another vineyard.  Slow down so we can get a closer look.”

Jed: “OK. See, look how it’s all been cut down.

Me: “No.  I think the Spanish just grow their vines differently, with small trunks and canes that start lower to the ground.”

Jed: “Becca, take a photo so we can see who’s right when we get home.”

Back in New Jersey.  Driving back from the airport, past another small vineyard.

Jed: “See that?  Another vineyard, and it’s been pruned!”

Me: ” I see the vineyard, and I also see that it has not been pruned! “

Jed: “You’re wrong.   I think it’s time to prune.”

Me:  “I may be wrong, but I’m the vineyard manager, and I say it’s too early.  But if you’re bored I have some things for you to do.”

Jed: “That sounds like you have an ulterior motive.”

Me: ” That’s always a possibility.”

Jed: ” Or maybe you don’t trust me pruning.”

Me: “That’s an even stronger possibility.  Besides, you did most of the spraying this year, so it’s my turn to put some labor in.”

Jed: “Well, that may be true, but I still want to help prune.”

Me: “OK.  But it’s still  too early.”

Jed: “OK.  But you said it was a winter pruning, so we could start right after Christmas.”

Mid-January.  Sunday morning, having coffee and listening to the cold wind outside.

Jed:  “So it’s now past Christmas.  Must be time to prune now.”

Me:  ” It’s still a bit early.  Usually it’s around March that the winter pruning happens.”

Jed: “We could get a jump on it if we started now.”

Me: “Yeah, but I think leaving the canes on protects the trunks from frost damage.  So you want to trim just before the bud break.”

Jed:  “That’s a long way off.”

Fortunately, the wind had brought down another dead tree at the back of the barn.  The tree was so big our electric chain saw could not get through it and it died trying.  Jed headed out to get another chain saw.  It was big enough to do the job., even though the log rolled down the hill part way through the job.  So Jed was occupied for the rest of the day.

Of course, it still needs to be chopped into firewood.  Only six more weeks to keep him occupied.  Sigh.  Ah, but the pruning shears all need to be sharpened.  And oiled.  The tractor will need to be tuned up.

Or I can always plan another vacation.


Categories: The Vineyard Today | 3 Comments

2013 in review – Yikes!

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for Raccoon Creek.  Who knew people were reading this stuff?  OK, so my New Year’s resolution needs to be to get back to writing, err, finishing the blog posts I’ve started and never published.  Happy New Year everyone!

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,200 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 37 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Categories: Pam's Perambulations | Leave a comment

Fruits of Our Labor

Mars Table Grapes

Mars Table Grapes

 Last spring,  we had drilled one more row than we needed for the wine grapes.  So Jed decided to fill the row with table grapes.  He ordered  three varieties, Venus, Mars, and Jupiter.  They are all seedless purple grapes that are supposed to ripen at different times over the summer.  As summer came the vines seemed to be thriving so I left most of the bunches on the vines knowing I could thin them out later if needed.  Come mid-summer I did eliminate about a third of the bunches wherever a vine seemed to be slowing down.

Table grapes culled

Table grapes culled

By the end of July the bunches were starting to get big and we tasted a few.  They weren’t real sweet. I needed to cull more bunches, so I decided to save a few and dry them into raisins. Drying them would concentrate the sugars and make them sweeter tasting I thought.  I went online to look at some ‘how-to’ posts on raisins and most of them said it was the easiest thing ever.  Just put them on a tray in the sun for a few hours, and voila! raisins!  I got a bunch our wicker baskets and trays, and spread the bunches out in the sun.  It was a hot, sunny day, so I went back after a few hours to see if they were starting to look like the image on the website.   Nothing.  Oh, don’t be so impatient I told myself as I grabbed a grape from one of the bunches.  Nope, not that sweet, but not sour either.  I turned all the bunches over so both sides would get sun.

Like every project in the vineyard, making raisins was going to be a bit of an adventure.

Drying Table Grapes

Drying Table Grapes

I began to worry that all the grapes might just get moldy or rot before they dried into raisins, so I tossed a dishcloth over the baskets so they wouldn’t pick up dew overnight.  In the morning I proudly removed the dew soaked towel from the baskets, and looked hopefully up to the sky.  Sunny with just a few clouds.  I took off for work and left the sun to do its work.  Twelve hours later, there were a few grapes that seemed to have changed color, but none were very shriveled looking.  What happened to “in just a few hours you’ll have raisins”?

That weekend I was out of town, and because it rained Jed pulled the raisins into the house.  While they hadn’t turned moldy, they also hadn’t turned raisiny.  Back to the web.  A more in-depth treatment on raisins warned that those of us in ‘humid or rainy climates’ might not be able to rely on the sun.  They advised putting the raisins into a 170 degree oven for 24 hours.  So I transferred all the raisins onto jelly roll pans and into the ovens they went.  That evening some of the raisins had shrunk to tiny dots that were hard as a rock while others looked comfortably plump.  I spent 15 minutes picking out the grape ‘turds’ and tossing them away.  Did I want to leave the grapes in overnight, unattended?  Nope.  I turned the oven off and went to bed.

