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.

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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.

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What Mitt Romney Doesn’t Understand About Small Business Will Hurt Me

A real small business veteran explains why Governor Romney doesn’t get his world.

October 12, 2012

As I watched the first Presidential debate Wednesday evening I listened carefully every time Governor Romney stated views that he said represented small businesses like mine. I don’t think his statements about me were accurate, so here’s a my personal ‘fact check’.

He Said I Made Sacrifices and Took Risks. I have owned my company for 25 years and employ 20 people. I started the business in my apartment and worked hundreds of 18-hour days. The Governor would say I built it myself but in truth I had help from my family and my government. I went to good public schools and obtained two masters’ degrees via low interest student loans that were paid off quickly. Mitt would call me a ‘risk taker’ because I invested my time and my personal savings to start my company. But when I compare that to putting myself in harm’s way as a member of the armed services or leaving an abusive spouse with children in tow and no place to sleep, I don’t think it’s a big deal. I was never in danger of being hurt or homeless or hungry. I never had to sacrifice my own dreams by going to a menial job every day to feed and educate my children. Neither Mr. Romney nor I have ever experienced real sacrifice and risk.

He Said I Am Engine of Job Creation. Over time I have hired lots of people. I take pride in meeting my payroll; it may be my major contribution to this world. But every employee was hired because my company needed them. I earn more from what each employee contributes as part of our team than what I have to pay them. I have never hired someone in order to ‘create a job’. I am positive that as a financially savvy manager at Bain, Mr. Romney never did either. So let’s be clear that job creation is only a by-product of our pragmatic decisions.

He Said I Would Hire More People If My Taxes Were Lower. Each year, I decide how much money to re-invest in my company and how much to take out. Because I pay taxes on my profit, I always look for productive ways to invest in my company first. Spending pre-tax money makes sense. If my taxes were lower, I would take more money out and just put it in the bank. This is the opposite of what he says I would do. Hiring more people is always a function of whether or not the company has work for them to do. I need taxes to be lower on the middle class people with jobs so that they have more money to spend buying the products that drive my industry.

He Said That ‘Obama Care’ Hurts My Business. He is right that I am not enthusiastic about the health care reform law. He is wrong about the reason. As an employer, the current system forces me into being a health insurance provider. That is not my area of expertise, and it takes time away from running my business. Most importantly, large corporations can offer much better coverage at a lower cost and thus they have a big advantage over me in attracting the best employees. I would like to see a national health care system that takes the responsibility for health care out of the work place. Since most governments around the world invest in health care for their populations, it would make all American businesses more competitive in the global economy.

He Said He Understands My Problems Because He Worked In the Private Sector. It is true that we both have many years of experience in the private sector. However, Governor Romney worked exclusively with large companies. When those giant players decide to enter a field, they have much greater resources and can often use anti-competitive measures to drive out small businesses like mine. At the same, they demand and get monopoly rents for their essential services and products. Large corporations want to extract as much of a small company’s value as possible from every transaction. He knows this. It is what he told clients to do at McKinsey and how he ‘turned around’ companies at Bain.

Corporate oligopolies are a bigger threat to the existence of small businesses than government regulations. The large public corporations Governor Romney ‘understands’ are not the private sector of Main Street.

Jed Horovitz is the owner of a small business in Haddon Heights, NJ.

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An Ounce An Acre

Jed the Smurf Killer

The first year that you own a vineyard you don’t expect to harvest any grapes.  In fact it takes about four years for a vineyard to grow to maturity and produce enough grapes for a commercial harvest.  As a longtime backyard gardener, I’ve had to learn a bit of patience waiting for flowers or vegetables to bloom or ripen over a summer, but my patience has never had to stretch out for four long years.

Nevertheless our grand grape adventure has been pretty fun this first year and, despite all the battles with bugs and deer, we have been rewarded with seeing almost all of our 1265 vines grow up.  Only 3 have actually died, and another 20-30 are thriving less than we would like, probably because the drainage is not good enough in those spots.

Deb Yanking Grow Tubes

The growing season is now nearly over for the vines, and the nights are getting cooler.  So that meant it was time to pull the grow tubes off the vines so the canes can harden off before the weather turns freezing.  We started that task about two weeks ago with Jed yanking off the tubes, or slicing open the plastic if the vine was really big.  I followed behind tying up the vines to their bamboo stakes.  The task is pretty pleasant, though it still takes over a couple of hours to get through one row.

