Sunday, July 29, 2007

Empty Nest

momma bluebird patiently waits for us to close her birdhouse.

Connie's Post:
I hadn't posted in a while, so i'm now playing catch up with you. three weeks ago, our first bluebirds were fuzzy, with some pinfeathers.

then two weeks ago, our babies sported all their feathers and looked ready for their first flight.

a week ago, we opened our bluebird house to find an empty nest.

good luck, babies! come back and raise your babies in our box.


Veraison! the tinte cao berries start to turn.

Connie' Post
Veraison is a highlight of the wine grape growing season. i get that yipee! feeling and a big smile to see the berries start to turn their colors. veraison is a signal that the berry growth is done and the ripening process has begun. what triggers veraison isn't understood, but from here on out, the sucrose and fructose levels will increase until harvest. We will start to measure them in brix units, remember? Acidic levels will also increase, and we will measure those as well.

different grape varieties ripen at different times. remember the mysterious case of the disappearing seyval? turns out the seyval ripens the earliest out of all of the proofing vinifera varieties. and. it. is. yummy. vidal, i am so sorry, but you clearly have competition in my heart for favorite white grape. we'll have to net the seyval a little earlier than the rest, as i'm sure the birds love the berries as much as i do. and i do.

Seyval. my new favorite flavor.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

600 bamboo stakes

Connie's Post
In the eastern vineyard, a whole acre of vidal is growing well, despite the drought conditions. many of the vines are coming along so well they are in need of staking, to keep the tender young vines off the vineyard floor. each individual vine will receive its own bamboo stake, impaled into the ground on the north side. we'll then tether the vines to the bamboo stake with gerald's plastic ribbon tape dispenser. Later in the season, we will set up posts to run cordon wires so future vines can scramble up the trellising with ease.

yep. there is no time like july to stake 600 vidal vines. there's no better persons to get the job done than your brother pete, uncle charlie and your wife. pete and uncle charlie has pounded their stakes into the ground during the week. the last few saturdays, i've hit the vineyard and have taken my turn. if i look a little hot and weary in the pictures kayleigh snapped for me, i can tell you, yes i am and it is very easy to over heat and become dehydrated. i can also tell you there are 29 vines to a row. in the lower part of the vineyard, the ground is very hard and compacted from the heavy machinery clearing the area this past winter. it took 40 minutes to work my way down a row. now as we have moved up the hill, the ground is quite a bit easier to work with. i got my time down to 30 minutes a row. its hot work, though, as there is no shade, just open ground to cover. boy1 is a big help. he takes giant armful of bamboo stakes and lays them out in the field for me, one to each vine.

i like the hot, hard work and being along in the field. i thought i would get a lot of thinking done, but lately i would have made the Dali Lama proud in that i've just kept my mind on my work. no extraneous thoughts. i hammer with my whole arm, not just from my elbow. after three blows, i work the rebar around in the hole, so that the ground gives a little and i can pull the rebar out when i'm done. i do this because the first time i just pounded the rebar into the ground all at once and then i had my doubts that i would be able to get it out. but i'm stubborn and i won. i repeat the pounding and pulling on the rebar about three times before i pull the rebar out of the ground and quickly push the bamboo in before the hole in the sandy loam collapses. i rap on the bamboo stake, give a little pull to make sure the stake is secure and then i move on. this work gave me the worst blisters of my life, despite having wore gloves through the task. giant, watery blisters on the sides of my index fingers, my thumbs and oddly enough, a blister that covered the entire pad of my baby finger. my hands were the talk of the monday production meeting as i clumsily tried to hold a pen and take notes.

i think i'm happy about doing the hard work because its about being strong and persevering when it would be so easy to say to my husband, "you'll have to figure out how to do this." i'm glad to have spent this past two years training with my marine friend. the work is easier because he's made me stronger than i have ever been. it makes this girl feel powerful and i like being farm strong, if not gym strong and Muscle and Fitness Her beautiful.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

The Hired Gun

Somewhere, Sergio Leone must be shedding a tear.