The next morning I turned the oven back on and began to monitor the grapes every couple of hours or so.  After the first check, there were about 50 shriveled grapes.  I pulled them off the bunches and left them on the counter to cool. I turned the remaining bunches over and back into the oven for they went.  I inspected the ones on the counter. They looked like raisins, they felt like raisins, and yay, they even tasted like raisins.  Just one small problem:  every one carried it’s tiny stem.  So I spent ten minutes carefully pulling out the stems.

Mars, Jupiter, Venus grapes

Mars, Jupiter, Venus grapes

Jed stopped by to watch.

“That can’t be the way they make raisins.  No way they pull all those stems off by hand.”

“I know, but they taste terrible if the stems are left on.”

“And why are you only doing a few at a time?”

“Because they don’t seem to turn into raisins at the same time.  Some were turning rock hard.”

He just raised an eyebrow and left me to figure out a better way.

After a couple more hours, I decided to pull all the grapes off a few bunches and just lay them on the pan.  It was messy work, with grape juice getting over everything.  As I monitored this batch baking, I could see that grapes were sticking together, and tried stirring the grapes a few times.  The grapes stuck to my spoon and then to my fingers.  Jed was right, this can’t be the way the commercial growers make grapes.  But by evening most of the grapes were looking very raisiny, so I pulled them off the pan, let them cool, and then ran them under water to get rid of the juice.  On to the counter to dry for a while, and then a tasting.



Our home made raisins have turned out to be delicious, not as tart a a dried cranberry, but not as sweet as what comes from the grocery store.  There is real variation in the flavor, which makes them much more interesting to eat.

So I’ve deemed this adventure a success, and even though this wasn’t a real harvest, it still qualifies as the fruits of our labor.

Categories: The Vineyard Today | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

Ready, Set, Bud Break!

Jed & the Spinning Jenny

Jed & the Spinning Jenny

As the weather turned cold last fall, Jed and I congratulated ourselves about the fact that there would be nothing to do in the vineyard for the next six months.  Well, we knew that was only going to be partially true.  Once the vines started growing again in the spring they would need a support system, so we knew we needed to finish setting up the trellis.   Jed had already ordered all the wire, along with a spinning jenny to lay it out properly. We waited for the vines to shed all their leaves and then got to work setting up the main cordon wire.  It took us a while to get the hang of operating the spinning jenny so that the wire unfurled smoothly, but once we did we were grateful that we had yet another smart invention to aid us in our work.  It took several days to complete this task, but then the vines could be secured for the winter.

We Who Are About To Tie Salute You   Since Jed had done the yeoman’s work of pounding in all the trellis stakes over the summer, I assigned myself the task of tying up vines to the cordon wire.  We ordered a fresh supply of tying tape in the lightest weight, designed to support young vines before they finished growing.  I looked forward to the task as it gave me a chance to use the nifty little tying tool I had learned about as an apprentice in our own vineyard. As I walked the rowsI was pleased that so many vines were large enough to reach the cordon wire, but I was also disappointed to see how many were a mass of shoots – the result of all the deer damage over the previous summer.  (Dang deer!) My only option was to choose the shoot that was most inclined to bend around the wire and see what happened.

All Tied Up

All Tied Up

It was slow work, mostly because of my uncertainty with each new deer-bit vine.    It took about 30 hours of tying vines, after which I found myself wishing for one of the few times in my life that I was a couple of inches shorter.  I thought the reason we were doing vines instead of lettuce was so we wouldn’t have to bend over.  GRRR!  But, whoo hoo! We’re All Tied Up ….With No Place To Go!  (Yes the bad puns just keep on coming.)

What A Bit of Spit and Polish Can Do

What A Bit of Spit and Polish Can Do

The Winter of No Discontent   Garden journals wax eloquently about the joys of pouring over seed catalogs in January.  Hey there – it’s time to plan for the next year’s abundance of good eats.  Grapevines are a perennial crop, so once you’ve made the decision about which varietal, clone, and rootstock, you are pretty much committed to whatever you’ve chosen to plant.  Winter brings other tasks like repairing your equipment, sharpening your blades, and bringing your records up to date.  I used this time to polish up our work boots, and take pictures of the vineyard in the snow.  (Oh, and there was also a ten day trip to Mexico. Yay!)