Karen Tying Up Vines

Last week our planting buddies Karen and Deb came over for the day to help out.  It was a beautiful day to be outside enjoying the end of summer. All the tubes were gone by day’s end, and all the vines were tied to stakes.

Seeing all the green vines without a sea of smurf blue made it look like a real vineyard.  It was a really nice reward for a summer of hard work, and of patience.

But  of course, as with all things relating to this adventure there was one small surprise.  Jed had just pulled a grow tube off one of the vines when I heard him yell.  So of course I rushed over to see what was wrong, and there on the vine, tucked all the way at the bottom was a tiny cluster of grapes.  Jed and I excitedly each pulled off a grape and popped it in our mouths.  Expectation mixed with apprehension for a moment as pits mixed with skin mixed with juice.  We both smiled – the grapes were delicious.

Grapes On A Vine!

A few rows later we discovered another, slightly larger cluster, which we carefully transported to the fridge.  Karen and Deb each got to taste one when they came to help out.  Now professional growers carefully pull off all the blossoms from new vines in the first couple of years.  You don’t really want grapes, you want good roots the first year and good cordon vines the second.  But oh it was nice to actually see and taste a grape from our very own vineyard in the very first year!

Fortunately we didn’t find any more clusters so we didn’t have to feel like the amateurs that we still are.  Jed, of course, had to do a calculation about the size of our harvest.  We have about three acres under vines, and our two little bunches weighed just 3 ounces.  So our first harvest yielded an ounce an acre.  Let’s see, that would be a return on investment of about how much per acre? Um, let’s leave that for a future year.  Suddenly I find I can be very patient.

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Die Bambi Die!

It’s not like we didn’t know there were deer in the area.  On our very first visit to the property we spied a young deer ambling through the brush down by the creek.  Jed and I were both charmed.  After we bought the property  we continued to to be delighted whenever we spotted deer or even just deer tracks.  We should have thought more carefully about the implications of seeing tracks in the snow that went from one side of our ‘soon-to-be-a- vineyard’ to the other.  But we didn’t want to think about the day when seeing a deer was something to get excited about – but in a bad way.

Yep, that day has come.

Our Bambi is likely a young buck traveling on his own;  ma has a couple of new fawns and can’t be bothered with him anymore.   Our new grapevines are a lovely salad bar, one that he has snacked on every few days.  As vines that had escaped his nightly munching grew taller, the difference between chewed vines and unchewed vines became more apparent.   As with the Japanese beetles, our initial tepid response turned quickly into Bambi wars.  The skirmish has gone something like this.

Deer tape, electric fence, and the bar of Irish Spring.

  1. Put up strip of bad smelling deer tape along the creek side of the vineyard. (Rotten eggs and mint combo.)
  2. Extend the deer tape to the whole perimeter of the vineyard.
  3. Add a second band of deer tape.
  4. Put up wire for electrical fence. (Thanks Karen and Mark for helping out with this project!)
  5. Stick peanut butter inside tin foil strips here and there to make sure Bambi got his nose zapped.
  6. Put up a flood light to scare Bambi up in the middle of the night.
  7. Visit the hair salon for hair clippings which were sprinkled at the base of the fence. (Sure – take all the hair you want!)
  8. Stick bars of Irish Spring soap into suet holders and put around the perimeter.  (Thanks to Jackie Alcorn for that suggestion.)
  9. Add another strip of electrical wire and another strip of smelly deer tape.
  10. Park the tractor and/or the truck between the vineyard and the creek every night.

Pam and the 6 foot vine.

We think we might be winning the Bambi war. At any rate, we haven’t had any vines munched on for over a month, and we haven’t seen any tracks inside the vineyard.  The deer-bit vines are recovering, and though they aren’t as far along as some of the other vines, which are now over 7 feet long in some cases, at least they are healthy and flowing over the top of the grow tubes.  Jed has declared us the MDL – Merlot Defense League.

We didn’t even have to kill Bambi, and we can still enjoy the young fawns that come into the back meadow to graze shyly.

Did I mention that we have wild turkeys in our woods, and that they too, like grapes?

Categories: The Vineyard Today | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

What Do Ammonia, Gasoline, Vinegar, Garden Lime, and WD-40 Have In Common?

