Friday, June 21, 2013

The kaolin clay is on and it's a count down to netting time!

I was happy with last year's harvest...don't get me wrong, but there are some things that I thought we could do better this year. The easiest of these improvement for us to make this year was to spray less kaolin clay and to spray it later in the season, once the berries had almost reached bunch closure. The grapes helped us out this year by simply growing so quickly that we didn't have time or need to spray them earlier. The weather has been so mild and wet that the grapes have grown like kudzu. Last year, we used the higher end of the recommended rate of 50lbs per acre. This year, we have used less... About 25 lbs per acre. So far the Japanese beetles are staying away, so it seems to be working. The vineyard isn't as white as it was last year, but you can tell that the clay is present. Hopefully we will slow down the growth a little, but get better ripening than last year. I'd like to get higher brix than last year, but keep the good acidity of last year. We are on schedule for putting the netting on in about two weeks. That's about the same time as last year, which means, about 5 weeks after that, well be harvesting! I will be happier if we can keep the grapes on the vines a little longer, but mid August seems to be when our grapes want to ripen. Every year we learn more about the timing of the growth of the grapes in our vineyard!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Speedy Spring Vineyard Season--- the silver lining to all this cool and rainy weather

Diversity is key in any portfolio. This is especially true in the case of the small farm. While it's been too wet for us to plant, hoe, fertilize, or basically do anything, it's been the perfect weather for pushing growth on the vines. We're already to pea size. After the late budbreak, the fast growth has been quite surprising. It's almost time to get the kaolin clay on the vines to slow them down. Veraison will be here before we know it. And then Harvest. 

The rainy weather has also allowed us to plant the experimental varieties we got from Texas (Lenoir and Blanc du Bois). We planted half  beside my house and half in Mount Pleasant on a little hillside of terrible rocky soil. Digging the wholes there sounded like nails on a chalk board it was so rocky. The rate at which we dug the wholes there was about 10/hour. Compare that to digging the wholes at my house- about 30 holes per hour. This field has a northerly aspect, just like the one beside my house. I can't wait to see how these plants react to North Carolina. Only two years until we get to see what their wine tastes like and find out if we want to plant more! 

Other than that, things have been quite slow at the farm. We desperately need to work in our garden. At first, I thought we'd just wait the rain out. And then when it continued every day, I knew we couldn't just sit around for a whole week not doing anything. So we had to get wet. I hope we get a break from this rain soon or I might go crazy. 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Four Places to Purchase Our Produce

After two years of selling veggies under our beloved white tent, WE HAVE A BUILDING! We are so happy to do business indoors! It promises to make our lives and your shopping experience much easier and weather proof.

We now have four ways for you to purchase our produce:

1) Farm Stand: 3600 Concord Pkwy S Concord NC 28027
Monday- Friday 11-6pm

2) Grandma's Front Yard: 4758 Poplar Tent Rd Concord NC 28027
Saturdays 9-12

3) Epicentre
Fridays 12-5:30pm

4) Common Market: 2007 Commonwealth Ave, Charlotte, NC
Saturdays 10-1pm.

We hope that you find one of these outlets suitable to your schedule! Please stop by and see what we have. The offerings change daily.

We will also be hosting a party on June 1st from 4:30-8 to welcome our new Farm Stand to the property. We hope you'll stop by for a glass of wine and some snacks and check out the building as well as meet our new interns! Thanks for your continued support. We couldn't do it without you!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Planting Time at a Small Farm

When some people want to make chit-chat, they talk about the weather. When farmers talk about the weather, they actually care. I could talk about the weather all day long! Well, maybe not all day long, but certainly for an hour or so. It determines so much of what we do. Responding appropriately to the weather is a skill I'm trying to master. When to plant, when to water, when to fertilize; these are all things that the weather dictates.

The cool weather recently has been great for us. I don't know about other farmers, but it was such a long winter, that I thought we weren't going to get a Spring. Now that our Spring crops are finally in the ground, this cooler-than-average temperature is giving them a chance to thrive. The Swiss Chard and Kale are looking amazing! And we're going to have a decent lettuce season as well.

The warm weather a few weeks ago allowed for us to start planting the summer stuff right on time this year! With the turn to colder weather these past two weeks, the squash, tomatoes, and peppers aren't growing as quickly as we expected, but this is giving us a chance to take it easy with our planting and not have to weed as quickly as the warmer weather would have necessitated. We've got our first round of veggies in the ground and we'll start on the second round next week.

With a small farm, with small acreage,  it's often difficult to figure out how best to plant transplants. We don't have a tractor implement to help us. We do it all by hand and hoe. We recently got a new pull behind tiller for our tractor and the softer soil is going to help us improve our planting speed Nevertheless, for The Farm at Dover Vineyards, planting time is pretty slow. We can do about 12 flats/ hour on a good day in great soil. I took some pictures as we planted peppers the other day.

First, Nicolae, the Perfectionist, gets the irrigation line straight. Then he turns it on, so that as he digs the holes and we put the plants in the ground, the soil is already moist. He then commences to dig the holes with a hoe, whilst walking backwards.

