This may be the longest gap between blogs in the four or five years I’ve been writing about our vineyard. The last one was posted in November. Gosh how time flies. There are two main reasons for this gap. The first, and most obvious, one is that these have been the winter months and for the first time in three years there really has been a proper winter up in the Yorkshire Dales and it’s been protracted, i.e. it’s gone on and on. Listening to the local farmers is quite depressing. Our troubles are minor compared with theirs.

The last significant snowfall was only last weekend. I wrote about it shortly afterwards. And it’s rained and rained which makes the fact that our water tank is completely empty quite strange. But that, as they say, is another story. The second reason for an absence of vineyard-related blogs, is less easy to explain away. It is that we’ve been busy elsewhere and, as a result, our interest in and commitment to our experimental vineyard has been somewhat lukewarm, unlike the weather.

To put it another way, most of the time we spent up in the dales, has been taken up with trying to sell our Pateley Bridge cottage (this to pay off the mortgage you might recall). Selling it twice, or so we thought, we were preoccupied with tidying it up and emptying out the majority of the furniture (and redistributing it between our other houses) ready for the new owners. We’re currently looking at our third absolutely guaranteed buyer and the whole process is on-going and very tedious. Anyway, to repeat myself, this is a story for another blog. Fact is we’ve had little time and an even greater lack of enthusiasm for matters relating to the vineyard.

The main area of inactivity has been the winter pruning. You can prune early i.e. before Christmas or late, i.e. just before budding. Or there’s a third option – don’t prune at all and try and convince yourself that it will be an interesting experiment to see to what extent this non-pruning year differs from other pruning years ‘output’ wise. Given the birds eat most of the crop you may think what the hell does it matter either way? We’re very much trying to avoid this kind of negative thinking. It would mark the end of an era. And we don’t want that to happen. We’re not ready to give up on this magnificent but crazy scheme. Most Northerly vineyard in England we still think.

Nor have we cut back our windbreaks, the willows we planted a couple of years ago. They look great, the leaves are just developing. Problem is they are turning into quite large trees. Sounds good but the issue is that the wind is likely to blow straight underneath their branches when what we want is bushy fairly low level plants, not trees. Anyway we haven’t done anything with them a bit like the vines. Ho hum, what terrible vineyard owners we are.

What we have done at least, and this only last weekend, is spread the winter fertiliser. It helped that Monday was the first real day of spring. It was verging on the pleasant. It didn’t help my poor back but it did help the motivation much needed by Mrs Summerhouse and myself to complete the task. So that’s done. Needless to say we haven’t bought any new vines to replace the ones we’ve lost and all round, at the moment, it’s all a bit sad.

When we get back to Leeds (we’re at the Derbyshire cottage at the moment) I’m going to sample last year’s efforts in terms of the wine I made several months ago from last year’s harvest*. I won’t know until I get back whether this turns out to be a good thing motivation-wise or otherwise. I will of course keep you informed. In the meantime there are the usual, by now, tidying up jobs to be done – either replacing the tubes or, and much greater risk this because of the wabbits, not replacing them at all. So many of them have blown off in the wind (of which there has been plenty). If I had my time again I wouldn’t use this form of vine protection at least not in our setting – back to the wind again. The tubes have the unfortunate effect of acting like sales bending both themselves and the vines inside. We have replaced some of the ones that have blown off with wire netting cylinders but they were hard work as well, both making them and attaching them. Should have used the curly-wurly, wrap-around tubes. They’re wrapped close to the vine trunk and so don’t attract the wind to the same degree. Too late now though unless I replace the whole lot and that’s not going to happen.

So here we are at the beginning of another season, our fifth or sixth I believe. I’d need to check. I have to admit that enthusiasm-wise we’re at rather a low ebb and that’s saying something given the many disasters, setback and irritations we’ve had over that period but, I dare say, that when the buds start budding and the fruit starts fruiting and the grapes start graping, our initial enthusiasm for this vineyard project will come bounding back.

I sincerely hope so because, bearing in mind my very recent blog about the importance of balance in my retirement life, there’s no doubt that an outdoor project, a connection to the land and our life in the Yorkshire Dales, we need the vineyard to continue to be a part of this thing called retirement. Pretty much our only other outdoor retirement activity is walking the pups and they’re great but their only end product apart from unconditional (well food might play a part) affection is, not to put it too bluntly, poo. And no matter how bad our wine might be, it’s not that dire.

So our retirement continues apace with an interesting mixture of projects and activities. I have to say that I’m basically content with this pot pourri of schemes but I certainly would not want to lose this one. It can be frustrating but I definitely want it in my retirement life.

*All I’m going to say at this point was that it was terrible and that unfortunately is not motivating.

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