Connie's Post:
The stranger was called into the vineyard. Grimly, he assessed the situation.

there was undesirable elements growing in the vineyard. the shoots had grown beyond the top cordon wire. the growth must be stopped.

it was for the good of the grapes.

he bowed his head...was it a prayer for the soon to be dying? was it gathering of inner strength to finish the job quickly? the vineyard grew eeriely silent.

as if in a zen state, the hired gun assumed the warrior position. slice! slice! a rusty blade flashed and glinted in the high noon sun. the stranger worked as if a man possessed, striding down the rows of the proofing vineyard. in his wake fell the offending shoots, silently collapsing from where they once grew.

and then, just as suddenly as the hired gun had appeared in the vineyard—he strode off into the sunset. his work was done for another day. the grapes would once again flourish.

The West Vineyard in 5 Easy Shots

Connie's Post:
Here is a slide show to give you a sense of the west vineyard. it starts from the far western edge, lined with a corn field. there is a large barn there, but we don't use it. the second barn is where boards are stored. both are former tobacco barns. the vines in the front of the second barn are the 2yr viognier. next is the tool shed and the more mature proofing vine rows. then the proofing field ends on the east side, lined with a christmas tree field and stops at the little white house.

Weekly Entries, 23 June-7 July

From the Farm Journal:
23 June 07, GB/CB/BB/PC: low mid 80s. low humidity and breezy. brilliant! CB+PC pulled leaves on east side of rows in proofing vineyard. GB did trellising maintenance and trained viognier vines up stakes. MB (ger's brother, mike) arrived with RM&KM (randy, kathleen's husband and kathleen) brought vince. checked out machinery shed, discussed pouring concrete for bays 1&2 floor. MB/MR/KR/V left for charlotte hall house to finish LB (lyrel, ger's brother peter's wife) bathroom renovation. don't tell. its a secret surprise for her when she shows up this friday. C contemplated her circumstances with PC and came to a resolution. G going to Linden Vineyards tomorrow.

22-25 June 07, BB: removed large stone from lot 10. built and installed lower extension for lot 11 gates. prepped water on wheeler (code name: WOW) trailer to permit moving trunk forward so trailer full of water can be towed up hill. Capped line parts in lot 10.
25 June 07, CC/PC: overcast, sunny in pm. .1" in rain gauge. still sometimes hot & humid 71-89°. CC mowed extensively, PC pulled leaves in west vineyard. finished east side 4 rows, 4-7. 8&9 to go. CC paid Will for clearing east vineyard land which PB financed. very, very dry! but th vines appear to be holding up.

28 June 07, BB: picked up repaired auger in warranton and pt it in the shed. no rain in gauge.

30 June 07, GB: pretty sunny in am. breezy. shower at 2:30, dropped .01" in gauge. sunny afterward. hedged vines in proofing rows. BB pulled leaves along row __. Paul (Uncle Peter's son) and T toured the vineyard w/their three daughters. Paul offered his girls for the fall harvest crush. very good. CB/boy1&2+cousin charles came over from charlotte hall after lunch and picked up shoots and leaves from vineyard floor. bought 100' soaker hose. watered first 4 rows of viognier. need to return 50' of hose. has a leak. PC pulled leaves, row 8.

3 July 07, CC/PC: partly cloudy. very dry. CC trimmed christmas trees all am&pm. PC picked leaves row 8&9 west vineyard and worked on watering and trellising 2yr. viognier. Jim came by to work on disc, needs another part.

5 July 07, PB/BB/KC/ChB: sawed tops of too tall posts in w. vineyard. capped most of remaining posts. drilled holes in bottom of remaining caps for ease of installation. laid out piping/hosing to permit big water tank & tow to fill up simultaneously during rain storm. light showers as PB was finishing.

6 July 07, BB/PB/PC: deep watered new plants in lot 10, capped remaining posting in lot 11. hung some wheels in 11. gravity feed for lot 11 is no good. water doesn't come through soaker hose. used 1 hp pump.

6 July 07, BB: 1 mm in gauge. attaching it to WOW via a tailgate or trailer extension. watered 2yr viognier rows 5-12 with T probe boosted by 1 hp electric meter. one outlet hose big tank worked well. takes a lot of hose through.

