Prepping the Field

We had two years worth of labor to get our field ready for grapes – and for us to get ready too!

Behold the First Grapevine!

Somehow we had visions of a giant stack of boxes in the pole barn, each with one tiny, precious grapevine.  OK, maybe five tiny, precious grapevines.  On Tuesday THE BOX of grapevines arrived.  That’s right, one box…600 grapevines.  Now the box is pretty big, about 2′ x 3′ x 5′.    If you ever wanted to know how much 600 bare root grapevines weigh, here’s your answer: 70 pounds. Fortunately UPS (nope, no 18 wheeler) delivered the box to the garage which has turned into the perfect staging area.  Inside the box is a giant plastic bag with tidy bundles of grapevines packed in wet strips of newspaper.  The newspaper pulls away easily, and the bundles separate easily, and the grapevines separate easily.  All in all a pretty slick way to ship 600 grapevines.  The second box of 600 ships in a week.

Sadie and the box of grapevines

Wednesday was our first planting day and it was spent mostly in figuring out what we were doing.  The grapevines have to soak in water before they go in the ground.  I felt like Goldilocks as we tried out different containers.  This one is too shallow; this one is too heavy once the water gets put in.  Ahh, this one is juust right!

Next, I learned to measure out the powder for making the ‘root dip’ – which helps the grapevine roots stay healthy until they’re in the ground and growing.  And then another round of Goldilocks for the right bucket – only this time it had to be one that had a cover.

Which tools do we need out in the field?  What to carry the peat moss in?  Open the bags first?  Grrr, the bamboo poles keep sliding off the wagon!  Which row should we start with?  Does this hole look deep enough?  Hey these planting instructions don’t match the ones in the big manual!  Thus, many are the reasons that it took three hours to get one vine planted.

Vine One & Vine Two, with the cat in the hat.

But we carried on. By the end of the day Friday Jed had six hundred holes ready for planting, and I had put 75 vines in the ground and was feeling like I understood what I was doing.  The weather has been perfect: balmy and overcast alternating with cool and sunny.  I have felt like a kid on the first week of summer vacation., including the sore muscles.

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The Grapes Have Shipped!

Oh yikes!  The grapes have shipped and should be here on Wednesday.  Jed and I have been busy the past two weekends.  We laid out all the rows, and then started measuring and marking each hole.  18 rows x 65 plants per row equals 1170 holes.

Marking row number one

Last weekend we started drilling holes.  Suddenly all the fluorescent flags marking the rows, and the yellow agricultural spray marking the holes looked very tiny.  It takes between 2 and 3 minutes to drive to the hole, lower the augur to just the right spot, drill the hole, pull up, and check your work.  That’s pretty fast and assumes that the hole drilled smoothly, and that the augur didn’t hit any surprise on the way down spitting out a release bolt which happens from time to time.   It takes Jed a little over an hour to drill a row.  It takes me, uh, longer.  But I think I have straighter rows.

Drilling row number four

Saturday we have four guys we’re paying to come out and help us get the first vines in the holes.  That will give us a chance to have some completed rows as examples, and also for us to organize our work for the planting party.  Here are a few of our supplies:

Vine dip, peat moss, grow tubes, bamboo stakes

It’s all pretty exciting and even with the just the rows of drilled holes in the ground it’s starting to look like a vineyard!

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It Augurs Well

One of the fun things about moving to a farm is having a tractor, along with all the cool attachments you can get.  With so many holes to dig for the grapes getting an augur for the tractor was a no-brainer.  It took Jed a while to figure out how to get it rigged up; it seems that every piece of equipment has it’s own idiosyncrasies for working.  Once it was connected it didn’t take long before there were holes all over the field.  Of course both Jed and I wanted turns playing with testing the augur.  Since we needed to take another round of soil samples the holes were put to good use.

Tractor With Augur in Back

But we needed to learn to do holes in a straight line and evenly spaced.  Since we also wanted a deer break /privacy hedge at the front of the field we had a chance to check these things out.  We ordered 30 forsythia and 30 junipers and now we had two rows and a chance to try our hand at spacing.  We hit the front of the field armed with a tape measure and some agricultural spray paint – a handy little device that let’s you spray with the nozzle pointing straight down.  Two days later we had all the forsythia and a third of the junipers in the ground.  (We’re still waiting on the rest of the juniper order.)

New Juniper & Forsythia Border

The augur was a great tool for digging planting holes.  It was fast and efficient, and pretty fun. The forsythia were pretty forgiving of our mostly straight line, but we confirmed that we’re going to need a better system of laying down straight lines than just ‘eyeballs’.  We also learned that it didn’t take much to go a lot deeper than necessary.  But once you get that big screw turning in the ground it’s just too much fun to stop!  Oh, and I learned not to stand too close when the augur is coming back up because it really throws the dirt pretty far.

All in all, it augurs pretty well for planting day.  (OK, if you really read this far in a post about drilling holes, you probably deserved a better pun that this.  But I did try to warn you in the title!)

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Saved From the Trenches!

This weekend we got some great news:  we have been saved from the trenches!

We are going to plant about 1200 merlot vines.  That’s a lot of vines.  The original plan called for 3000 vines in the same acreage, half in merlot and half in pinot gris.   Then reality set in.

The little vines come as bare root stock packed in boxes.  If you’ve ever ordered a rose bush online you know what bare root stock looks like.  So imagine for a moment the day when 1300 vines come off the truck, and they’ve got to get into the ground before the roots shrivel up and the plants die.  One way to keep the vines dormant is to keep them cold, and some helpful internet sites recommend putting the vine in a refrigerator until you can plant them.  Uh, don’t happen to have a fridge that big.  A second way to protect the vines is to ‘heel them in’, which simply means digging a trench, laying the vines in at an angle, and covering the roots with soil which you water from time to time until you get the actual planting done.

We have assumed since we placed the order for the vines that we would have to heel the vines in, uncovering only what we were about to plant.  We’ve walked around the property more than once trying to figure out where to dig the trench, or trenches, since there are a lot of vines.  It finally began to dawn on us that heeling the plants in was going to be nearly as big a project as actually planting them, so we called the helpful folks at Double A Vineyards for some advice.

Yay!  We can keep the vines in their packing boxes in the garage for about a week.  If we open the boxes and water the roots we can last another week in the garage.  And, finally, they offered to stagger the shipments so that we only have vines that are a few days out of the ground at the nursery.

Problem solved.  Saved from the trenches!

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Getting the Field Ready for Grapes!


The field planted with rapeseed

Jed and I have been pretty busy the last couple of weeks getting the field ready for grape planting. About six weeks ago we did the final soil tests and got the levels of lime that we needed to put into the field.  Jed got the lime and laid it in about a month ago.  Two weeks ago Jed teamed up with one of the neighbor kids to mow down the rape that had been planted in the field last fall before Jed disked it in.  Besides being a nice cover crop that blanketed the field with beautiful yellow flowers, rape roots contain a chemical that when cut or bruised release a chemical that is fatal to root-knot nematodes.  These tiny organisms are a vector for disease in wine grapes, and we had a few too many of them in our soil.  Growing rape was a nice organic way of getting rid of them before we plant the vines.  Next steps:  plowing the field, leveling out the low spots, marking the rows.


Mowing the rape.

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