2017 Rondo grapes just starting to ripen, fingers crossed

I don’t want to get ahead of myself but… We’ve been here before and we’ve even been further than this, as far as making wine in fact. OK the wine wasn’t great although by the time I’d finished blending two or three varieties it was drinkable. The problem we had then was that although we had grapes in 2014 the bloody birds ate about three quarters of our crop before we could pick them, They weren’t ripe enough to pick and make wine but they were ripe enough for the bloody birds to eat.

I think it was the following year that again we had grapes, small ones admittedly, but grapes nevertheless, but these mysteriously shrivelled up, that’s the only term I can use. We have no idea why they did this, it certainly wasn’t because it was too hot. The problem is that, as we had no idea what had happened, we have no way of predicting whether it will happen again and no way of preventing it if we think it might. So no we’re not getting ahead of ourselves but here we are and we have grapes on the vines, as you can hopefully see from the photo above.

I thought I had this bird scaring business licked last year with our two resident owls – Olive and Oswald. They have spent the last few months on their posts in the vineyard but minus their heads because, my reasoning is, I don’t want every bird in the valley to habituate to them before the grapes are in actual danger.  Smart don’t you think? The problem was last year when we had two owls this seemed to work less well on the bird-scaring front than the year before when we had only Olive. Perhaps two owls doubles the likelihood of the birds habituating to them. Or maybe the birds took a look and thought two owls, na, that wouldn’t happen. Whatever it didn’t work so well and we didn’t pick any grapes. Admittedly last year the sheep (we think) or the phantom beast of Nidderdale, lent a hand and, in their case, they just ate the whole plant, none of this tinkering around with the berries. Same level of disappointment though.

This year I haven’t allowed myself to give much thought to protecting the grapes because this would, to repeat myself, be getting ahead of myself. However with grapes apparently poking their little heads out, in spite of the howling winds we’ve had, I thought I’d better give the matter some consideration. I consulted one of my chums who runs his vineyard commercially so who, I reasoned, would know a thing or two about protecting his crop from predators. Certainly if his approach to frost protection is anything to go by, he will have set up something pretty fancy not to mention, effective.

This is what he recommended. Henry the hawk or whatever he turns out to be has not arrived yet* so I can’t show you him in situ, I’ll save that hopefully for the next blog. This is Henry as he appears on line. He’s considerably more costly than our two owls. I bought them for less than a tenner each whereas Henry flys in at nearly £50 but that includes the telescopic pole and twine which anchors him to this mortal coil. I bought the one that my chum recommended from his Amazon link, although without his recommendation, I doubt whether I would have laid out the cash.

our latest addition

To say the on-line reviews were mixed would be an understatement. They ranged from, this is brilliant, I put it up and not a bird in sight, to, this product is bloody useless, it spent most of the time it was with us lying in a tangled heap on the ground while the birds it was supposed to be scaring were gathered round holding their feathered sides with amusement. Apparently it’s, in part, to do with the fact that the kite isn’t sold with fishing swivels and swankles (whatever they may be) and so gets tangled and so falls to the ground. We shall see which extreme is closest to the truth. Of course I have my own premonition but let’s not judge prematurely. Certainly it won’t fail through any lack of wind to keep Henry the hawk soaring. I need to check with my neighbour up the dale to see if he will keep an eye on the new boy. As I’ve written before the fact we only make it up to the vineyard at most once a week means disasters can happen undetected. This has been a problem.

In the meantime, we keep calm and carry on in the face of adversity, de-suckering and tying-up the ever growing vines. It’s good that they are growing but their weekly growth, coupled with persistent wind, means you only have to turn your back and another shoot has popped out demanding to be lashed to the wires. Gets quite wearing. It’s been so challenging this summer that we’ve tried to do something about the wind. Written like that, it doesn’t seem like a very practical idea, but we try, Lord knows we try. You will remember, that we have planted dozens of young willows along two sides of the vineyard and they’ve grown very well (apart from the ones that the bloody wabbits chewed around the bottom (which gave up and died) but on the whole the willows have been a success.

Actually a bit too much of a success in that they are turning into proper trees despite having been cut back hard last winter. Proper trees as you may remember have trunks and then branches and leaves up top, which is nice except it leaves (no pun intended) a gap at the bottom through which the wind gleefully passes. This calls for a little ingenuity, that’s the way we vineyard owners operate. You may remember that last year we bought some netting to protect the vines from the birds and it was a disaster. So much so that, with great difficulty, we removed it and chucked it in a disgusted heap on the ground. Well, we’ve recycled it and that’s good because it was bloody expensive even for the small area we experimented with.

The willows are planted against our stock fence, the one that’s supposed to keep the sheep out. This has strands of barbed wire along the top (to keep the sheep out), anyway we’ve hung the netting along the fence so nicely filling the gap between ground and willow branches. The fact that, being netting, it has holes in it, is actually a good thing because, if you read any website about windbreaks, which I have, it will tell you that solid windbreaks make matters worse rather than better, something to do with vortexes. See RHS website which recommends 50 – 60% porosity. So all good although not entirely because the website also says that windbreaks ‘will significantly reduce wind on its leeward side to a distance of ten times its height’. Which is good but then ‘the windbreak should be wider than the area needing protection’. Which is bad because our willows are only a couple of ‘trees’ deep. In time we will aim to make the windbreak both wider and denser. In the meantime we will just have to live with what we have. I never thought that when I retired wind would be a problem, at least not like this.

*He has now arrived but not yet at the vineyard.

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