Posts Tagged With: grape growing

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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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

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