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As an organic gardener, I am often faced with questions from conventional agriculturists about how I deal with pests.   The collective wisdom about this boils down to one essential fact.   If your plants are healthy and unstressed, they are not susceptible to insect pests.  You can find a long and scholarly dissertation on this subject in Eliot Coleman’s book “The New Organic Grower” in chapters 17 and 18.

To complicate matters further, insect pests are quite adaptable and will select over generations for behaviors and genetic makeup that make them resistant to the form of control being used.   Most of us are aware of how easily insects become resistant to chemical pesticides, but even insects controlled by use of sticky traps get selected for resistance.  The bugs that aren’t attracted to the traps reproduce and eventually you have a strain of insect that used to be controllable by use of sticky traps but is not any more.

So the bottom line in organic pest control is to make sure your plants are growing in as healthy and nutritious environment as possible.   The name of the game is COMPOST, one of nature’s true miracles.

That being said, when you reach the end of the growing season and the soil is depleted, or the day length and temperatures are not ideal, one often finds that the pests that have been absent most of the summer show up in droves.  And there are some things, like it or not, that just love to feast on healthy plants.  Flea beetles and cabbage looper butterfly larvae are notorious in this regard.

My favorite way of dealing with non-insect pests like deer and rabbits and rodents is a fine physical barrier.   Good fences make good neighbors, even when you are talking about animals that want to eat your veggies.  This shot shows our grand fence.   Waist high cedar planks topped with another three feet of chicken wire.

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This shot also shows the other physical barrier we use:  the floating row cover.   You can see the light plastic arches used to support the row cover above the plants.   You don’t have to use supports, the row cover is so light it will rest on the plants without hurting them, but I find that they grow better if they don’t have to push up against even that light cover.

The next photos show how the row cover looks when deployed.

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I use long pieces of rebar to hold the floating row cover down in the wind.   The rebar slips down neatly between the arch supports and the bed edge.

This is how broccoli that comes out of my garden looks.   Note the lack of damage to the leaves.  An additional benefit to the floating row cover is that it cuts down on the heat gain just enough that my broccoli produces side shoots all summer, even during the heat of July and August.

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So, how do I deal with the flush of herbivores when the conditions in the garden get less than optimum for the plants?  When they show up, I try to be vigilant and go out early in the morning when it is cool and pick the adults off execute them. As far as I know, there isn’t a bug species around that has developed resistance to being squished between a thumb and forefinger.

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Some people are squeamish about this, but I have found that there is a certain satisfaction to murdering bugs that are killing my plants.   Upon occasion, I have found myself musing about this process when I am in the middle of a big campaign.   One year there were thousands of harlequin beetles on my cleome plants.   I went about systematically killing them for several days before I finally gave up the battle and pulled the plants out.   When I did that, I would put a big black garbage bag over the plant and then pull them up by the roots, thereby entrapping the beetles within the garbage bag.  I sealed the bags up and stuck them out in the sun to broil.

While I was squashing the beetles, I thought about the millions of dollars women spend courtesy of the cosmetic industry in an effort to make their skin soft and wrinkle free.   “Hmm,” I thought to myself.   “If someone did a study that proved that rubbing harlequin beetle juice into the skin around your eyes and mouth prevented or cured wrinkles, I could charge people for the privilege of coming out here and smashing these bugs for me.”

Other than the entrapping within a plastic bag method, another method I find works wonders in killing bugs is the funeral pyre method.

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I build a good sized, very hot fire in the bonfire circle, and then pull infested plants and burn them.   You have to be careful and deliberate about this process, because you can smother the fire if you put too much green stuff on it at once.   Then you perforce become a charcoal maker.

This is why I sometimes burn infested plants.    There are too many of them to catch.   Or there are thousands of the tiny nymphs hiding everywhere.

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Worst of all is the egg deposits.  These are well hidden and hard to find.   I prefer to burn plants that have turned up with large populations of herbivores.   Composting does not always kill the eggs, and then when you put the compost out in the garden you have repopulated the pests.

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I also burn the refuse of plants that tend to be susceptible to fungi and bacterial blights, just to make sure that those things don’t get perpetuated in the garden.

All in all, I find a lot of satisfaction in the personal destruction of pests.   And frustrating the rabbits and deer is a lot of fun too.

Clear back in June I wrote a post about our plans to put in a grid tie solar power system.   Since it is now October, you can imagine that a LOT of water has gone over the dam since then.   What I left you with at that time was a shot of the cleared off space where the solar power generating “plant” was going to be.

