Dry snap

Another post for my college vineyard practical diary. . .

Today it was back to work for a day’s vineyard practical lesson at Plumpton College’s Ditchling vineyard. The weather was good for it (yet again – though I missed last week to go on a college trip to Bolney Estate and to RidgeView and it tipped down on my classmates in the vineyard apparently). Anyway, fine weather for most of the day: quite dry (with associated problems – see later!) and mostly sunny, if coldish (8C).

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I finished pruning the last 40 vines in “my” rows (about 360 vines in total), then set about some trellis work. First I worked out where new intermediate posts were needed with a quick count for missing posts and a quick shove on each of the others to see which would fall over. Then I bashed in 8 new posts with Jac’s help. Bashing posts manually with a “torpedo” is not the jolly which tractor-bashing is. That thing’s heavy, and there’s a lot of over-head lifting. Jac’s a strapping chap, though! The last thing to do on the posts was to put hooked nails in to hold the wires: 3 on each side nailed with the hook showing for the foliage wires, and 2 on one side lower down for the fruiting wires, with these latter 3 nailed tighter in to keep the fruiting wire in place (never any need to unhook them). Regarding the positioning of the nails and wires, Kevin told me that he likes the top wire about 10cm from the top of the post. That way when he’s leaf trimming on the tractor in the summer he can whip along at about post height in the knowledge that he is just a nice distance above the upper fruiting wire. The other 2 fruiting wire nails on each side I positioned about a hammer’s length below each other.

After that I busied myself tightening the fruiting wires (two per row) with the gripple tool, then tightened the foliage wires by hand. The latter job took a while since every one of the chains on the wires’ ends was at the last link, so I had to undo and redo the lot to make the wires tight.

Lastly there was what I had thought would be the easiest job of the day: tying down. The idea is to simply tie down to the fruiting wires the canes left from pruning, whilst taking care to wrap the canes around where possible to make them really secure. Easy. Or it would have been if it had been a damp day. Alas the result today was a lot of snapping canes, even when I took care to try to bend them. Vine canes are generally quite plastic and respond well to firm hands giving them a forceful bend which gives a slight cracking noise as some of the structure yields. If the canes are too dry, however, they can snap which happened rather too often today – perhaps 2-3 times per row. Those which did break I then pruned off cleanly to minimise risk of infection. How fast was my tying down? Well at around 120 vines/hour I certainly wasn’t breaking any records (I could have sworn I was much faster than that, but vines divided by time taken doesn’t lie!). The standard Bordeaux piecemeal rates table I have says an average French peasant gets through tying down one and a half times faster. Oh well, at least (relatively speaking) my tying down is better than my pruning and pulling out were a fortnight ago!

Oh, it’s worth mentioning that the buds on the canes (maybe 25%) were definitely slightly more swollen than a fortnight ago, and some had little woolly tips. This is much earlier than I, in my ignorance, would have expected. Of course the main worry in England is that early budbursts can suffer severe damage from late frosts.

The 5 rows are all finished now, so the next time I’ll see them is in the spring. Ah – I need to remind Kevin to fix the anchor on the end-post of row 26 since he did not have the right kit with him for us to do it today.

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