The Vineyard in Winter

The Vineyard in Winter

The Emperor of The North Goes Back To School Jed used his winter months to buy a new 400 gallon sprayer which we knew we would need in the ongoing battle of bugs and bacteria in NJ., This meant he had to have a controlled substance applicator’s license   One day he came home with a very thick manual which was the basis for the test he needed to pass in order to be approved for the license.  Lo and behold: all the lectures Jed gave Becca about studying properly were based on advice he actually followed himself.  He sat at a desk, highlighted the book, made notes on a separate pad, and tested himself in advance.  He came home confident he had passed, and thought he might possibly have aced it.  But no moment of glory for the Emperor of the North:  you never learn your score, only whether you are approved for the license.  I say having the license is glory enough for the Commander of the Merlot Defense League.

Fixing the Spinning Jenny

Fixing the Spinning Jenny

Wired  We own quite a few electronic gadgets:  Blu-ray player, laptops, tablets, smartphones, IPTV, and even a turntable.  We are a ‘wired’ household.  This March we got a new definition for wired, and it didn’t have anything to do with the internet.  The cordon wire is just one of five wires that had to be fastened to trellising, and we had four still to be completed:  one for the irrigation system, and three ‘catch wires’ for managing the grape shoots as they grow.  So the minute the days got a bit warmer this spring we headed back to the vineyard to finish up the job.  (See Lazy Lester for more on the first day out.)  Of course, the spinning jenny broke down, and we had one roll of persnickety wire, but by now that was to be expected.  With each row we perfected our technique and our routine so that by the end of the job we were feeling like we really knew what we were doing.  Why we could even put ourselves out for hire!  Aahh, NO!

Agua, Fresca Y Pura  The last task on our vineyard prep list was to string up the drip line along the trellis wire closest to the ground.  We could have left the line on the ground where it was the first year, but raising it up protects it from mower damage and means less work in the long run.  This task was relatively easy once Jed had walked the vineyard and replaced all the line that was damaged.  A few zip ties every few feet was all that was required – just don’t pull them too tight or the water won’t get through.   It didn’t take long before we were in a competition to see who could get their row done the fastest.  (Yep, we still act like kids,  probably one of the reasons we’re still married.)  OK vines – bring it on!  We are ready for you!

Mars bud break

Mars bud break

Bud Break!  We began peering at the vines every day looking for some sign of life on what appeared to be nothing but dead wood.  Every so often I would finger the end of a vine only to see it break off in my hand.  I felt bad that while my Minnesota relatives were still having snow in April, I was stressing over any day that dipped below 40 degrees.

We peered at the neighboring vineyards, worrying that if they had bud break and we didn’t something had gone wrong.  Is that a swelling bud?  It doesn’t look very alive.  What’s that powdery stuff on it?  Geez. I hardly touched it and it fell off!

In late April we were at an ag extension presentation on disease and pest forecasts when one of the presenters asked if any vineyard owners had seen any “bud break” yet.  We looked around anxiously, reminding ourselves that different varietals have different timings.  No hands went up.  Smiling, we suppressed our whoops of relief and and agreed with everyone that it indeed was a very late spring this year.

Venus bud break

Venus bud break

Two days later, the first few buds popped open.    First to open were our Mars table grapes with hardy looking pink buds .  Venus and Jupiter were just behind,  a riot of pink and green.  The merlot vines were still ominously bare.  Finally, one morning we searched and found enough delicate green buds on the merlot that Jed and I could breathe a collective sigh of relief.  We each knew the other had been silently wondering “What if we did all that work and they didn’t make it through the winter?”  Soon baby leaves began to appear and now the vineyard is tinged with pale green everywhere.

Last weekend , feeling brave, I finally undertook the task of walking every row to count up the number of vines that actually didn’t make it through the winter.  We lost 21 out of 1265.  Not too bad.  We’ll drink to that.  A nice merlot perhaps.

PS.  I admit it.  This is about six different posts that somehow never got finished.  So I rolled them into one.  Not exactly a professional blogger yet, eh gang?

Merlot bud break

Merlot bud break

Categories: The Vineyard Today | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

Longitudinal Landings

Wild Violets

Wild Violets

Spring can be a mean manipulator of expectations. Cold, bitter winds and freezing temperatures follow days of warm sunshine and balmy breezes.   Still, wildflowers are returning out in the vineyard.  The longer days have meant the return of “our” geese.

Last year we were surprised when two small gaggles of geese descended on the farm in the spring.  There were two geese in one group, and four in the other, and they didn’t mingle.  After a couple of weeks had gone by and the geese hadn’t moved on we began to wonder what was up.  At that time we’d seen lots of wildlife on the property, including wild turkeys, deer, ground hogs, herons, and lots of birds.  But the only Canadian geese we’d seen had been in the sky, or in the fields of nearby farms.