When I was in my twenties and moving belongings to a new apartment, I stepped on a wasp and got a bad sting that slowed down my moving for the rest of the day.  A bad memory, but not enough to make me terrified of bees or wasps.  I still regard them as an annoyance.  So this week when Jed and I were patrolling the vineyard for beetles and deer tracks I was mostly annoyed to see a bunch of wasps buzzing around one corner of the vineyard.  As I got closer the wasps kept getting bigger.  A lot bigger.  As in two inches long big.  Big enough to carry off a cicada.  Which is what they do.  These were ground digging wasps  – also known as cicada killer wasps.  They don’t show up until the cicadas do which is in the middle of the summer.  They each dig a hole in the ground that they burrow into at night to sleep.   But during the day they buzz around, and if you are nearby, they zoom in close to check you out. When I think back I’m sure I’ve seen them before but never paid much attention because there were only one or two.  This time there are about 75.

Cicada Killer Wasp and Victim

When Jed and I mentioned that we had wasps near the ground to our fellow vineyard owner Steve Brown he said ‘”You should try to get rid of them now because when there’s fruit on the vines they’ll fly over and suck the juice out of your grapes. The next year you’ll have even more.”

Oh good.  Now we have things that eat the grape roots, things that eat the grape leaves, and things that eat the grapes.

Soon I’m back home Googling for info, which is how I know they are called cicada killers.  Not surprisingly most entries were accompanied by “How to get rid of….”    A few followed that with “organically” or “without using commercial pesticides.”   Despite the fact that our other organic efforts have failed miserably, I decided that this was an opportunity to regain a tiny bit of organic credibility.

After work the next day I went out to the vineyard with a bucket full of neon orange marker flags; we had used them before in conjunction with laying out the vineyard rows.  One of the online “experts’ had recommended marking all the holes during the daylight because you have to wait until dark when the wasps are in their burrows to kill them.   I gingerly stuck a flag down a hole and stepped away in case a wasp was in there.  Nothing happened, so I poked a flag into the next one carefully avoiding the wasps that were flying around my legs.  Soon I had pockets of neon spread out over 800 square feet.  But I had run out of flags before I ran out of holes.  So I moved a few flags hoping that some of the bigger ones would still be visible at night if another flag was sorta close by. Then I went back inside to make dinner and………Wait Until Dark.

Flags marking wasp burrows

Over dinner Jed and I talked about what to pour down each hole.  Besides commercial pesticides like Sevin there were articles online recommending ammonia, gasoline, vinegar, or WD-40.  One person suggested lighting the gasoline on fire and another one suggested putting firecrackers down each hole.  “Then run like hell’ was the sage advice.  The ‘mothers’ online could not resist scolding about the dangers of flammables and flames being put together. Somehow I got the feeling that for some bug vigilantes killing the wasps was beside the point. Wasp decimation was just an excuse to make something go boom in the night.  And if not wasps, then anything will do.

Round One. We already had a spray can of wasp and bee killer on hand, so I had to admit that using that made the most sense.   At around 10:00pm we figured it was dark enough and got ready for our next bug battle.  Unlike our beetle wars, these guys can fight back. So, taking no chances on stings we both put on long shirts, boots, and hats. Jed rigged up the spray can with a long straw taped onto the nozzle so that the spray would go down into the holes.  Armed with flashlights and the can of wasp killer we headed toward the vineyard.  It had been nearly 100 degrees that day so we were both drenched in sweat by the time we reached the corner with the flags. We decided to start at the nearest end just in case they came swarming out when we sprayed in the chemical death.   Well, ok in case one came out.  But still.  Jed picked a flag and shined the flashlight down the hole.  We couldn’t see anything in there.  I shook the can of spray, pointed at the hole, and pressed the button.  Nothing happened.  Shake again.  Point again.  Press again.  Nothing.

“Maybe the straw thingie needs to come off,”   I whispered.  I yank the straw off.

“Be careful or you’ll pull the nozzle off too!”

“I was careful! And whisper or you’ll wake them up!”

“They’re just wasps, and they’re sleeping.  Relax!”

“I can’t relax.  I got stung once.”

“Geez. Lemme try.”  So I took the flashlight and Jed tried spraying.  Nothing came out.

“I think this can is meant to be sprayed at wasps flying around, not wasps sleeping in the ground.”

“Yeah.  Won’t work I guess.”

Back to the house we trudge while the cicada killers slept on.

Round Two   We had a gallon of plain white vinegar in the utility closet, so that was our next weapon of choice.  I had used up the last of some insecticide on Japanese beetles earlier in the day, and it came in a container with a spray nozzle on a long wand that you could dial down to a thin stream.  That was perfect for this next act of bug destruction, so Jed poured the entire gallon of vinegar into the beetle juice container. The experts said you could dilute it, but we were feeling profligate, so live high on the hog, right?  Actually we were feeling nervous and wanted to be very sure they all died.

