The Vineyard

It’s been another busy month here and summer’s just flying by. We’ve finally gotten around to trellising our vineyard, which had been in the plans for a while. The round wood endposts and steel line posts for the trellis system had been taking up space for months before I finally got them in the ground. A couple weekends ago, with some materials and tools provided by my friend Ken Gulaian, one of the owners of Round Peak Vineyards just up the road, I managed to get the trellis wires and endpost anchors installed. It was quite a bit of work, but thankfully the humidity was low, even if the heat was still around.

We have five rows, each with ten assorted cultivars Tasha purchased from a supplier in the Finger Lakes region of New York. We knew better than to try growing California varietals after our experiments in Maryland, so we got mostly cold-hardy, organically manageable varieties that do well here, like Norton and a few others, all of which we planted in May of last year. Most of them established well and survived last winter, which was relatively harsh for this region. Some of them haven’t grown as much as we’d hoped, but others are almost ready to train to the top wire of our trellis system, which is around 68 inches off the ground.

I sunk five-inch round wood endposts at either end of all five rows, at a 65-degree angle, as recommended in the viticultural literature. Every two vines, I hammered in an eight-foot steel fence post to support the trellis wire spanning the endposts. This took a while since I did eveything by hand, lacking an auger, tractor, or Bobcat.

The following weekend, I picked up about 1,000 feet of 12-gauge galvanized steel wire, some Gripples and tensioning tools, and some old but still functional earth anchors from Ken’s scrap heap. Before I could run the wires, I had to anchor the endposts into the ground so they would hold under the tension and weight of the loaded trellis wires. The pros use some kind of auger attachment to drill these two-foot bladed metal screws into the ground, but… I tried using a long ratchet handle to rotate them into our hard red clay, which didn’t work too well. In the end, I just got out the well-worn digging bar and post-hole digger and dug the holes by hand.

I was skeptical as to whether or not two feet of packed earth would be enough counterweight to tension the trellis wires on. Most of the anchors did move a couple inches off the ground when I tensioned the trellis wires, but they are all holding tolerably well. After notching the posts and the cinching the anchor wire to them, I tensioned the wires using a specially designed ratcheting tensioner tool to pull wire through a Gripple. A Gripple is a clamp with two wire holes in it, each with a ratcheting catch that allows you to pull wire one way but not the other.

With all but one of the end posts anchored (I had a not-so-happy encounter with a nest of yellow jackets on the first anchor I tried to set), I ran the two wires for the top wire cordon (TWC) system. The TWC uses one wire at about 30 inches from the ground to train the vines up and another at 66-72 inches off the ground to hold mature vines bearing fruit. This was the easy part, made much easier by using a gripple at one end to tighten the wires.

After tensioning four of the rows where I was able to set a solid anchor at either end, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the cordon wires and the anchor wires both remained taut, with the ground anchors holding after coming up a few inches. I’ll come back to that top row in the fall, when the yellow jackets will hopefully be dormant, to finish settting that last anchor and properly tension the wire for that row of trellises, but even there I was able to run the cordons and tighten the wires just a little.

Tasha will go through and prune the vines at some point to two branches, which we’ll train upwards as trunks. Some of the vines are already long enough to reach the top wire, which means we’ll probably have a decent grape yield next year.

Meat Birds

For a while now, Tasha and I have been thinking about raising some poultry for meat. Our laying hens and ducks are sort of like pets to us, so the idea of slaughtering them for meat, is, well, somewhat unappealing. After Tasha helped a friend slaughter some of her birds, we decided to try our hands at raising meat ducks and turkeys. We are of course raising them with the same care and attention as any of our other animals, providing them a nice, free-range life up until slaughter day. Until they’re big enough to be safe from predators like the hawks we sometimes see circling overhead, both the ducks and chickens are being raised in the greenhouse. This obviates the need for heat lamps. In fact, we have a fan and digital thermometer set up during the day, as well as open vents and doors in the greenhouse, which can get pretty hot.

Pigs

Our pigs are getting really big! Tasha has moved them several times and they’re doing a stellar job of clearing the brush and small trees from our enclosed pasture. They spend mosts days lying in the shade or wallowing in the mud, as evidenced here in the photo. We’ve started planning for slaughter day, which will be a somewhat complicated affair, sometime in the late fall. More on that next week, when I’ll post on the smokehouse my brother Jason and I worked on this weekend.

The Garden

Tasha has done an absolutely amazing job managing the annual vegetable garden this year, in addition to planting many, many fruit trees, berry bushes, and miscellaneous perennials all over our property. She harvested ridiculous quantities of squash and cucumbers throughout July, and recently we’ve been getting cantaloupes and watermelon as well. This year, she planted six watermelon plants because I was disappointed we didn’t get any last year.

Well, this year we’ve got watermelon: giant, 40-pounders lying on the ground under vines so dense it’s hard to even see them.

She’s been harvesting tomatoes and canning them for several weeks now, another crop we just didn’t get last year, which is now yielding in spades. The herb spiral I built earlier in the spring has really taken off too, with basil, chives, oregano, dill, sage, and many others all thriving.

So that about covers it for now. I managed to take some pictures of our smokehouse building project as it evolved from the bare, leveled site to where we are now, which is the smokehouse more or less built and the concrete firebox and lid curing for a few weeks. Looking forward to posting that next week.

Till then…