Next, Mike goes along with a bucket full of Daddy Pete's compost and puts it in the holes.

Next, I go along with the plants and put them in the holes.

Finally, Liuba goes along and plants the little buggers. With lots of care and love.

I'll go back in about a week's time and fertilize them. It works best with 4 people, however if someone is out, it is possible for one person to put the fertilizer and plants in simultaneously.

For an update on the vineyard:

The vineyard broke bud a little late this year, and for that we are grateful. Knock-on-wood, we are safely out of  the frost danger. We went back and double pruned a week after they broke. The crimson clover has been keeping the weeds down and attracting a whole host of insects. We haven't mowed the inter-rows yet, so that's saving us a bit on labour. We'll be starting our spray schedule tomorrow.

I'm really enjoying this cooler weather, but I know it will end soon. When the heat comes, we'll be ready with planted rows. We'll be opening up our building soon on Hwy 29 next  to the vineyard. Stay tuned for details involving that! We might even be going to two markets in Charlotte!! Lots of chances to support your local farmers.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Nerd Alert: Early-Spring Vineyard Management

You think this is a photo of a vineyard. Nay. This is a photo of our crimson clover cover crop. 
These past few weeks have been devoted explicitly to the vineyard. We've torn out the old vines, planted new ones, pre-pruned, and sprayed the ever-popular Lime Sulfur. Everything we do right now is to prepare the vineyard for the summer so that we have as little work to do in the heat as possible. As much as I don't like working in the chill, I'd much rather do the work now than in the Summer heat.

This is going to be a very nerdy post, so I'm going to do my best to explain what we're doing in lay-terms but simultaneously answer questions I've received from classmates and the grape-growing community.

This year, we pre-pruned. This means we went along doing just a basic cleaning of the vines, leaving the spurs about 4 or 5 nodes long. Pruning actually activates bud-break, so we didn't want to prune too soon and end up having a budbreak before the last frost. That happened last year and we lost about 40% of the crop. When buds on a grapevine break, they break from the top back. Thus, if the top buds have broken, and we get a frost, there is a chance that the lower buds have not yet broken and will still be able to produce a full crop. We will go back in about two weeks (after we get the Spring gardens planted) and, depending on the weather, get rid of the extra buds leaving fully pruned vines.
Note the extra long spurs and the kicker at the bottom of the vine

We are also leaving some canes where we see weak cordons. The mild winter (which leads to Pierce's Disease) and Spring freeze last year meant that our vines looked quite strange during the growing season. This year's winter was much better in terms of producing temperatures that will limit PD's effect. We might be replacing the most effected cordons with the new canes this year. We won't know until budbreak, but in case we do want to replace cordons, we will have the option of laying down the canes produced last year. We have also left a kicker cane coming out from the bottom of the vine just in case one of the trunks is so affected and we have to start over with the whole trunk. These steps will help us extend the life of our vines.
Note the extra long potential cane that can replace the cordon if
good budbreak doesn't occur.

The next chore in the vineyard was putting in the Villard blanc. We replanted the vineyard (and put in 300 blueberry plants) over the course of three exhausting days. Planting the vines was a very simple process: we dug holes, filled them with a little bit of horse manure and greensand, put the vines in the holes, and then filled in the rest with dirt. Nic and Liuba didn't want to have any rocks in the holes, but I convinced them by the end that it would not hurt the vines to have a few rocks in with the roots. Nic and Liuba then set about putting new landscape fabric down. It looks amazing.

Yumm. the smell of sulfur....

Finally, we sprayed the lime sulfur. This chemical basically sterilizes the vineyard before the season starts. It also smells like poo. It's been quite windy recently, so conditions for spraying have been less than optimal, but by doing a little for three days, we finally got the whole thing covered. We are ready for Spring! Thanks to these long, cool days, the buds are just now starting to swell on the Villard blanc. I hope that they decide to sleep in for another month.

These next two coming weeks, we'll be putting in our Spring garden. It's a bit cooler than I'd like for planting seeds, but luckily, we get a lot of our leafy vegetables started in a greenhouse. Anthony, from His and Her Greenhouse, delivered our plants on Thursday and we put in our first rows on Friday. But more on the planting fun next week. We are so excited for Spring to come. And to start having some income again.

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Post I wish I didn't have to write--- How to rip out a vineyard and my trip to Texas!!!

The daffodils are out, the maples are budding, and the days are getting longer. As farmers, we too are starting to gear up for spring now and I think we're more or less on schedule. It's been a winter of steady, tedious work hoeing the vineyard, taking up the black plastic, and pulling up the vines. The Pierce's Diseased Vidal blanc has now been removed and we're getting prepped to plant our Villard blanc in a few days.

For those of you who are interested, this is how we pulled out the vineyard:

1) Cut the tops of the vines off
2) Remove the landscape fabric
3) On a day when the soil is soft, but not soggy, tie some nylon rope to the nub of the vine and attach that to a little ATV and drive forward!

