The Spring has sprung

The Spring has sprung

The grass is ris.

I wonder where dem birdies it?

The bird is on the wing.

But that’s absurd.

The wing is on the bird.

Oh, such is my childhood memory of glorious spring days, such as today, with my father doing what only dads can do best – failing to be funny with silly poems. Yes, it’s beautiful today: a stonking 16+oC and sunny to boot. I may have caught a slight tan.

I met Kevin (the vineyard manager) at 8am at College to go through some details of a project I am doing for him: historic yield analysis of Plumpton vineyards. It’s all very interesting, and if things work out as I hope then I may be able to extend this project to other vineyards in the south east. I have a talent for data and spreadsheets (just don’t let me corner you in a bar talking about them!) The knowledge of historic yields for different soil types, cultivars, rootstocks and viticultural practices has got to be a good thing for the industry and I’d love to help Plumpton College develop some expertise in this area. Of course people tend to be somewhat protective of such data, but I hope to persuade people of the overall group benefits if the right confidentiality screens are in place.

Anyway, back to today’s vineyard work placement diary. I was tasked with fitting the post-pounder to the Massey 365 and driving it the 8 miles to Rock Lodge (the 2-wheel-drive one today, since the 375 was also sent to Rock Lodge, though with a power harrow on the back). Driving a tractor on the road with a post pounder is no fun with the bumps and the bangs, and I do feel so bad about holding the traffic up.

The morning started with a little spur pruning, this time on mid-height sylvoz where the difference was that rather than pruning for one vertical plane, we instead were asked to prune with “width” – for example if spurs were on opposite sides of the cordon it might be ok to leave them if they were pointing towards either side. This is because the sylvoz pruning has canes growing down, almost in 2 curtains with one on either side.

The Massey 375 with power harrow

Close-up of power harrow from the rear - beyond the slatted drum in the picture are horizontal blades/bars to smash up clods of earth

After that we headed off to the further field where I got a go with the power harrow, attached to the 3-point linkage and PTO of the Massey 375. This is used to go over ground in preparation for planting. I think it will be used on the same ground several times before the vines go in the ground in May. The ground had previously been deep-ploughed before the winter. The harrow is PTO powered and has many horizontally rotating blades/arms which smash the soil surface up as the tractor goes forward, and on the back of that there is a wide-slatted heavy metal drum which helps leave the soil flat and uniform. This process is great as a pre-planting procedure, but not ideal for general cultivating after the vines as in since it leaves a beautiful fine tilth which the weeds love. The process was very simple, and also very slow (the clod smashing is more effective at very slow speeds) with the Massey right in bottom gear (Low, 1). With the PTO set to 750 revs and hand-stick accelerator set there was not much to do: all I had to do was make sure I went up and down the field straight (actually this was not quite as easy as I had imagined but I just about got it). It was pretty hot in the cab.

The fine tilth (aka weed seed bed) - good for planting vines

Some of the others spent time banging posts, with Kevin supervising. Oh that reminds me of the only downside with today’s stonking weather….Kevin’s shorts!

Anyway, I’ve done a bit of post-banging before so I was sent off to prune some 3-year old vines. The idea here is to try to start the establishment of a head. I measured the vine with an 80cm stick, then pruned the strongest cane 8-buds above that. If possible I also left a 2-bud spur just below this height from the same cane, and then lifted up the vine-guard to completely remove all other canes and clean up any weeds and old leaves. This is not the most fun job since getting those vine-guards up and down is a right pain.

Pruning 3 year old vines to establish a head

What stage were the vines at today? There was lots of evidence of rising sap today – anything living and cut was dripping in the stuff! And everywhere there were little woolly buds poking out (not too big yet) particularly on the trunks of those 3-year old vines (I look forward to bud-rubbing in the next weeks and months).

And that was it. A beautiful day in the Sussex sun.


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