Back we trekked out to the vineyard.  I manned the flashlight and picked which flag to tackle first.  Jed aimed the nozzle and filled the first hole with vinegar.  Then another.  Light….point….shoot.  Light….point….shoot.  After about 20 minutes of quiet bending and squinting we turned around to survey our work.  Well, actually we couldn’t really see anything except that we had worked our way to the other end of the field of flags.

“Do you see any wasps coming out?”


“Do you think we got them all?”

“No, but I think we got all the ones marked by flags.”

We headed to bed hoping the vinegar would do the trick.

The next morning as we left for the office we drove slowly past the field of flags looking for wasps.  DAMN!  Lots of them buzzing around very fast and looking pretty ticked off.  Forget vinegar, even straight.  That lady singing the praises of vinegar for these wasps is a liar.  We stayed up late and sweated for nothing.  Boo to the wasp killer spray too.

That night, as we returned home, prepared to try something else, we didn’t see a single wasp.

“Maybe it just took a while to work.”

“Yeah.  Online vinegar lady I forgive you.”

Sigh….. this morning they were all there again.  I guess they had just had an early night, perhaps as tired of the heat as we were.

Powder Boy and the Killer Wasps

Round Three  The next morning the wasps are again buzzing around as we leave for work.  This time Jed is in favor of trying WD-40, which I did not see suggested anywhere.  I am in favor of trying ammonia.  We don’t have enough of either to kill 75 giant wasps.  So we stop at a nearby Lowes on the way home from work to see if they have anything specifically for cicada killer wasps.  They don’t, but the guy in the garden store says that the professionals use either Sevin or powdered lime.  We buy both.  Does this make our next wasp battle semi-organic?  I’ve given up caring.  I just want them gone.  They are big, and ugly, and scary.  I don’t care that only the females are supposed to sting.  Who can tell a male from a female?  Especially when you’re dancing away from one as fast as you can move.

We pull into the driveway in that afternoon and scan across the sea of flags. We are armed with the real deal.  But we don’t see any wasps.  They must be in their holes.  Where else can they be?  We’ve hardly heard any cicadas all summer.  Maybe they’re starving to death and we just need to be patient.  No!  We have our weapons and we will use them.  Jed heads off to replace the blades on the riding mower.  I head into the house to make dinner and Wait Until Dark.

The next thing I know I’m looking out the window and see Jed and the ground by the flags covered in white powder.  Jed has decided that since there were no wasps around there was no need to wait until dark.  He assures me that it’s just lime on his shirt, and that he was careful handling the Sevin.  Now, lime is also used to adjust the PH in the soil, and we have already limed our soil for this year according to very precise instructions which accompanied our last soil test results.  Will this mess up our previous liming and hurt the grapes?  I am torn between my need to compulsively follow directions, and my need to see dead wasp bodies all over the ground.  I retire to the house without comment to Jed.  It’s too late now anyway.  Powder Boy has already done his thing.

Yet another morning.  Jed is still in bed after an all nighter checking for deer who are less and less averse to the smells on our deer tape.  So I am on my way to work alone.  I slow down for the ritual wasp check.   I realize I am holding my breath. I don’t see any.  I stop the car and look more closely.  Nothing. I inch slowly forward down the drive peering past the grow tubes and into the field of flags.  Not a single blur of black and yellow.  I let out my breath.

Gee, do you suppose choosing Sevin like the professionals do might have actually worked?  Another bug battle won. Another organic opportunity lost.

So dear friends, if you’re choosing between ammonia, gasoline, garden lime, vinegar, and WD-40 to kill cicada killer wasps in your yard……go with Sevin.  Then light some firecrackers in celebration.  We are.

Categories: The Vineyard Today | Tags: , | 13 Comments

The Mass Murderers of Mullica Hill

I may look mild mannered and sweet, but underneath that pleasant exterior beats the heart of a mass murderer – at least of beetles.

Vines growing out the top of grow tubes.

Jed and I had just finished our battle with weeds in the vineyard.  The rows were now pretty clean and tidy. The grass was sprouting in the aisles and we were feeling pretty proud of ourselves.  Then, one morning,  we discovered a few Japanese beetles on some grape leaves.

I got out there with garden gloves and began picking the critters off one by one and dropping them into a bucket of soapy water.  If they were ornery and scooted out of reach  I’d bang the grow tube and stomp on them when they hit the ground.  The next day I just started squishing them between my fingers  because it was faster and I could kill more.  Anger about the damage they were doing quickly erased any squeamishness about killing them so directly.  But even with diligent work it was slow going.  Several of the vines had every leaf stripped down to lace.  So, as was the case with the weeds, we realized that we’d have to resort to to chemical warfare.

