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.

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