7 July 07, PB/ChB/GB/CB/KC/JB/TB/BB: hot, dry day. BB raised height of cross piece on w/vineyard gate. mounted pump platform on rear of WOW. PB+GB started netting cables over w/vineyard rows. GB+PB+BB+KC practiced backing WOW into vineyard. CB+JB pounded bamboo stakes in east vineyard, 5 rows done. JB+ChB did running chores and had adventures. KC+boy2 were two peas in a pod and stuck together, helping BB and GB+PB.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Natural Allies, Part Two

oyster shells amid the christmas tree field at the farm

Connie's Post:
Previously, i discussed helping along the bluebird population of the shoestring vineyard as a natural way to keep grubs down and give the vine one less thing to compete against. another natural ally in growing the perfect grape is the oyster shell. they creep up out of the soil all through out the farm, but most are found in the christmas tree field right in front of the farm house. gerald's dad, bernie, tells me its due to the turn of the century owners, who would consume the oysters and then toss the shells out into the field, leaving them to break down slowly, slowly over time. they and all the following owners and tenants of the farm would till them into the ground or run over them with a mower. the oyster shell "sweetens" the soil as it breaks down. we haven't performed an analysis of our soil to see the exact benefit, but here is a related article that gives you the idea what benefits the oyster shell brings to the grape:

recently, i've gathered up some of the oyster shells. they are starkly white and have a great texture. i've got a large round mirror that i'm encrusting with the oyster shells and some of the round pebbles commonly found on the property— so we'll have a bit of my husband's family farm history on the wall of our townie.

the oyster has played a large role in st. mary's and the chesapeake's past. while suffering a decline in population due to excess nitrogen and fertilizers in the bay, the oyster has many allies in this area, working together to give a little help to their friend.

Mike Brings in a New Toy

Mike and Randy visit the farm for an upcoming project

Connie's Post:
Mike, ger's brother, and randy, kathleen's husband stopped by the vineyard last weekend to check out the vineyard, discuss an upcoming vineyard project and help lyrel with her bathroom renovation. in the process, they learned a bit about canopy management. mike took a look at the leaves and shoots lying on the vineyard floor and brought out the big guns: its a mighty mac vaccuum/mulcher! in no time at all, the machine and mike did a demo in the proofing vineyard, the machine sucking up and mulching at the same time all of the materials uncle pete and i had left on the vineyard floor. i have my own version of a might mac, but i call it boy power! they don't mulch and they are about as noisy as the mower. they require a fill'up at the wawa gas station, but prefer subs and gatoraid to ethanol.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Corn is a Grass

I recommend to you the Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan.

Of note was the investigation of corn. If you have looked at food labels lately, you'll notice a heavy reliance on corn and corn derivatives. I'm talking about high fructose corn syrup. In Pollan's book he discusses that although corn is a new world product, revered by native mexicans, its present day americans that can claim to consume so much corn that it literally shows up in our DNA. We are literally walking corn chips:

"There are some 45,000 items in the average American supermarket, and more than a quarter of them contain corn," he reports. Indeed, corn and its array of byproducts have so successfully colonized the U.S. diet -- and so dominate the diets of the animals consumed here -- that Americans have ripped the title of "the corn people" from Mexico, where corn was originally domesticated and remains a staple. Because of corn's rare carbon signature, Pollan writes, it's possible to discern from flesh or hair samples how much corn contributes to the formation of human bodies. "When you look at the isotope ratios, [U.S. residents] are corn chips with legs," a biologist tells him.

Happy Birthday, America. Eat fresh, local grown corn on the cob instead of a processed high fructose product, drink plenty of water and celebrate the hybrid grass we call corn.

if you want to feed your head, i recommend the following article:

Sunday, July 01, 2007


Gerald's Post:
reflections on my 2nd pilgrimage to Linden Vineyard.

Jan 2004 I visited Linden Vineyard for the first time, attending a seminar on starting a vineyard. Stretching up the side of a mountain in the Virginia Blue Ridge, it's a picturesque place. The entrance is off a small road at the base of the mountain. You wind your way up the long drive through row upon row of vines. It's not one series of rows lined up the side of the mountain, but rather plots of rows, arranged in every direction according to the contours of the earth and the particular variety of vine and trellis system implemented. Jim Law, the owner, grower, and wine maker, is a Virginia viticulture pioneer whose vineyard reflects his work at experimenting with all nature of variables in his efforts to learn as much about producing the highest quality wine the combination of land, climate, and vine can offer. About half way up the mountain sits his winery/tasting house, elegant in it's simplicity of rough hewn support beams and open, airy space. It's an excellent setting to sample wines without distracting accessories, yet still offers you one of the most picturesque overlooks you'll find along the Blue Ridge mountains.

