Monthly Archives: June 2014

It Sure Been a Cold Cold Winter

It sure been a cold, cold winter
My feet been draggin’ ‘cross the ground
And the fields has all been brown and fallow
And the springtime take a long way around

“Winter”      The Rolling Stones

The early June  weekend started out with normal vineyard chores.  We decided on Friday morning that we had enough growth to start tucking vines into the guide wires of the trellising.  Jed started at one end with the table grapes where some of the vines were already reaching the top wire.  I started at the other end where the growth was more modest.  I had my work belt on so I was taking the added step of tying up loose cordon vines wherever I saw them.  At the end of the day I reported to Jed that I had seen some dead vines that I had not seen before. He had seen some too.    Dead vines is never a good thing, and we had just finished planting 30 replacement vines the previous month.

Dead cordon vines with new shoots

Dead cordon vines with new shoots

We returned to the project again on Saturday morning, and at our noon break we both remarked that we were seeing more and more vines with leaves that were wilted.  There was no pattern to what we were seeing.  Some vines were totally dead.  Other vines had leaves that were dying on the cordon vines, but there were healthy new shoots coming up from the bottom.  Even weirder were the vines where one of the trunks would be dead or dying and the other trunk was perfectly healthy.  What was going on?  Even since the day before more vines were showing signs of wilting.

Me:  Did you spray too much of something?

Jed:  I’ve just been spraying hydrogen peroxide and I don’t think you can spray too much of that on the vines.

Me:  Could it be a disease?

Jed:  What disease would do this?  Harm part of the same plant but not all of it?  I think it must be frost damage.

Me:  It’s not frost damage.  I know what that looks like from Steve Brown’s vineyard when he lost a lot of buds.

Jed:  We need to take some cuttings and look things up.

Me:  Agreed.

One trunk dead, one trunk alive

One trunk dead, one trunk alive

Our online detective work turned up two disease possibilities:  one was called Eutypa dieback and the other had various names around the world, including Esca or Black Measles.  Both were fungal diseases that were probably present in the canes when they were planted, but that don’t show up until the plant reaches maturity.  Neither has a cure other than to yank out the diseased growth and burn it, and plant new stock.

We stopped our research in a funk, and headed off for the diversion of a Lucinda Williams concert.

The next morning we consulted with our fellow vineyard owner Bob Cassady.  By now the count of wilting vines was heading north of 200.  Bob was puzzled.  He agreed that it was looking like it might be one of the fungal diseases but urged us not to yank out any vines until we had consulted with some experts from the state agricultural extension. He put in a call to Dan Ward at Rutgers.  Jed and I headed out to BBQ in Philly determined to forget our worries.  I, of course, worried out loud about the grapevines to everyone I talked to.  It was hard to fall asleep that night.  We had just started construction on the winery, and now we may not have a vineyard if this disease keeps spreading to other grapes.  Finally, we reminded each other that this was supposed to be an adventure, and that meant taking the bad with the good.

Monday morning we hear that Dan can stop by to look at the vines early in the afternoon.  I head back out to the vineyard to keep tucking up vines, determined not to think about the impending doom.

Finally Dan arrives, along with Gary Pavlis who is with NJ Ag Extension program, in charge of helping new growers get started.  We have not talked to Gary since he first advised us three years earlier on starting a vineyard.  I lead the two of them out to the vineyard, babbling about Eutypa, and worrying about the set-back of having to yank out a third of our vineyard.  I point out one of the vines where one trunk is dead and the other one is fine; then another where both trunks are dead but healthy shoots are pushing up from the bottom.

Dan says, “We’re seeing a lot of this in NJ vineyards this spring.  This is classic winter die back, but we haven’t seen this in NJ vineyards for over 20 years.”

Me:  So this isn’t a fungus, and I don’t have to rip out vines?

Dan: No, if anything just be patient.  You won’t really know until July how many vines will make it.

Hard hit winter die back

Hard hit winter die back

Dan goes on to explain the difference between winter die back and spring frost damage.  I am relieved to know that we are not alone, and that I don’t have to worry about more vines getting infected.  But it’s discouraging to hear that we could still lose more vines, now perhaps as much as half the vineyard.   Still, it’s a relief to know that this was plain old mother Nature, and not some doofus thing Jed and I screwed up.