By the third week it was evident that one goose in each group was now sitting on a nest.  The nests were down in the taller grasses close to the creek.  Except for one gander, the other geese all left for parts of the day, but by late afternoon they would all be back by the creek keeping the mom-to-be company.  Then one day we noticed that one of the geese

Some Goose Tracks

Some Goose Tracks

had left her nest, and a couple of days later the other one was gone too.  But we didn’t see any babies.  It took another week or so before we spotted two geese making their way up

from the creek followed by five little puffballs.  The following week we saw the other group on another part of the creek, also with a small group of tiny goslings.  It was great fun to see the babies grow, and about the time that they were beginning to sport their black heads and white chin bands they all left for good.  We never saw them fly, but we did see bigger groups of geese with babies in neighboring fields, so we assume they had all just left for the proverbial greener pastures.

Last fall, as the giant chevrons flew overhead, we jested that we had seen “our” babies on their way south for the winter.  Then one of our neighbors told us that we should expect those geese, and their babies, to return every spring from here on out.  That’s ok, we thought.  We have plenty of room, and besides, geese don’t eat grapes.

Now it’s spring and the geese have returned.  This time our two gaggles number three and eleven.  Oh, and this time we have a vineyard out front.  Of course, the geese can’t get in there because there is electric fencing all around.  Plus there is all that trellising now so there’s no way a bird as big as a goose could land without getting caught in the wires.

More Goose Tracks

More Goose Tracks

Right.  Um, there are geese in the vineyard.  But how did they get in?  They had to be flying in!  Wow, what a feat!

For days we peered out the windows looking for geese, trying to see how they might be accomplishing what we had come to call ‘longitudinal landings’.  These clever geese would have to line up with the aisles and fly between the rows of trellising in order to land.  Once in, they could wander around on the ground at will, but they’d still have to figure out how to take off.  We were ready to admire another miracle of nature.  If we could only catch them coming and going!  Maybe we could even catch them on camera! It was clear they were getting in all the time, not only because we could see geese in the vineyard, but because we could see their tracks everywhere.  But we never saw a single one take off or land in the vineyard.

Last week, as we were headed out for work, we saw two geese between the creek and the driveway.  We slowed the car and watched them cross the road toward the vineyard.  Then we stopped the car and watched as first one and then the other dipped their heads and slipped easily under the lowest wire of the electric fence.

Yep, we pretty much felt like idiots.  Guess there won’t be any miracle longitudinal landings caught on camera at the famous Raccoon Creek Vineyard.  Oh well, at least the geese don’t

Still More Goose Tracks

Still More Goose Tracks

eat grapevines.  Of course, bud break hasn’t happened yet, which means that so far the geese are just munching on the grass in the aisles between the rows of grapes.

So far, none of the geese have made a stop to say goodbye on the way south, so they won’t be eating grapes in the fall.

So far, we are still looking forward to seeing more baby goslings.

So far, they don’t really make tooo much noise with their honking.

So far, we just won’t do the math on how many geese to expect next year….or the year after that….or the year after that.  Oh my.

Geese Heading Toward the Vineyard

Geese Heading Toward the Vineyard

Categories: The Vineyard Today | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

Lazy Lester

“Want some grapes?”  A big bunch of red table grapes was dangling out the window of an ancient black Ford sedan.

If you have 3 acres of grapes growing in front of your house, one thing you don’t anticipate is someone pulling up out of the blue and offering you grapes.

Jed and I had ventured out to the vineyard on this cold cold March morning for the ostensible purpose of stringing catch wires on to the trellising.  The real purpose was to keep Jed from going stir-crazy waiting for warm weather to arrive.

So there we were, with a heavy load of wire on the spinning Jenny, half way through the first row when we heard a voice call out asking if we wanted some grapes.  We both looked at each other in surprise.   I got to the old Ford first.   Inside were several boxes of grapes surrounded by old magazines, maps, coffee cups, and other assorted unidentifiable items.  A grizzled face looked up with a smile that was missing more than a few teeth.

“My son used to mow this field when it had the big bumps around the outside. You growing grapes here?”

“We hope to.”

“This used to be a farm you know.  I knew the people who lived here.”

“Ah.  We heard there used to be a peach orchard here.”

“There used to be a farm across the road too.”

“So we’d heard.”

“I knew them too.”

By now our visitor had gotten out of his car and was surveying our field.

“So, do you live nearby?”

“Down near the intersection of 45 and (garbled).”

“My name is Pam, and this is my husband, Jed.  And your name is?”

“They call me Lazy Lester,” he said.  Then with a mischievous grin,  “Sometimes they call me Crazy Lester.  Do you want these grapes?”

“Well, thank you!  Did you grow these?”

“No.  What kind of grapes are you growing?”

“Most of the vineyard is merlot, but we have one row of table grapes.  I can’t remember the names of the varieties.  What kind of grapes are these?”

“I dunno.  Here, have a peach.”  Out comes a peach with a small sticker saying it’s from Chile.