The purpose for the current trip was to attend another seminar by Jim Law: Established Vineyard Management.

It was a fantastic day to be in a vineyard. A weather front had come through the previous day and pushed out all the heat and humidity, making the day breezy, warm, and dry with lots of sunshine and some puffy clouds. A lot of the day was spent inside listening to lectures on vineyard management, but we did make two expeditions into the vineyard for some 'live action' teaching.

Walking into the classroom, Jim had a white board at the front with one word written on it: balance.

Everything about the seminar flowed from this one key concept: The vine must be in balance to produce the best grapes.

the rest of this message are my notes and memories from the seminar...
Europeans achieve balance through experience. They have literally thousands of years of experience figuring out which varieties grow best in a particular area, at a specified spacing, using a certain training system, and with some amount of fertilizer, etc, etc. In dry areas like California and Chile, balance is achieved through controlling water. Turn the water on and the vines grow. Turn it off and they stop growing.

The Eastern U.S. does not have a depth of experience to draw upon. Nor, with the summer and autumn storms, can we control water to any great extent. There is not enough experience to really know what works best. We are all pioneers.

How Vines Grow:
Sink/Source = Vines have Sources of energy production and Sinks of energy expenditure.
Sinks = Grapes, New leaves, Old leaves (over 60 days), interior leaves. All take energy away from the vine and grapes.
Source = Healthy, mature leaves.
In an ideal world, vines should stop growing at veraision and put energy into ripening grapes.

a.m. vineyard tour, remembered notes...
Leaf pulling and its relationship to wine structure:
white wine structure comes from the acids. Sunlight reduces acids in grapes. No leaf pulling on western side of vine rows.
red wine structure is in the tannins. Sunlight increases tannins and complexity. Pull leaves from both sides of the rows (but not at the same time).

Spraying for Downy Mildew, Powdery Mildew, and Black Rot: Clusters are susceptible for about 4=6 weeks after flowering, then immune. Has to do with cell maturity. Same applies to 4 week old leaves.

Competition: Vigor can be controlled through weed competition and red dwarf fescue (grown in area under vine rows).

Soil: Maybe "perfect" soil isn't so perfect. If pH is a bit off, but it keeps the vines from being too vigorous, is it a bad thing?

Lunch = sampled several offerings and settled on a glass of Seyval Blanc to go with my Sheetz cold cut hogie. In retrospect, probably should have gone with a red. The guy pouring my samples told me a fascinating story about how up until the 1970's all wines were blends of different varieties because it's nearly impossible to produce a 'complete' wine from a single grape variety. Robert Mondavi decided to market single variety wines, I guess in an attempt to differentiate his wine from the competition. The strategy caught on like wild fire and now people are more familiar and comfortable with varietal wines than blends. Recently, in a masterful twist of marketing genius, Mondavi has begun introducing the wine consuming public to his new premium "blends".

Canopy Management Calendar:
Winter pruning: Most labor intensive activity. 30=40 hours per acre. Cane pruning and Cordon pruning. Five years ago, Linden was all Cordon pruned. Today almost all of the vines are cane pruned. Cane pruning inhibits Phomopsis, which develops in old wood (cordons) and over 20=25 years reduces vine yield and eventually kills the vine. Cane pruning also produces more fruit and clusters, which might be good or might not. It's also more labor intensive than Cordon pruning. Vines have apical dominance, which means they like to grow from the ends. On a cane pruned vine this means that shoots will generally grow shoots at the end of the cane and near the trunk, leaving the middle of the cane empty. The longer the cane, the more empty space. Generally canes

Dormant Tying (for cane pruned vines): Attach cane to cordon wire.
Shoot thinning: May, when vines are 4=6 inches. Jim leaves 2=2.5 shoots per foot.
Shoot Positioning: Jim has 1st catch wire at 8". Uses a single wire (rather than two wires with the vines fed between them) and secures the shoots to the wire with tape. Doing this can really 'set' the vine and make future positioning much easier.
Leaf Pulling: Pull disease susceptible varieties first.
Hedging: When shoots are 2' above the top wire. The idea is to have about 4 feet of vertical canopy.
Cluster thinning: End of Jun/Early July. Also called "green harvest". Do again at veraision to remove unevenly ripening clusters. Remove 'secondary crop' growing on lateral shoots higher in the canopy.

