this is not Mrs Summerhouse

Vineyard retirement blog number 40 and well, who’d have thought it? I’ve written so many times about the bloody birds that stole our crop a couple of vintages ago (alongside sheep, hailstones and wabbits) but I never imagined that others had suffered the same fate. That is until I started receiving group emails from members of the UKVA about their trials and tribulations. The ornithological focus that made up the thread of probably twenty or more emails was pheasants. In the three years our vines have matured to the point where we could, theoretically at least, have grapes on our vines, our bird problems have been confined to starlings at least we think so. We do have a few pheasants in our vineyard and after this latest explosion of pheasant problems I can honestly say we’ve paid a great deal more attention to them but, as yet (perhaps we have this pleasure to come), none of our grapes have been eaten by said species. Unlike the 20 or so emailers of late.

A few typical extracts from these emails are as follows – we lost our whole crop of Seyval last year / we were wiped out by pheasants on — estate last year. They are bred on a neighbouring property for shooting / last year my almost mature Regent was denuded by 12 pheasants over a single day and night /   and many more in a similar vein. Alongside the descriptions of the damage done there was much debate about what measures could legally be taken against our feathered ‘friends’. Could they be shot, when could they be shot, were they game birds and hence could only be shot between February and November (I think or is it not shot between these months, again I’m not sure) or, when they escaped from the estate where they had been reared, did they then technically become wild birds and hence shootable? Questions about how to shoot them / get a licence to shoot them / hunt them with dogs / trap them in pheasant cages / cook them with red wine sauce, and similar abounded in the messages. Interestingly, very few writers mentioned the traditional bird-scaring methods I’ve written about before in these pages – shot gun bangs, air-born kites, fake hawks and owls (our up to now preferred option) – but what was referred to was netting. We tried this in our vineyard over a small area last year. It was expensive, very fiddly and not all that effective. We decided that netting was not the way forward for us and I’m pleased to say that most of the emailers agreed.

What was recommended by several writers was hay baler netting. I think I have that right but I must admit I’ve never heard of such a thing. Plastic wrapping, yes, netting, no. The others seem to know what was being talked about so my bad as we vineyard owners like to say. Whatever it is it seems to involve wrapping the fruiting areas of the vines in plastic before the harvest which again doesn’t sound very practical for us or, to put it another way, we can’t be bothered to struggle with this approach. It sounds cheaper than netting but equally hard (i.e. heavy) work to attach to the rows of vines. I just hope that our pheasants aren’t reading this or, if they are, that at least they have read all the vineyard blogs and will realise we’ve had enough problems without them adding to our woes. We shall see.

In the meantime we proceed with trying to deal with what we have always thought, before Alfred Hitchcock’s Birds entered the picture (see above), was our main challenge – the wind. We spent last Sunday up at the vineyard. As usual I spent a lot of time trying to persuade the vines to at least make an effort to look vertical. What I’m doing and if you’re a wabbit (that’s rabbit if you are reading this) don’t read this, is removing the tubes as they become dislodged. This leaves the trunk exposed to wabbit chomping but, if I have my physics right, reduces the surface area for the wind to act on (like sails) and therefore the likelihood of the vines being blown over – again, and again. It’s a high risk strategy based on your average wabbit not being attracted to gnarly trunks and preferring tasty grass. Again we shall see.

We have other wind-related strategies. The willow trees we planted three years ago have been pruned right back (as in photo in last vineyard blog) so making them bushy at the level at which they will act best as wind breaks. As a bonus, the long, pruned branches have been stuck into the ground as the next generation of trees. This means we now have the vineyard completely surrounded by willows. This should eventually be a good thing vis a vis wind. And we’re also starting to plant other trees and quite excited about the fruit trees (albeit only three of them) our gardeners planted last time. We had planned more but have missed the planting season for this year. And talking of which I mentioned last time we were going to buy a hundred more vines but we aren’t because the chap who was selling them and was supposed to let us know when they were ready for collection hasn’t bothered to contact us. Quite annoying.

And finally, while I was straightening vines, Mrs Summerhouse was engaged in a bit of basket weaving. Not of the traditional variety however but rather she spent Sunday afternoon happily, or so she told me, threading the surplus willow branches (the ones we hadn’t rammed into the ground) into the wire of the stock fence to produce a very much cheaper and recycled version of the kind of wind break panels costing £30 a panel or more if bought from a garden centre. It’s slow work but, so she tells me, satisfying work. There we have it, there aren’t any buds yet but it hasn’t been particularly warm so far this year up the dale and we didn’t get any buds popping out until mid-April last year, so we remain optimistic and with our retirement vineyard that’s undoubtedly the most important of all requirements.

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