“Oh goodness.  We’ll have this fruit for our break this morning.  Are you a fruit wholesaler?”

“No no.”  Out come three small kiwis from the car which Lester hands to me.  “Do you subscribe to the grape magazine?”

“Well, I think there is more than one, but we do get a vineyard management magazine.”

“I’ve got one you can have.”  Lester starts rummaging around in the back seat of his car.  It can’t be found. He turns back to us and asks us what we do.  Jed explains that he has a company that does movie previews on line.

Lester nods and returns to rummaging in his back seat.  Soon he produces an 8 x 10 glossy of the band Kiss and says he read that they wear more make-up than anyone.  “Here, you take it.”  We decline smiling.  Then he asks ” Do you know what the oldest part of a computer is?”  Jed ventures a couple of guesses that Lester declares wrong before he announces “The barcode.  Created right here in New Jersey.”

Jed nodded, “Hey, that’s true! I forgot about that.”

“Who invented the first motorcycle.?”

I guessed Harley Davidson since I knew they had a factory in Pennsylvania, and a big dealership near the Delware Memorial Bridge.

“Mercedes.  What’s the oldest magazine in the U.S.?”

I’m thinking it might be ‘The Ladies Home Journal” but I’m not sure it’s still being published.  Jed guesses ‘Time”.

“Nope.  ‘National Geographic.’  One of their photographers was from south Jersey.  I met him when he gave a talk.  I read a lot.  I like to know things.  How old do you think I am?”

Lester looks like he is in his mid-eighties to me, but I hesitate to say that.  Jed jumps in with “I have no idea.  How old are you?”

“I’m 78,  But I look a lot older because I almost died twice.  Once my house burned.  I had to be in the hospital for three weeks.  They changed the bandages every day.  I have scars on my back now.  It cost over $640,000.”

“Yikes.  That had to be scary.”

“Then I had a heart attack.  But I’m still here.  I look old though.”

“I don’t know.  You look pretty good to me, Lester,” said Jed.

Lester's Fruit

Lester’s Fruit

I have been carrying the grapes, the peach, and three kiwis this whole time, so I turn to put them in the wagon with the spinning Jenny.

“Well, I better get going.  I still have three more stops to make today.”

“Thanks for all the fruit, Lester.  You’ll have to stop back when we have grapes on our vines and we’ll give you some of ours.”

“I don’t much like fruit.”  He got back in his car, and backed it around to head out onto the road.

“It’s way too cold to be doing this.  Let’s finish this row and head back inside,” said Jed.

Later, we snacked on Lester’s grapes as we warmed up on coffee.  Lester had known our field through multiple owners.  We wondered what he thought about a vineyard being there now.  He had never said.

Categories: The Vineyard Today | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Naming Jed

Most people born to American parents are given a first name, a middle name, and a family surname.  My husband is Jed Horovitz, no middle name.  His birth certificate doesn’t even say Jedidiah, (although that’s what I call him anyway if I’m really ticked off).

Even with only two names, and one of just three letters, Jed still gets a fair amount of mail with mistakes in the spelling.  The most common is to substitute a ‘w’ for the ‘v’ in Horovitz.  Jed is not related to either Adam Horovitz from the Beastie Boys or to classical pianist Vladimir Horowitz. (He is, however, distantly related to Curly from The Three Stooges whose real name was Jerome Horwitz.)  Sometimes Jed gets mail addressed to Jeb or even Jedidiah.  Some mailing list even has him as came the”Rev. Jed Horovitz”.   Since Jed is an atheist, that one gets a good yuk, or at least a “You should call him Rabbi guys”.

Jed didn’t really have a nick name as a kid.  So we’ve been making up for it.

Remember when the term “stud muffin” came on the scene a number of years back?  Jed was the Stud Muffin of Truman Ave.  More specifically I guess he was the Stud Muffin of 75 Trueman Ave since we were newly married, and I don’t think the name ever made it outside the house.

Being a stud muffin of course often leads to being a dad.  After daughter Rebecca was born, Jed was the expert at coaxing a burp out of her after feedings.  Thus it wasn’t long before he was dubbed the Burpmeister of Haddonfield, a name I think he much preferred to stud muffin.

One year when Becca was in middle school we agreed to host a foreign exchange student.  A young man named Marcelo from Bolivia came to stay with us.  The orientation materials that you get before your student arrives tell you how important it is to discuss what your student will call you early on in the stay.  Some kids will want someone to call Mama or Papa; or Mama Pam, etc.  So the first night at dinner I asked Marcelo what he wanted to call me, and suggested he just call me ‘Pam”.  He smiled and said that was fine.  Then he asked what he should call Jed, and Jed responded “Emperor of the North”.  We all laughed and I told Marcelo he should just use “Jed”, but it was too late.  “Emperor of the North” had been proclaimed, and from then on that’s what Marcelo called Jed.  Not ‘Emperor”, or “Emperor Jed’, it was always the full “Emperor of the North’. And I now have another name to toss at Jed when I think his ego needs a check.