I mentioned that the barn needed to be refurbished, and that got done.   The “new” shop looks really good.   Although you can’t see the whole space, this picture of the new inverters gives you an idea of how it turned out after the old sheetrock and the trash got cleared away.  After that, we had insulation foam installed in the walls and ceiling of the shop room, covered that with sheet rock, and then textured that.  Then we painted.   Here are the inverters, on their lovely wall.

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Oh yeah.   Those are new, double paned insulated windows too.   Nearby is the wire that will run from the solar panels to the inverters.   This is scheduled to be pulled through the conduit and connected to the inverters on Monday.  All that cedar stacked around is the trim for the windows and doors of the shop.   Sometime that will be nailed back up.   Nobody is in any rush about that!  We have other fish to fry.

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Since I believe in the adage “A picture is worth a thousand words” I am going to save a lot of time and verbiage by posting a series of pictures taken over the course of the summer, with a minimum of explanation.

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The next shot was taken during the digging of the holes for the frames.   The saw horses are stationed over the holes to keep people who walk around inthe dark (that would be me) from accidentally stumbling into them.   Shortly after this picture, the back hoe came and dug the big holes, which I neglected to document before they had frames and quikrete in them.

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The last picture is of the back of the panels showing how they are bolted to the frames.   In order to keep the aluminum frames from deteriorating, there is a nice stainless steel washer between every frame and the steel support structure.   It had something to do with bimetallic corrosion or galvanic corrosion or some such arcane magic thing.  Those washers were forever skittering away and hiding in the grass.   Fortunately, they were very inexpensive.

So that is where we were yesterday.

Today, this is what happened.  Starting from the power pole where the electric company will put their meter for the grid tie…

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Out around the sauna…

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And over to the barn…

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Right next to the barn where the power enters from the solar panels to go to the inverters, and then comes back out to go to the pole…

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The ditches near the barn…

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Now, you would think that that would be enough work for one day, wouldn’t you?   You would be wrong.   The crew proceeded to pull the wire through all that conduit you saw laid out there.   They glued the conduit.   Then the guy with the bobcat went along and pushed the dirt back into the ditches on top of the installed conduit, and tamped it down.

Here is a shot of the panels after most of that was done.   Notice the posts with conduit next to them.  That is where the junction boxes will go, and the wires from the panels will head off to the barn.

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The final result as of 3:30 p.m. today:

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We still have some back filling to do right by the barn, and around the posts that support the frames.

Need I say that there is a level of excitement around here that is very high???   I am stoked.   Jim is tired.  After all, he was out there working and pulling wire and spending money while I was doing five massages and watching the evolution in between.

We are SOOOOO close to having our grid tie solar power system up and operating we can almost taste it.

As they say in the Army,  “HOOAH!”

New and improved…

A long held dream of mine has finally come to fruition.

Of course, Jim and I have always had compost piles.  The first one was a very informal affair out at the back corner of the garden I created in San Francisco.   When Jim got transferred and we moved to Bremerton, Washington, we loaded that compost pile into a 33 gallon garbage can and transported it with us.   I could not bear to leave it behind, because it contained the remains of all the bouquets that Jim had sent me during his year long deployment to the Middle East.

This may be the only compost pile on record that was moved across state lines due to sentimental reasons.

When we moved to the Havens location, almost the first thing Jim built was a series of bins in which to make compost.   The compost area was always a busy spot, and quite often it was unlovely.

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There are six bins for compost, and then the bench area at the end which was where we  store tools, and all sorts of things too numerous to mention.  As you can see in this picture, there is a large pile of stuff that needs to dry enough to be run through the compost grinder, which is the tool underneath the black rubber cover.   To the left you see two compost tumblers which are useful if you don’t have a lot of compost to make.   With two acres, we generate a lot of material; much more than those sweet little tumblers can manage.

Here is a shot of the bins in action.

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The six bins were just lovely for about a year and a half.   Then the row of elm trees behind them in the picture discovered them.   It became a trial to turn the compost  as it was making due to the invasion of elm roots.   Jim poured shallow concrete floors in a fruitless attempt to discourage the elms.   This worked for about five minutes, after which the elms discovered they could just come up over the edge of the concrete and still invade the compost.

We moved operations off to the back of the property for a while, building the compost piles out on sheets of left over pond liner and/or black plastic.   The tree roots more or less stayed out, but the bermuda grass  would creep over the edge of what ever barrier we put down.   And I can tell you that neither of those substances stood up to pitch fork tines worth a damn, and so it wasn’t long before the tree roots would find a way into the compost piles through the convenient rents in the base.

