Can there be very much to write about the vineyard at this time of year? If we were a proper vineyard, i.e. one that had grapes, I’d probably be writing about our wine making exploits but we don’t and I’m not. I could write about one of my blogs being published in The Grapevine, the magazine of the MVA I mentioned last time in this series of vineyard blogs. That was nice but it’s not a topic sufficient for a blog.

Instead I thought I’d write an interesting blog about the, as it turns out, not so simple act of keeping the canes upright. For the uninitiated they need to be vertically positioned as canes usually do and attached to the top strand of wire. Their simple purpose being to keep the vine and its tube upright and maybe give the vine a bit of support. So how can a simple task prove so complicated? Or is it me?

First, we used string, ordinary, common or garden, garden twine to tie up. By the way tying up 400 canes is surprisingly tiring. But never mind because, at first, this worked well. The problem is, and I may have mentioned this before, we have wind, not personally, the vineyard has wind. This puts pressure on the cane and, aided by the sail effect of the tube, on the string and then the string begins to loosen and, as a bonus, eventually rot. As soon as this happens the cane and of course the vine, is at the increasing mercy of the wind and then the inevitable happens – they are blown flat

And what wind, even for us. I’m writing this now because last week we went up to our vineyard after the worst storm in 60 years or some such statistic. Our place is bad at the best of times, imagine what we would find after this. I mean what would we find? What would be left of our project?

We were greeted by a sorry sight. Not as bad as we had feared, but bad enough. Quite a number of canes and hence the vines themselves were lying flat, and who could blame them. They had given up the unequal struggle. I wondered what variety of vine, if any, grows flat to the ground. I wonder if Jancis Robinson  covers this in her extremely expensive book –Wine Grapes – which I was bought for Christmas last year.

Incidentally this storm and its effect helped me decide about pruning. I’m told by knowledgeable colleagues that you can prune any time from November to February. I wasn’t sure when, in this window, to prune. Now it’s clear that the fewer shoots a plant has, even if attached to the horizontal wire, the less susceptible it will be to wind damage. So at the time of retying I was also pruning. Thought you would like to know.

But I digress. So when we first planted we started with garden twine, which should be fine but actually rots, expands and becomes useless. We went on to bailer twine, which is bright coloured (good or bad, you decide) but a complete  b—–d to tie up tightly (it cuts into your hands) and didn’t seem any more effective given the pain of tying. Then we went plastic. Accidentally really. These particular ties must have come with the canes because I didn’t buy them and hadn’t really noticed them and found them lying around in the outhouse. So I used them and this was before the great storm. Hope I’m not boring you. You could call this an interesting experiment. Would the plastic ties be more resolute than the string?

The answer was yes and no. Some had stayed upright but there were others that had succumbed and they were, not to mix words, equally as flat as the string-tied cane. A word of advice, don’t try and secure the plastic ties to the cane / wire without removing any old string because if you don’t you can’t pull the tie tight enough and hence the aforementioned problem with horizontality. This was my rational for the plastic tie’s partial failure rate. I’d put the tie over the rotten string. Sure I’m not boring you?

But I didn’t know this before the last visit and had high hope of the plastic ties. Fired by the optimism I bought more ties, from Homebase and they were different, they had nobbly bits and were surprisingly expensive but then that’s Homebase isn’t it? They took a bit of working out but when I had they seemed altogether more promising until I pulled so tight (remember this is tying the cane to the wire nothing to do with the vine itself – do not strangle your vines – that’s another tip) on one that it snapped. This made me worry all over again. And the thing is the great majority of vines are still ‘string attached’ and will need replacing with, I think, plastic, but what kind? That’s the question. Who’d have thought it? Here I am retired and one of biggest worries is what kind of plastic tie should I buy? You will be relieved to know that I shall keep you informed.

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