Commander of the MDL with his latest tactic for scaring deer.

Commander of the MDL with his latest tactic for scaring deer.

Many of you who are reading this may be wondering what this has to do with grapes. If so, you may remember that our summer was occupied with wars against the deer and the Japanese beetles that were eating our vines.  One morning we were out looking to see what the damage was from the prior night.

I called across the field to Jed,  “The beetle bags look pretty full,”

“I don’t see any beetles on any vines though, at least so far.”

“What are you seeing for deer damage?”

“Nothing over here.  What about where you are.?”

“I don’t see any damage, but I see two deer tracks.”

” Dang it.  Let me come and look at them……I think those might be old ones.”

We peer more closely at the small indentations in the soil.

“Yeah, I think those are old tracks.”

“They should be because we have three rows of stinky tape, three rows of electrical wire, and three bars of Irish Spring.  No deer shall cross this vineyard!”

” Yeah.  This vineyard is defended by the MDL!”

“Yeah!  This vineyard is, um wait.  What’s the MDL?”

“The Merlot Defense League”

I started laughing, and said ” We should get MDL hats made.”  Jed will have what the military calls ‘scrambled eggs’ on his hat, because he is clearly the Commander of the Merlot Defense League.

That may be his best name ever, which means we are done naming Jed…. at least for now.

PS  We adopted a cat named Stubby from a local animal shelter, and he too rather quickly assumed a list of additional names which are as follows:  Sir Stubbalicious Underfoot of Trippington Manor, commonly known to his friends as Butthead, the $5000 Cat With A Rubber Fetish.

Categories: Pam's Perambulations | 1 Comment

Jed’s War on Christmas…Hanukkah…Valentine’s Day…Mother’s Day….Father’s Day

For several years now Bill O’Reilly and the Fox News gang have been proclaiming that there is a ‘war on Christmas’.  Bill is offended by stores that, in an effort to be more ecumenical, wish their patrons a “Happy Holiday” instead of a “Merry Christmas”.

A war on Christmas has been going on in our household for years.  With a name like Horovitz, one might assume that we celebrate Hanukkah instead of Christmas.  But there’s been a war on Hanukkah too, as well as a war on Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Valentine’s Day.   All are waged by my darling husband Jed.

Jed’s ‘bah humbug’ attitude toward Christmas has nothing to do with Jed being an atheist, though he is.  To start with, Jed dislikes all the fuss and bother of the holidays.  He’s annoyed by all the Christmas decorations in the house. He grumbles about having to help put up the Christmas tree.   Christmas cards, of course, are my responsibility, even the ones to his relatives and friends. He doesn’t mind all the cookies and eggnog, or the traditional Yulekake on Christmas morning,  but he mutters about all the calories. Unless there’s a neighbor kid in a pageant, or a friend singing in a choir performance, don’t expect to see Jed in church.

Merlot boy, his glass, and his tree.

Merlot boy, his glass, and his tree.

Most of all Jed hates that he’s expected to buy people gifts for Christmas.  Exchange gifts for eight days straight at Hannukah?  Forget it!  It’s not that Jed is terrible at buying gifts.  He’s actually quite good at it.  But he detests the notion of giving because you “have to”.  For Jed, unless you are giving something because you want to, the gift is meaningless.  So Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day are just events cooked up by Hallmark to sell more cards. Valentine’s Day?  A ploy by jewelers, florists, and candy shops to sell diamonds, flowers, and chocolates.  Graduations get a pass from Jed because he does’t mind rewarding achievement.  But birthdays?  Let’s just say that he announced a few years back that he only wanted to celebrate birthdays that were prime numbers.

Jed’s attitude toward all these traditional gift giving occasions was tough for me to swallow when we were first married.  I love Christmas,  and all the baking and shopping and partying that went with it.  It’s obvious that Jed enjoys spending time with friends and relatives over the holidays, but for him Thanksgiving is a much more pleasant holiday because it’s about food and family.

On our first Valentine’s Day we had gone out for dinner.  While he happily joined me, and expressed gratitude for my gift, it was clear that he was uncomfortable all evening.  Finally,  he told me about his antipathy toward what he termed manufactured events.  He told me that he much preferred to express his love in small ways every day of the year rather than on one manufactured holiday with a gift.

After over 20 years of marriage, Jed has been true to his beliefs.  He thanks me for doing his laundry or cleaning up the kitchen.  He is complimentary about a well cooked meal, or a completed task in the vineyard.  He lets me know that he cares about me in some small way on a daily basis.  I have come to value those real expressions of love from him and the manufactured holidays have come to mean less.