I longed for a compost area like they have at the Missouri Botanical Garden, with concrete floors, walls to push against and a front end loader to turn the piles.

Finally, after a certain amount of negotiation as to size and location, we decided to have a concrete pad poured upon which we could pile compost.   We desired it to be done by professionals so that it would have a little slant and water would drain off, but not too fast.   Also, hopefully, if a contractor and his men did it, the surface would be smooth enough to easily turn the piles.

This would have been so much more easily accomplished if it had not started raining a couple of weeks ago, making the idea of bringing a redimix truck into the backyard a potential nightmare of ruts and stuck trucks.  So we had to wait for the weather, and the contractor got the flu, so we had to wait for him to get well.

A couple of days ago, all the stars came into alignment and the waiting forms and wire reinforcement received concrete.   It was polished and smoothed, and now, voila!

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I should have taken a picture of the old bins, too.   They have been cleaned and organized and are now being used as storage for the various bird annoying devices we have created to keep the lovely avian tenants of the place out of the apples and strawberries.   Also, the tools have been organized and it all looks just very nice.   Another day.

The forms are gone now, and in a couple of days the concrete will have cured enough that I can move the waiting piles that are now out by the root cellar onto the pad.   I am very excited!

So, of course, there was some amusement to be had while the concrete was being poured and finished.

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This is a view of the corner of the pad during the time while it was still wet and being finished.   If you look very closely, you will see a little black speck on the edge of the concrete right about the middle of the picture.

This is what it is.

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This is a mud dauber wasp.   They are always looking for wet mud with which to build their nests.   If they can’t find mud, they pick up dirt and take it somewhere there is moisture and create mud.   Apparently, this wet concrete was the Best Mud Ever, because the whole time the pad was curing, as long as it was wet enough to pick up concrete, those little wasps were busy making beautiful little balls of concrete and flying off with it to their building site.

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I really like this shot, because just above the wasp you can see the area where she collected her last ball of “mud”.  That is the mark of her jaws in the concrete.  I tried to follow her to her nest so I could see her impregnable concrete reinforced nest, but I lost sight of her.   I think she was building inside the place where the soffit of the sauna is loose.

The contractor and his workers were fairly amused by the fact that I was taking pictures of the wasps and chasing them around.   But these guys have been here before.  They were the ones who fixed the beams under the house, and when they found the big black snake wrapped around the hot water line, were amazed that the housewife/owner was very concerned that they NOT hurt the snake.   So they already know I am odd.

I compounded my oddness by turning my attention from the busy mud daubers to the goldenrod by the sauna, which was being used by very happy bees.   This one has an impressive collection of pollen on her back legs.

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In other news, the Monarch butterflies are migrating through right now.   I find them on my asters, and they seem to like the sedums too.

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I wish them happy trails and plenty of food plants on their journey to Mexico.

