Monday, July 22, 2013

Another step towards netting...

This week I was pretty busy in the vineyard.  After a lot of thinking about last year's disaster with birds and bugs, I came up with a netting plan that is considerably more sophisticated than last year's attempt.  Last year I put bird netting directly over the vines, so it was just laying flat against the shoots.  Unfortunately, with the type of trellis system I have, that puts the nets fairly close to the fruit and the birds quickly figured out they could peck through the netting and reach many of the grapes.  Some would land on the netting and weigh it down, then peck right through to the fruit.  They eat nearly half the crop!  The juicy grapes dripping attracts yellow jackets.  Once the yellow jackets found the vineyard, a swarm came in and drilled holes into the remaining grapes, sucking out the juice.  My entire crop was lost.  Very sad to have nothing to show for a whole summer of work in the vineyard.

I have taken a more systematic approach this year.

1.  I am actively reducing the yellow jacket population with baits/traps.  This started in March.
2.  I am using insect netting this year to attempt to exclude these pests as well as make the bird's lives harder.
3.  I built an extension on the trellis consisting of "T" shaped pieces that suspend two wires above the vines.  I will drape the netting over this apparatus to keep the nets way up above the fruit zone.  No pecking through the netting.  In addition, this can be used like a quasi VSP trellis, to allow some of the shoots that want to up upward to do just that.

As you can see from this shot of the fruit on some of the more mature vines (these are in their 4th leaf) I have a good crop to protect this year!  Crossing fingers I might actually make some wine from my own grapes this year.

There is a small section of the 5th year vines that are already starting veraison (changing color) so I am now in good shape to get the netting on this week when I can drum up another set of hands to help.

So that's about it for now.  I'll make another post when the netting goes on and we can see how this all works.


Saturday, July 13, 2013

It has been a while since my last post.  It didn't seem necessary to post pictures and comments about early spring in the vineyard.  I have done it many times before, so why be redundant?  I was waiting for something interesting and new to say before posting.

So, I'll bring you quickly up to speed on 2013.

During the dormant phase this winter, I did my usual annual pruning (I use a spur prune system on a high wire cordon trellis).  I burn the cuttings and spread the ash on the vineyard to bring the nutrients back to the soil, as I observed in Burgundy in 2011.  This was a wet spring, yet somehow, the fruit set wasn't bad.  Not great, but better than last year.  I have 6 vines in their 5th leaf, quite a few in their 3rd and 4th leaf, and 9 vines in their second leaf.  I could be close to full scale production next year, but this year it will be an interesting and solid harvest if I can finally get some grapes all the way to ripe without some calamity, natural disaster, pests, or some combination of them all!

I'm impressed by the incredible vigor of mature Marquette vines--they can quickly take over a vineyard.  I went to Maine for 6 days with my family and when I returned, shoots had gone all the way across rows into the next row of vines.  Good grief I have no idea how anyone can manage a full vineyard, or even an acre of vines.  It takes an incredible amount of my time just to handle 30 vines!

This spring I started using yellow jacket traps to catch the queens early.  As a result I have seen precious few yellow jackets, thank goodness.  They were my main enemy last year.  I hate those little buggers.  First of all they sting like hell.  And they eat fruit like crazy!  I have also purchased some good insect-exclusion netting that will be put up soon.  Forget bird netting, this keeps out everything. I'm just worried how much sun will get through and if this will be a problem for mildew with reduced air circulation.  I'll have a whole blog post on this netting process, so I won't cover it now.

Once the vines got to the point that the canes were strong enough to be "man handled" a bit, it was time to undertake a little shoot positioning and leaf thinning.  Basically, the vines send the shoots off in any direction that helps them get more sun.  A vine might send a shoot across the row, down the row, and end up 2 vines over.  What a mess you have by mid-July.  Left to their own devices, by fall you wouldn't be able to get through the vineyard without a machete.  So at this phase, I walk down each row and re-position shoots that are going the wrong way.  In general I pull them off the top of other vines and send them down towards the ground.  In a VSP (Vertical shoot positioning) trellis (the kind I wish I had built in hindsight) you would snake them up through the wires towards the sky.  But in a top wire cordon, it's downward they go, then trim them off at ground level.  I had shoots that were over 10 feet long, so that once they were positioned correctly, five feet of cane has to be pruned.  There is no point in letting them snake along the ground--they will spring roots and try to start a new vine.  I kid you not...grape vines are seriously invasive.  Anyone who has wild vines around their house can tell you.  I have some wild vines in my back yard that try to take over the whole place every summer.  No matter how brutal I am yanking them up, chopping them off at the ground, they come right back!

Once the shoots are positioned, it's time for some leaf thinning.  This is hard to get used to, and this is the first year I have done it because it seems so weird.  The idea is to increase light and ventilation in the fruiting zone.  The fruit will mature better and with more flavor if it is exposed to some sun.  So removing the leaves blocking light to the fruit achieves this goal.  In addition, this allows air to move around the fruit better, helping to reduce issues with mildew and hopefully reducing the amount of fungicide that needs to be used.  What's weird is spending years coaxing the vines to become big and healthy, trying to keep bugs from eating the leaves...and then intentionally plucking off leaves.  But by the time the vines are mature and making fruit, they are also making more leaves than they need and spending too much energy on trying to take over the yard.  You need to keep them in check and force them to ripen the fruit, not grow more shoots.

I included a picture of my fake owl standing guard.  Not sure if it helps, but I need all the help I can get from those birds!

I have included a few pictures of the process.  Stand by for netting in a few weeks....