We still celebrate Christmas, with our mini ‘war’ about decorations and a tree.  I still shop and bake and send cards, though less than before.  Now that we’re out on the farm I can decorate the fireplace mantle with fresh juniper branches which we both like. This year Jed even put up the tree, and decorated it himself with a handful of red balls and white snowflakes.  It looks simple and elegant, and I though I treasure the hundreds of decorations that are still in their boxes, I don’t miss them on the tree this year.

Jed's Christmas lighting

Jed’s Christmas lighting

Christmas lights are the source of our other annual ‘war’.  Jed’s OK with having Christmas lights up when I agree to let him do something that is tacky or offbeat.  So some years our house has been tastefully decorated with white candles in the windows, and white lights around the front door.  Other years there have been colored lights strung haphazardly over bushes and around columns.  This year we have some very tasteful swags over the coach lights complemented by a riot of colored lights climbing up the utility pole, over the solar box and the electric fence switches, and up to the security cameras.  It is most certainly festive.

Tonight we will exchange a few gifts, just our family.  Some will be handmade, some will be very utilitarian, and some will be downright silly.  We will have a fire with wood from our farm, and we will play some sort of game together.  We will drink some port, and crack some nuts, and just enjoy some quiet time.  There will be music playing, probably an assortment of weird Christmas songs collected each year by an old music biz friend of mine.  The cats will each get a treat, and a piece of string which has proved to be much better entertainment than any cat toy we have ever bought. There will be no war on Christmas in our house tonight.

But Valentine’s Day is just around the corner.

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20 x 15 x 19 x 70 = 50 tons

In the wild, grapevines can be found sprawling on the ground, climbing over bushes and scrambling up trees and fences.  Good viticulture requires that you tame that vine-y behavior by tying the vines to sturdy trellising so that growth can be managed, and grape clusters kept healthy until they are ripe and ready for harvest.

Geneva Double Curtain

Geneva Double Curtain

There are lots of different kinds of trellising systems for grapevines: the lyre, the Geneva Double Curtain, the Keuka high renewal, the Scott Henry vertical canopy, the Kniffen system, and the Hudson River Umbrella are a few of the more exotically named ones. I have been studying the options for trellising for a couple of years and had opportunities to look at different systems here in New Jersey.  I knew that we needed something that was compatible with the growing habits of merlot vines, wasn’t too difficult or complicated to work with,  and was affordable for a small grower.

Billateral cordon trained system

Billateral cordon trained system

I really liked one particular system used at several of the vineyards in south Jersey.  After Jed and I had a chance to work with it during our apprenticeship last summer we decided we would go with a bilateral cordon-trained system.  This is a relatively simple set up in which sets of wires are strung between two strong end posts and the vines are trained along the bottom ‘cordon’ wire.  The other wires are moved up during the course of the growing season to keep the shoots that climb from the cordon vine tucked up neatly.

So in August Jed ordered all the supplies and we began the task of building out our trellising.  Step one was to install the 40 big wooden end posts along with the earth anchors that keep them upright.  We outfitted the tractor with a smaller augur.  Jed would mark the spot, I’d drop the augur in, and voila in a few seconds we’d have our hole.  Jed would heft the post into the hole and we’d tamp it into place.   Repeat 39 times.

Jed probing a post hole

Jed probing a post hole

Of course, like all things to do with the rocky soil in our vineyard, it frequently never went that smoothly.  Often Jed was down on his stomach reaching into the hole to see what was obstructing progress – usually a big rock.  But eventually we got them all in along with the earth anchors.

The next step was to pound in the 9 ft metal stakes along which the wires run.  There were 15 stakes per row; times 20 rows = 300 stakes.  Big operations use an engine to pound the stakes in.  We didn’t.  We used a time-tested tool consisting of two long

The stake pounder tool

The stake pounder tool

metal handles attached to a heavy metal tube that fits over the top of the pole.  You slam the tube down over the top of the stake driving it into the ground.  You do that repeatedly until the stake is about 3 feet into the ground. By ‘you’ of course I mean Jed.  This tool weighs about 70 pounds, so though I could lift it, I couldn’t heft it high enough to really slam it down over the stake with any meaningful force.  So all 300 stakes were left to Jed.

After pounding 15 stakes on the first row, he silently made his way to the hot tub where he stayed, moaning for a good chunk of the evening.  With 285 still to go I suggested that it was a good time to take the ‘before’ pix of his biceps, but he dismissed the idea suggesting that my time would be put to better use by bringing him another beer.

The next weekend two neighbor boys, Mike and TJ, stopped by to see if we needed any mowing or other work done.  Jed told them that if they could lift the pounding tool over their heads they could help with pounding stakes.  TJ is almost as tall as Jed and was able to do it so he helped for that afternoon.  His brother Mike later confirmed that TJ’s muscles were really sore the whole week.