In New Jersey you need to get a license to handle the big time herbicides and pesticides and fungicides.  Over the winter I had purchased the inch thick manual that you have to study in order to pass the test that qualifies you for a license.  I don’t begrudge the state for requiring a license.  These chemicals can do a lot of damage, and we certainly wouldn’t want to damage Raccoon Creek.  But schedules and priorities being what they were, somehow we just didn’t think we would really need a chemical applicators license in the first year of growing grapevines.  After all we had the grow tubes and they should be protecting the vines.

In fact, the grow tubes had turned into a vector for the beetles who could crawl down into the tube but couldn’t fly back out.  So they would simply eat their way to the bottom.  Without a license we were looking at some home remedies, or at least back yard ones.  So I headed to Warren’s, our local hardware store, to investigate my options.  Front and center in the first aisle were Japanese beetle traps.  I bought four and headed back home.  We knew that you weren’t supposed to put traps near whatever you were trying to protect, so we figured we would try a few around the perimeter.   Jed headed out to pound in some stakes to hold the traps and I started assembling the bags with the pheromone lures.   I had just finished the first one  and turned to begin the second when I realized that the side porch was crawling with beetles.  Being in the middle of a beetle swarm was more than I had bargained for, so I hurried to finish the traps and ran them out to Jed.  Before we had the last one in the ground we could see the first one filling up with beetles.  By morning there were several inches of dead beetles in each bag, but there were still beetles on the vines.

So back to Warren’s I went.  This time I grabbed ten more traps plus a couple of spray guns of beetle killer.  Jed hooked them up to the hose, and off we started down the nearest row of vines, squirting what we hoped was chemical death down each grow tube.  Because our rows are so long it was a two person job, with one person wrangling the hose, and the other squirting BeetleJuice.  After two more trips to Warren’s we’d finally sprayed every vine and had a border of traps on two sides of the vineyard.

The next morning we ventured out to the vineyard with some apprehension.  We could see the beetle traps sagging with dead bugs.  We started walking the rows calling out “”No beetles”  with relief as we’d finish a row.  Yes, we were succeeding as mass murderers! At least for now, we were winning the bug war.  Within a day or two the vines were  creeping up over the top of the grow tubes, and looking healthy.

And then they weren’t.

We walked up and down the rows and it was apparent that the minute the leaves topped the grow tubes the deer came through and nibbled them off.

Bambi below the mulberry tree.

Damn you Bambi!  I’ve been letting you eat all my mulberries and this is how you repay me?

This time we headed to Roork’s, the local farm supply store.  They recommended that we try ‘deer tape’ before investing in fencing.  We needed to buy $200 worth of fence posts to string the deer tape up, plus the tape, plus the deer repellent liquid, so we weren’t sure if we were saving that much money.  I wasn’t optimistic that a flimsy little one inch tape that smelled of rotten eggs and spearmint would actually keep them away and secretly wondered if the guys at Roork’s stock this stuff just to sell to newbies like us.  But at least this could be done quickly and we had to do something fast.

We knew that in the past the deer  came up from the creek on our neighbor’s land and crossed our field on their way to another  neighbor’s field. We started with tape going down the creek side of the vineyard.  For good measure we left the tractor and the truck parked at the corner just to ‘scare’ them.   Ha.

The next morning we ventured out to the vineyard with some apprehension. (I wrote that once already didn’t I? Does that mean I live in the country?)  But there were no new tracks, and no new nibbles.  So we ran tape down two more sides and Jed created ingenious little ‘doors’ made from old luggage straps and buckles so we could get the tractor in and out.   My vineyard is now ringed by white tape and beetle traps – and I think they are beautiful.

Three days have gone by and we are amazed by how quickly the vines are recovering.  Almost 3/4 of the tubes have vines out the top, some as much as six inches.  Tonight we discovered a few live beetles in two rows, and we saw deer tracks and sheered off vine tops out by the road – the only side we didn’t cover with tape.  So Jed spent the evening pounding more stakes and stringing more tape, and tomorrow morning I will spray more BeetleJuice.

Vines growing again!

I didn’t really want to get into a war over this.  But you’ve left me no choice.  That is what the bad guys say as they’re about to kill someone in the B movie, right?  But I have killed thousands now, and tomorrow I will get up and I will kill again. There is no rest for the Mass Murderers of Mullica Hill.

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