I said in a recent blog that our vineyard was starting to generate tasks and last weekend saw us working away to tackle some of these. Overall the weather has been rather indifferent so far this year. Last year we had a warm March and this got our vines off to a good start. No such warmth this year and consequently the vines have been very slow to shoot. Bearing in mind our Northerly location, (just South of the North Pole) this is probably understandable. It is more likely, even with global warming, that last year was the freak year and this year is more normal. What this does to the overall ripening season only time will tell. Last year if the bloody birds hadn’t interfered we would have picked the grapes at the end of September / early October but I have read of vineyards picking their grapes, in this country, in November. We will just have to wait and see. I have to say it makes booking a holiday difficult. Another impediment to trying to do more travelling, the pups being the other. This in the absence of my late mother. So a slow start but the buds are sprouting now and our, now four year old, vines are going well. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the vines we planted last year. Having been rather smug among our wine group about the fact we didn’t suffer from frost because, as we were on the side of a steep hill, the frost rolled right on by. Yes, we had wind and cooler temperatures but we didn’t have frost. So this year we got frost and it wiped out the buds on the new vines. Strangely the older vines escaped because they were mostly budding out of the tubes. The new vines are still wholly in the tubes and this is where the frost did its worst. Strange, you might have thought that the tubes would protect the buds but, in fact, they seemed to have the very opposite effect. Whether this is because we had ground frost (I didn’t know that ground frost actually came up from the ground, makes sense when you look at the name but I had always assumed it came down from the air but simply rested on the ground) rather than air frost, I really don’t know, but the young plants are now, thanks to Mr Frost, budless so no work to do in that part of the vineyard.
Elsewhere, apart from the continual straightening of the vines, blown over by the winds, of which there have been several and strong too, we’ve been de-budding. A tricky task with the older vines because you can’t, as they’re big and, even after winter pruning, made up of more than one straight shoot, simply slip the tubes up and allow access to the lower part of the vine where the buds you don’t want, like to nestle. This means slitting the tube (still necessary we reckon to keep off the wabbits) their whole length and then pulling the tube away, de-bud and then wrestle the tube back around the vine. A real pain of a job. Another pain of a job is strimming (as above). If ever a job looked like fun when you watched somebody else doing it, but in fact is bloody hard work when you’re the one doing the strimming, this is it. The vines might have been slow to bud but the grass, thistles and nettles have not been slow (see photo below). We hadn’t been up to the vineyard for a couple of weeks on account of daughter’s wedding, and we were shocked and amazed, amazed and shocked when we did get there last weekend. The unwanted versions of the plants were everywhere. So strimming was the first task, fortunately we had number one son (that’s him in photo below again) to help and we got most of the 26 rows done on Sunday and 4 remaining ones I finished off on Monday. This leaves weed-killing along the rows between the vines. With the pups this is difficult for me to do as we have no wish to poison them. So I have asked my farmer neighbour to do this task for us(he’s doing some on his own land at the moment). Fingers crossed that he will be able to do this this week. Which leaves fertiliser application as the remaining job for this time of the year. I say final job but that of course doesn’t include all the general maintenance and, dare I say, improvement jobs around the place. One of which was setting a garden bench at the top of our hill so that we can sit and look down on the vineyard which looks as smart as it ever does now that it has been strimmed. It’s a fabulous view from right at the top and one that we haven’t taken advantage of until now. Now we have an old garden bench unused and unloved from our Headingly house, in prime position. It sits proudly at the top of the hill but what a bugger it was to get it up there. It’s heavy (hardwood), the hill is steep and the ground underfoot unlevel, add to this the fact that number one son had gone and it was left to Mrs Summerhouse and I to carry it up and we were both knackered. Altogether it was a struggle but then all the more fun to sit upon it and rest when we did get it up there. And what a view, that’s the picture in first paragraph.
The only other task I’ve failed to mention relates to those dratted birds. I said in past blogs that I’d been considering strategies to prevent a recurrence of last year’s disaster. Advice has been confusing and sometimes contradictory. Any sense of having ‘the right answer’ was blown clean out of the water a couple of weeks ago when we went for dinner at a fellow retiree and his partner. He was a clinical psychologist and has become a keen ornithologist in his retirement. He has become as expert on bird behaviours as he was on the human versions. He also has a house in Whitby where he has been plagued by seagulls, they eat anything he plants and generally squawk and shit when not doing the former. He was desperate to get rid of them. He noticed that when Whitby had its bird of prey festival, there wasn’t, as he put it, a seagull in town. So being an ornithologist he studied the birds of prey and had one made, at some expense, to put in his back garden. He went back the next week (it’s his weekend place) and the seagulls had torn it to shreds. Long story short, he tried everything he could think of with absolutely no effect. Not encouraging. After this we fell to talking about how bright birds were. He told us a couple of remarkable stories about bird intelligence. One was about a bird using Archimedes Principle to raise the level of the water in a container so that it could get the food floating on the surface of the water. The second story was even more remarkable and briefly concerned a little girl who used to feed the birds (jackdaws?) and, after a while, in exchange, the birds brought her little trinkets as presents, including the contact lens of her mother which she had lost (no the mother wasn’t still wearing the contact lens). Well, we’d had a few glasses of wine and decided (both having been psychologists) that we needed to use paradoxical psychology to tackle our birds. It was a great idea but I can’t quite remember at this distance what it was exactly. But it was something like leaving trinkets for the birds to take which would have the double effect of distracting them from the grapes and, as a bonus, making them so grateful to us and our kindness that they left our grapes alone out of gratitude. Certainly sounds like, from my friends experience, that we need to think creatively or pay big money for netting. So that’s it for this month. These have been our adventures in our retirement vineyard.e