The two guys go on to give tips on how to treat the vineyard over the summer to help as many vines as possible recover.  We talk which kind of grow tubes work best in this situation, and what kind of irrigation plan will best help the needy plants whose vascular systems were damaged by the freezing winter temperatures.  Dan adds a few suggestions about mowing, and I am finally relaxing when they leave.

Our vineyard has taken yet another hit.  But it still has plenty of healthy plants, many of which have blossoms.  So yes we will have a crop this year.  And maybe the smaller size will be a better next step in this adventure.

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Winter Pruning: Or, Jed Gets His Way…..Mostly

By February I was tired of talking about pruning, so at the end of the month, on a relatively warm Friday morning, we hit the vineyard along with our friend Carlos who was more experienced than we were with pruning grape vines.  This year, because the vines are in their third year, we were able to leave two budded spurs, that will aid the canes in heading up the trellis.Image

 

 We thought we had plenty of pruning shears, but when we hauled out our stash we realized that while Jed and I each had a good Felco pruner, all the others were basically junk.  We had learned the hard way during the whole planting process that crummy equipment can really slow you down.  So Jed headed off to a nearby farm supply store to remedy the situation.

 

I consider myself a reasonably experienced pruner of vines by now, but I am careful and take my time, particularly if I’m dealing with a single trunk and want to start a second one.  I study, and I step back, I count buds, and I weigh my options.  For Carlos, the whole process is very intuitive, and he zips along, doing two rows for every one of mine.    Jed returned with more pruners and joined the crew, quickly becoming as fast, but not as good, as Carlos.

 

 

Each time we repeat a task in the vineyard we find some small improvement in the way to do things.  This time, our friend Bob Cassidy, (founder of Salem Oak Vineyard & Winery) made the suggestion that speeded things up.  “Toss all your clippings into piles as you go.  That way you’ll have fewer stops when you go to clear out all your clippings.”  We were two rows in before he stopped by, and we felt a little foolish that we hadn’t just figured that one out on our own.  But at least we got with the program for the bulk of the vine pruning.

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It took us just three days to finish the winter pruning.  Carlos brought his brother on Sunday, to help with tying up loose cordon vines.  Of course, no project can go from start to finish without Jed and I disagreeing over something.  This time, Jed had brought home a box of small white twist ties from the office.  

Jed:  Look at what I found in the basement at the office!  We can use them up in tying up the cordon vines.

Pam:  They’re too short, and they’re made of paper so they’re not suitable for use outdoors.

Jed:  Oh you worry too much.  They’ll work just fine.

Pam:  Jed, we have two perfectly good gizmos for tying up vines, and we have rolls of the tape made specifically for this task.

Jed:  Yeah, but I want to use up these twist thingies and I can’t think of anything at the office.

Pam:  Well, I have my belt with the pruners and the ties we bought all ready to go.

Jed:  That’s fine.  I’ll just give these extras to Carlos and his brother.  It works out great.

 

So by the end of the day Sunday, all was pruned, and little white twists had replaced many of the nearly invisible green or brown twist ties imported from France.  (My sense of aesthetics was offended, but I knew that it would not be long before I would surreptitiously be replacing them.)  We had enjoyed this first chance to be back in the vineyard. and were feeling ready for spring. All that was left was to gather all the clippings up.

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Monday it snowed, reminding me at least that we were doing this winter pruning in the middle of winter. But the snow was gone by the following weekend, so Jed drove the pick-up out to the vineyard, and Becca and I walked behind tossing the clippings into the truck. It didn’t take long before the truck bed was overflowing, so Jed drove to the back of the barn with Becca and I riding on the tailgate to help unload.

 

Jed:  Where should we drop these?  There will be at least four more loads, so there will be quite a pile.

Me:  Should we save some of them for wreaths?

Becca:  Let’s have a bonfire?

Jed:  I’m not making wreaths.  I think we should just burn them.

Becca:  Bonfire!  Bonfire! Bonfire!

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Bonfire it was.  We hauled out the cut vines to a place away from the barn, and away from the woods. After four more trips, we had a pile of clippings that was pretty impressive.  Becca and I were happy it was done, and Becca thought that burning the fire during a LARP (Live Action Role Playing) even that was scheduled in a few weeks would be the perfect time to burn the vines.  We all agreed.

 

Here are some pix of the LARPers and the bonfire.  Pretty good fire.  Pretty good ending to the story.  

 

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