If that doesn't work, a shovel always helps. We took out about 250 vines/ day. It's a very quick process.
Right now, we're in the process of digging wholes for the new Villard blanc. We will fill those with a little shovel full of horse manure, pot ash, and bonemeal. We'll be planting our new plants on Thursday, Friday and Saturday the 14th, 15th, and 16th of March, so let me know if you want to come out and help! A few hours of your time will make the greatest difference. Putting out the new black plastic will be the biggest challenge.
So, last week, I went to Texas to try some of their Blanc du bois and Lenoir. I traveled to Houston, Austin, and Dallas. The Lenoir is a red grape that actually has red juice. I wasn't as impressed with these wines as I was with the Blanc du bois. The wines had a savoury characteristic to them that wore quite quickly. That said, I'm still going to plant 75 of them soon to see how they do in NC.
One grower I visited seemed to have broken the code with how to make a good Lenoir. He graciously shared with me his trials and recipes, giving me tastes from the different barrels and explaining to me his thought processes. The Texas wine community was so hospitable.
William Chris in the Fredricksburg area.
The Blanc du bois I had were delicious! They ranged in style from very low-alcohol, high acid wines to more standard Sauvignon blanc style. They were best when they had about 1% residual Sugar. It was almost an imperceptible sweetness (it's still a technically dry wine), but it gave a bit of weight to the mid-palate that was desperately needed. Apparently, the acids disappear very quickly as it gets hotter, so they find it necessary to pick the fruit around 18-20 Brix (23 is normally the target). I had a few favourite producers:
1) Haak Winery had the high acid, low alcohol wines along with a delicious Madeira
2) William Chris had the great balance
3) Lost Oak had the most similar growing conditions to NC, so I look forward to trying to imitate them!
If you're ever in Texas, I would recommend going to visit some of their wineries. I also enjoyed lots of breakfast burritos, chips and salsa, a kolachi, and some fine Texas beers. I also have a new favourite radio station- The Ranch. It's 100% Texas music and awesome. I tolerated the suburbia which seemed to dominate much of the driving I did there, but once I got into the grape growing areas, the countryside was gorgeous. I can't imagine what it would be like during the summers though. So hot and dry. God bless all those cows. The droughts they experience are incomprehensible.
On a different topic, we'll start planting our Spring garden soon. Its been raining so much recently, we've had a hard time getting the tractor in the field to prep the soil. I think next year, we'll prep in the fall and let the soil freeze (and hopefully not erode) over the winter. We're getting better at this every year.
We'll start taking orders for our CSA soon! Not much longer and I will have forgotten how cool and relaxing these winter days were.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Collards for those who think they don't like collards

I've heard a lot of people talk about how they just don't like collards. I can understand this. I too did not like them as a child. Or as a teenager. Or as an adult. I ate them out of the desire to have a prosperous new year and then did not eat them again until the next new years.

This all changed when I started growing them. Like most vegetables, the way to love eating them is to grow them. The first year I grew them, it was an extremely cold winter for NC. We got comment after comment like: "These are the best collards I've ever had" or "It only takes 15 mintues to cook them! They're not in the least bit bitter!" These collards were nothing like those bought in the store. They were sweet, without the expected bitterness. They cooked so quickly that many people almost overcooked them thinking they were like store-bought collards.

We had such a surplus that mom and I immediately set about to experimenting with the vegetable, pushing ourselves beyond the traditional pork and collards parameters. We came up with three great recipes that I'd like to share with you this year. These collard recipes will convince even the most skeptic of yankees.

1) Cream of Collard Soup (thanks to Peggy Carlough)

- Sautee onions and garlic in butter
- add in chopped collards (about 6 leaves per person)
- partially submerge them in water or veggie stock. If you are using water, add in a bullion cube
- let reduce until collards are soft, about 5 minutes
- purree
- put it back on the heat and a little bit of cream/half and half to taste (you can add mushrooms here if you'd like for a heartier soup)
- add salt and pepper (and NUTMEG!!! my mother disagrees with this spice, but I love it!) and let it warm through
- serve with toast

2) Stewed Tomatoes, Peppers, and Collards
- sautee onions and garlic in canola oil
- add in some red and green peppers (or aji dulce or paprika peppers if you can find them)
- add in some chopped collards and stir
- add water/stock/bullion cube if necessary to get the steaming process going
- add in a can (or two) of chopped tomatoes
- salt, pepper, red pepper flakes to taste
- serve with ricotta chese and pita

3) Collard Casserole
- cut up collards in a pot with a little bit of veggie stock or water/bullion
- when they are a dark green color (before they get brown), toss in some cream of mushroom soup
- take them out of the pot and put them in a greased casserole dish
- sautee onions and garlic in another pan
- add in a healthy amount of mushrooms
- put the onions/garlic/mushroom combo on top of the collards that are in the casserole dish
- top with (swiss, provolone, mozarella) cheese
- bake until the cheese is bubbling

I hope these recipes inspire you to try some of our collards and experiment beyond their tradtional boundaries. Collards are a very versatile vegetable that we should embrace and not relegate to old, poor southerners. They are so healthy and beneficial to our winter diets!

I truly believe that if we all ate more collards, or greens in general, we would lead richer, fuller, and more satisfied lives. New Years Legends can come true.