Jed takes a break

Jed takes a break

Thus, Jed did most of the 300 stake pounding by himself.  He would tackle one row per day, a couple of days a week.  By the end of the project he could do two rows in a day.  The night he finished, we celebrated with beer and a soak in the tub.  He noted that it took an average of 19 lifts to pound each post in.  So, with 20 rows times 15 stakes per row x 19 lifts per stake x 70 pounds per lift he calculated that he had lifted the equivalent of 50 tons over the course of past month.

He still wouldn’t let me take pictures of his biceps.  So I brought him another beer.

Categories: The Vineyard Today | Tags: , , | 4 Comments

Better Than Feet

Tommy’s vineyard

When I started to write this it was early October.  Then the election got in the way, and now it is early November.  So anyway…….let’s start catching up.

Neighboring vineyards have been harvesting grapes for about a month.  Some varietals have yet to be picked, and vineyard owners alternate between watching the weather forecast and monitoring the BRIX, or sugar content of grapes still on the vine.  One Saturday a few weeks back a car came down our road and a guy named Tommy hopped out and asked how we were doing with our vineyard.  He owns about an acre of vines and makes wine just for family and friends.

After talking about our trials and tribulations for a while he asked if we had ever seen a crush.  We said that we didn’t really plan to make wine, just grow grapes.  Still, it would be interesting to see what happens to the grapes. He said he would be harvesting some of his grapes pretty soon and would let us know when the next crush was happening.  We said “Great!”.

The very next day we got a call from Tommy who said he had decided to harvest a few rows and invited us to come see the crush.  Becca was on a short break from school, so she, Jed, and I all jumped into the truck and headed over to Tommy’s place.  Of course, if we had been thinking we would have realized that before you can crush the grapes you have to harvest them, so we had really been invited to help with a harvest.  That was actually just fine with us since harvesting the two lone bunches from our vineyard this year probably doesn’t count as experiencing a true harvest.

Becca, Pam, and Jed’s first grape harvest

Two of Tom’s buddies were already out in the vineyard when we got there, so we headed out to lend a hand.  As we got closer we could hear a fair amount of good natured hazing going on over who was moving along fast enough,  or filling their buckets full enough.  Much of the hazing was being fueled by bottles of beer.  Now it might seem odd to be drinking beer in the middle of a vineyard, but since picking grapes falls into the category of summertime manual labor it makes perfect sense.  We were quickly offered ‘brewski’, given a quick tour, and shown the ropes.

Giant vineyards pick their grapes using $100,000 over-the-row grape harvesters from New Holland or AGH.   Smaller vineyards hire pools of manual laborers to go down each row with special harvesting knives.  Amateur operations invite their friends over and send them with garden clippers.  Then there was the equipment at Tom’s……one set of very rusty clippers, one newer set of pretty good clippers, and a pair of fabric scissors with a wicked looking 12-inch blade.  Since there weren’t enough cutting implements to go around, our arrival quickly became an excuse for a break for some of the ‘crew’.  Harvesting grapes isn’t hard work if you’re only doing it for a couple of hours, but if you are bending over or reaching around for hours or days on end, it would clearly fall into the category of back-breaking work.  Inviting your friends over and offering them beer is a smart move in every way.

An Afternoon’s Harvest

Soon there was an assortment of buckets and baskets down each row, all brimming over with grapes.  We were amazed at how many bunches were produced from such a small area.  Tommy appeared with a golf cart and began loading up the back with the buckets of grapes, running them to the small barn that is his winery.

Tommy and his crusher de-stemmer

Now the fun began.  Here is the moment when those of us of a certain age think instantly of Lucy and Ethel, their skirts hiked up around their knees, stomping around in big wooden vats of grapes, getting ever more silly, their white peasant blouses covered with grape juice.  At Tommy’s operation, the wooden vats have been replaced with big vinyl containers, and the foot-stomping has been replaced by a nifty little machine called a crusher de-stemmer.  It consists of two big cylinders that turn, sucking the bunches of grapes down into the interior where the stems are blown out in one direction and the grapes fall into a bucket in the other.  The stems turn into compost, while the grape juice and skins sit in the vinyl vat where yeast and sugars and other assorted mysteries of chemistry take over until eventually you have wine.  Tommy let us taste some of his previous efforts which was just as fun as watching what had lead to that point.

Time for some wine

Becca had been snapping photos of the whole operation, which in the sepia versions made us all feel very connected to an older time and place in which this afternoon would have seemed very familiar to previous generations.  Except perhaps for the tattoos.

When we returned at dinner time to our place and drove past our barn, big enough certainly for a winery.  Both Jed and I looked at each other, and neither said a word.

Categories: The Vineyard Today | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

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