Grape/wine quality and quantity:
At low quantity (<= 1 ton per acre) wine quality is low. Increasing harvest quant increases quality up to a point, beyond which quality begins to decline. In August, grape growers in Europe go on vacation. At that point the grapes are ripening, the vines have stopped growing, and there's nothing left to do but wait for harvest.

Weeds: Good for competition to control vigor. Good for biodiversity: Maintain predators. Bad if they grow too high. Bad for new vines that do not have established root systems. Chickweed: low cover that competes with other weeds. Chokes them out, then dies midsummer. Crab Grass: Takes up water to shut down vine when you want it to stop growing.

Post emergents: Gramaxone or RoundUp in a back pack sprayer. Pre emergents: apply late winter. Being used less and less because of long term effects on soil structure. Jim no longer uses. Saw soil changes he did not like.

Diseases DM = active when dry, likes heat. PM = Wet weather, 60=80 degrees. BL = Wet weather , 60=80 degrees. takes 7=10 days to see. Fungicide classes Systemic/curative = Strobies: absorbed by vine. protection for 14 days. Does not rinse off after rain. Resistance problems: 15 sprays max. Tank mix with other products to prevent resistance. Critical time: late May to mid July. Jim does not use Strobies due to disease resistance in his vineyard. Nova and Elite = systemics vs PM, BR< Manzate = DM. NOT a systemic. Will wash off. Sulfur = PM. Mixed with Nova/Elite for resistance. not a systemic as well. Prophyte = Systemic with 96 hour kickback. (Gets rid of infections started 96 hours prior to spray). Use after a rain event for kickback. Mix with non systemic for resistance. Grapes: Susceptible to PM for at least 6 weeks after flowering, BR 4 weeks.

Leaves: Older leaves become resistant. New leaves in mid/late june are important during ripening. PM and DM can wipe out a vineyard. Best disease control article is online at U Cornell by Wayne Wilcox PM is hardest to control, use 'big guns'. DM is trouble in wet years. BL not hard to control. Botrytis = Grapes become MORE susceptible as they ripen. Likes WET and COOL conditions Sour Rot = secondary infections. smells like vinegar. thin skinned grapes susceptible. Likes WET and WARM weather. Bot spray at cluster close. Grapevine Yellows = trx'd by a leaf hopper. Not controllable. Site specific.

European Red Mites = populations stay low without spraying. Will boom when insecticides are sprayed, kills their predators. Cutworms/Flea Beetles = feed on swelling buds. Scout for pockets of damage. Not a problem most years. Grape Berry Moth = Grub burrows into grapes right after flowering. Several generations a season. Mainly vineyards by woods. Causes one or two berries in a cluster to rot. INTREPID controls GBM specifically. Site specific problem. Pierce's Disease = Bacteria trx'd by leaf hopper. Cannot survive cold winters Grape Root Borer = Unknown if it's a big problem. Larve feed for 2 years on roots. Japanese Beetles = Spray according to damage, not populations. Young vineyards more susceptible. Soil Optimal pH for growth is 6.0=6.5. But do you want optimal growth on a vigorous site? Nitrogen = No test available for soil. Need to test plants via petiole analysis. Potassium = can make high pH, high vegetative taste in wine. Magnesium = Hi K inhibits Mg pickup in vines. Wild plants can be soil indicators: Broom Sage means low pH, etc.

ok. That's about it for now. Sorry for the plethora of equals sign usage. My keypad is missing the hyphen key.

New Addition to Our Family

the bird haus has new owners!

Connie's Post:
We had noticed several bluebirds flying about the farm and decided to help a family out. our bird haus has been claimed by a family. gerald snapped these pictures, one each saturday, so in two weeks we've gone from four eggs to three, maybe four chickies. the momma and daddy are a little slow to warm up to a human presence in the proofing vineyard. if you walk by the box, they panic and flee in a quick rush. we look forward to getting more bluebird houses established along the west vidal vineyard.