Wednesday, July 30, 2014

All my posts could be about the weather.

Calabash, the welcoming committee
After a particularly rainy week, things are beginning to dry out and we're enjoying one of the most temperate Julys I can remember. Last year's rain was annoying, but this year, we didn't get the constant rain, just rain here and there and no temperatures over 100. I hope this doesn't mean that we'll be getting a super-hot August to make up for it. But as always, we're prepared for whatever might happen. I'm loving this weather, but I know my okra and eggplant are not. These heat-loving summer crops are barely producing anything at all!

A sample of the 2013 Chambourcin
We just bottled the 2013 Chambourcin and it tastes delicious. I can't wait to share it with yall. We will have it for sale shortly after we harvest. When we take the grapes up to Raylen for processing, we will bring back last year's wine. Get ready for another fall party to celebrate its release!

In vineyard news, the grapes are all covered. Pierce's Disease is popping up here and there, but so far, no massive losses due to the disease like in previous years. I hope our new spray regimen is helping. It will be a few more weeks before we can really see how everything is progressing. It's hard to tell what's going on in the vineyard right now- the weather is so cool that the ripening of the grapes has slown down. A few weeks ago, when the temperature was normal, or even above average (as it was in June), we were full speed ahead and expecting an early harvest. This rain and cooler weather has thrown a wrench in the works. The weather will always keep you guessing.

properly pinned down netting and a beautiful blue sky
Also, due to the style of wine we are making this year, we will be harvesting the grapes a little less ripe than in previous years. We are making a dry rose with our Chambourcin and Villard blanc. We will crush and de-stem the berries together, let them macerate only slightly (the Chambourcin is normally very pigmented), and then press the grapes. I'm hoping to get some good acidity and crispness which will highlight the strawberriness of the Chambourcin and the pineappliness and passion fruitiness of the Villard blanc.

For the past two years, after harvest, we have simply rolled up the nets and mowed the vineyard and called it a year. This year, I'm going to attempt to do some pre-harvest care of the grapes. This will make the winter and spring better for the vines and for the employees. If we are harvesting our grapes in the second or third week of August, that means that we will have a little time after harvest to "pre-prune" for the winter. We can begin cutting out the stuff that definitely has Pierce's Disease, get rid of the weakest parts of the vines, (visually) choose canes or spurs for next season, and allow the vines to focus on hardening off the branches that we want to keep. I'd also like to give a dose of fertilizer to the vines right after harvest to help them harden off properly. If I can convince dad to mow the vineyard twice in a row, I'll spread crimson clover as a cover crop between the rows to add some nitrogen-fixing flora to our ecosystem in the Spring. All of these actions will ensure a healthier vineyard for the winter and make work easier for us in the Spring. We've got a long enough growing season that the grapes will appreciate the chance to chill out a bit before the first frosts.
Villard blanc, under the nets

The tricky part is making sure that we have finished all of our garden work for the fall so that we have time to do the vineyard work. I've been thinking about ways to time the planting of the fall crops, and I'm hoping that the first or second week of August won't be too early to get our seeds in the ground for the root crops. If we plant our root crops for the first two weeks of August, then harvest our grapes, that means that we can spend the last week in August preparing our vines for the winter.

We might have to put off planting the strawberries until the first week of September and the garlic shortly thereafter.

Last year, due to the rainy weather, there was a straw shortage, so we were unable to properly mulch our strawberries and garlic over the winter. This proved to be an expensive shortage. We had quite a few rotten berries and we had to constantly be weeding the garlic. Hopefully proper mulching this fall will help save us some tedious labor in the Spring.

The winter squash are coming in strong!
I'm sad to report a large loss of melons from our fields. They were a few days away from harvest and then we got a few consecutive days of heavy rain. Almost all of them popped :( Nothing is more frustrating that seeing all your hard work and potential profits go down the drain because of something so uncontrollable as the weather.

Well, that's it for now. We will be harvesting soon, so stay tuned for volunteer opportunities in the near future!


Monday, July 7, 2014

And we're on Auto Pilot!

Happy Melons, Pumpkins, Squash, and Cucumbers
On the Fourth of July, I went out by myself into the garden, and unlike other times, I was struck by a sense of peace and completion. I didn't see any dying plants, no monstrous weeds, no taxing emergencies. I had given my employees the day off and I could handle the rest. I picked for a few hours and then took the rest of the day off myself. It was lovely. It was easy. Scarily so. But there's no catch here. Everything is looking so marvelous. I know something might go wrong in the next few weeks, but this year is so much better than last year! We've had almost a perfect amount of rain, gotten all our plants in on time (even the staggered ones), and only had one major catastrophe: corn seed maggots ate the roots of our cucumbers. We have replanted and are now starting to enjoy a good harvest of cucumbers.

Tromboncino Squash (or Zucchini), a new experiment which is turning out well!

Nevertheless, I know this is the calm before the storm. In the upcoming weeks, we will attempt my all-time favourite vineyard task: NETTING! That was sarcasm. The vineyard looks the best its ever looked. Liuba has done a great job getting everything looking like it should and it shows. The new Villard blanc vines are well on their way. The two year old vines are bearing a few clusters here and there. We're almost to bunch closure. We even have a few varieties of tables grapes which will reach veraison next week. That means we'll need to stretch the bailing twine out for the net supports next week and the week after that, we'll be putting on the nets for the whole vineyard. I'd like to delay this as much as possible, because we still have one more spray to put on the vines and also because we'll have to mow the vineyard at least one more time (and hopefully two closely consecutive times) to keep the grass down while the vines are under the nets for approximately a month.
Our Second Planting of Tomatoes

We got our first Hurricane last week, and I caught myself thinking about hail. It's THE WORST. There's nothing you can do about it and it can destroy your crop in a matter of minutes. Usually we get hail a little earlier in the season, but the berries are starting to swell now and soften, so they're becoming all the more susceptible.

But what good does it do to worry? It doesn't. So I'm going to try to enjoy these few weeks of relative peace before we start the fall garden, netting, and harvest time.

Last year's Chambourcin (2013) is coming out of Cold Stabilization right now. It spent about 3 weeks at 27 degrees. Tomorrow, we'll start filtering and getting the wine ready for bottling. That means that we'll be bringing home another vintage soon. This one is much bolder than the previous year's. Not quite as high acid as 2012. We'll bring it back from Raylen when we deliver our grapes (approximately the first week in September). It will probably be available for sale in early September. But don't worry- we will have a party to celebrate its arrival! Hope to see you there!