Usually I review diary entries from the last month to write this blog. I did that for June and it looked pretty boring. I also usually have a theme and had been thinking about “recycling” as the theme. That sounded like it could easily end up as another pedantic rant on sustainability from an old hippy. But I think people should know what it takes to run this small winery so this month I am going to recycle my to-do list from July 5th. I’m shooting for the best combination of pedantic and boring.
1: Water the Pots – I have over 400 grape starts in black plastic pots under the big elm tree. They don’t get sunburned or dry out too quickly there but still need water and it has been really dry for awhile. I should be transplanting some into bigger pots but did that on at least 10 days in June. So they are on maintenance mode until I get caught up on stuff that is in crisis mode. (The pots are all recycled.)
2: Fix the irrigation to the new Siegerrebe Plants – This is a minor crisis. New plants need a lot of water and I have a new line of spinning sprinklers hooked up for the Siegerrebe, (a mellow crisp white wine that I just had with an artichoke dinner). The old hose going to the new line broke and I had to fix that and get them watered.
3: Mow and water the main grape block – I had already thinned these vines but the new canes were reaching the ground and grass under them was slowing the air flow, which leads to more disease issues and an even later harvest. Cutting the ends of the canes forces them to sprout new leaves higher up and mowing lets the wind dry the
inside of the vine but still allows a traveling sprinkler to keep the ground moist.
4: Finish thinning Row 19 – The first three items were just preludes to this one which takes much longer. Thinning removes small canes, weak inner leaves, low sucker canes and any cover crops like purple vetch or tall grass that are growing into the vine. Air flow and disease control are objectives but eliminating small late grape clusters that would reduce grape quality and extend our already short growing season is a goal. If sprays are needed (so far they are not) then this also opens up the vine for organic spray. Thinning all the plants at least once each season is a yearly goal and this year it clears the way for new irrigation (which is in later to-do items). As of this writing I still have 6 rows and well over 100 more vines to thin.
5: Apply compost to aisle 16/17 – Physically this is the hardest To-Do item. I have written previously about my soil yard and regenerative agriculture. This is where the “rubber meets the road” or in this case the soil amendments are laid down between the rows. It means loading our biggest cart full of composting leaves from the City of Colville, rotting cow manure and straw from a neighbor, shredded grape prunnings and biochar that are run through a shredder while loading the cart. All of this material is recycled into the ground. I dump the cart between the rows and spread out the compost with a rake. It takes about 12 cart loads to fill an aisle and over 2 or three days to complete the aisle. We have enough material for 6 to 8 aisles and expect the process to continue over several years while building the soil.
6: Remove old drip system pipes from rows 18 and 19 -(I got up to this point on the 5th before lunch but was pretty sweaty and needed a shower too so it was after lunch.) Years ago I discovered that the grapes are much happier if you water the whole vineyard, not just drip water at the base of the vines. So I have been watering with traveling sprinklers including the family’s 40 year old “Nelson’s Rain Train”. They don’t travel well through a thick layer of compost, manure etc. So spreading compost means installing spinning sprinklers beneath a main line suspended about 18 inches above the ground under the
grape canopy. And that means removing the old drip system and salvaging many of the parts so they can be recycled.
7: Tighten the wires that will hold the new sprinkler system – These wires are mostly already in place but have not been tightened since I replaced all the bamboo vine poles with iron rebar and braced the end posts on each row with metal props. Tightening includes synching the wire to each rebar pole next to every grape vine. (I didn’t get to this step or the next one on the 5th but did today, the 6th).
8: Install the main water line on the wire – This involves stretching out the coil of polypipe so it can warm up and straighten out in the sun, then slipping it along the wire through the vine branches. Finally cable ties synch it to the wire every 3 feet. (I’m waiting for irrigation parts from two different sources so the rest of the system is on hold.)
9: Wash bottles for Apple/Huckleberry wine – Recycling wine bottles over and over again takes a lot of work and attention to sanitation. Attempts have been made to make machines to do it, but they are not perfect and no one is doing it commercially with either machines or by hand. I have my bottle shed full of bottles sorted by style and color then stacked in cases. Getting newer cases in the right sizes is actually the hardest part because people are bringing me bottles almost every day. Since I only bottle 2 or 3 cases at a time, the two washings and 1 sterilization rinse don’t take too long and they can be done in the shade, a big bonus this time of year.
10: Check the gopher traps – This actually came first but is one of my “putting around” chores like charging the mower or trimming grass that don’t make it on the “To-Do” list.
11: Salvage drip line parts – Another in-the-shade project involves unwrapping the wires that held the old drip system parts together, cutting loose the “T”s and plugs and stacking the 1/2″ pipe in 6 foot sections. If anyone reading this can use some 1/2” irrigation parts, let me know. It’s all about recycling and these parts last a long time.
12: Cook dinner – Cheryl and I switch off every other night on this one. July 5th was my night. I made pasta and drank Lucie Kuhlmann wine.
(Cheryl was busy too but not with the vineyard.)
That’s all for the list. Life is not all work and no play. I got away for a family reunion in June and my daughter, April, came over for a visit with her and her husband’s family. We picked more mushrooms and sold them along with wine at the Farmer’s Market. But I count days when I can get through a long To-Do list as good days and switching from one chore to another as taking a break. A nice glass of wine at dinner is satisfying too.