Hard to believe that it will be the equinox and Jim’s birthday in just a few hours.   We have a pile of stuff to burn, so I suppose we’ll have a bonfire tonight. I had one last week because the pile had gotten unmanageable.   I had pulled out the black bean vines and harvested the pods.   So the vines needed to be burned, as there were plenty of sundry insect eggs deposited on the leaves.  The patch did REALLY well this year.   Bear in mind that it occupied the part of the bean bed not being used by the pole beans.   In an area that was 4’x16′ I harvested almost ten pounds of black beans, once I had them shelled and dried.   I think that is outstanding production. The cats thought the black beans in the shell were fascinating.   Miss Mallory, being blind, checks everything out by sound and smell.  The crate of bean pods sounded very very interesting, as I had to shove them down in it to get all the pods in there.   As it rested in the kitchen, it made intriguing crackling and rustling noises. DSCF0526 After I finished shelling the beans, I went out and dug the sweet potatoes.   Those vines had gotten delusions of grandeur, were determined to take over the whole northwest section of the garden.   They were well on their way to doing just that. DSCF0528 They did not seem to mind me walking on them when I was headed out to pick the tomatoes, which are at the back of the picture.   What you do not see in this shot is the fact that some of the vines had found their way under the fence and were on their way towards the neighbor’s yard.   Thank goodness this is a non-hardy tropical plant, or we could be in danger of being covered with sweet potato vines the way Alabama is covered with kudzu. They look so pretty on the garden cart. DSCF0532 That is 48.2 pounds of sweet potatoes.   I have a similar quantity of butternut squash curing in the back bedroom.  The freezers are packed with vegetables and fruit.   I just made a liter of herb vinegar for salad dressing.  I put up the last batch of sweet gherkins the other day. Anyway, the bonfire took care of the old cucumber and squash vines as well as the bean vines. While my back was turned, my dill self seeded. DSCF0516 DSCF0517 There is cilantro in this bed too, and the parsley plant just to the east of the dill has seeded the path next to it.   I can’t tell you how many times I have tried to plant parsley and have it not take.   Then you have a plant to go seed and throw seeds into a bark mulch and not get watered all summer, and voila!   Happy little parsley plants.  Go figure. Jim has been gone for a couple of weeks, off to visit people on the East Coast and to attend a class in making Windsor chairs for little people.   He got home yesterday, and it is REALLY great to have him back.   He isn’t a very noisy guy, but the place is preternaturally quiet when he is gone. While he was gone I spent some quality time with the slide collection from my father’s house.   Found some real gems that I will be sharing soon.   These two shots are from around the same era in my life.   The first is of me in my high school graduation gown and cap, sharing my diploma with Horace, my boa constrictor.   The second one was taken in the Sierra foothills as we released Herman, the bull snake, into the wild. PICT0167 img614 Yes, I kept snakes when I was a teenager.   I guess that is what happens when you are born in the Year of the Serpent, as I was. The chairs Jim made arrived here just a couple of hours after he did.   Here is a shot of the new little chair next to the Papa chair.  The little chair still needs to be sanded and painted, but I think it looks beautiful. DSCF0537 This is a chair that will be suitable for a child that is three or so, and will be useful to the young person until they start to shoot up around ten or eleven.   After that, it can be used for seating for a teddy bear, and then a place to stash your coat and purse when you reach working age. I convinced him to invest in the bending form for this chair, because I would like to see a small cottage industry happen.  When I suggested this to him over the phone, he pointed out that he had only been retired for two months, and I was already thinking of a job for him.  Well, if one can make a little money doing something one loves, why not?  This would be a great thing for a proud grand parent to give to a beloved little one.  At $450, it is not inexpensive but destined to last for centuries. Fall is definitely here.   The sumac is turning, as is the poison ivy.   The Petite Prairie is looking fantastic in the evening light right now, as the tall grasses are making their seed heads. DSCF0533 Stay warm.   Hug someone you love, you never know how long you have with them.

On sharing

I don’t remember the period of my life when my mother was trying to teach me how to share.  Perhaps it is just as well.   From what I have observed, little children have a strong concept of “MINE” and there is a certain amount of angst in the process of learning to let go of something you perceive as your own and letting someone else use it for a while.

This can be a very dangerous thing, you know.   Sometimes you share a favorite toy and the person you let use it breaks it.  I have seen this happen, the sorrow and tears are very real.   The trauma…  hopefully not life-long.

Sharing can be as simple as letting another child use your toy, or it can be a political-social arrangement like communal living, or it can mean commingling your assets when you marry.

I know of more than one couple who have tried married life without commingling their assets.   There are a lot of studies on this subject.   It is illuminating to read the lawyer’s view on property sharing in a marriage, and then go to the sites run by relationship counsellors and read their take on the matter.   The New York Times put a very cogent article out about this subject not that long ago.

That goes right in line with an article I read several years ago written by a prominent relationship counsellor.  He said that in his experience, 100% of the marriages that he knows about that began with a prenup wound up in divorce.   His stated position was that if you wanted your relationship to work, you had to be all in.   You cannot be successful in a relationship if your bags are packed; a prenup is basically your bags packed and waiting by the door.

Jim and I have always shared.   As soon as we started living together, and before we even got married, we opened a joint bank account.   Both of us put all our money into that account.   When we got married, we also opened a joint savings account so that we could make far-reaching plans.  We have always filed our taxes jointly, even though towards the beginning we performed the exercise of comparing joint filing to filing separately to see which would be more beneficial in terms of refunds.   After a while, the effort of comparing just seemed to be too much, and we stopped.   It never made that big a difference, anyway.

Recently Jim and I were discussing this aspect of our relationship, and his comment was “I looked at it as a vote of confidence.”  We know about couples who not only did not commingle their assets, they actively worked to keep everything separately.  Some of them did this to the extent that their spouses did not even know how much their income was.   How is it possible to be so distrustful and secretive and call yourselves married?   I don’t know.   

But this distrust of people’s motives comes up in other aspects of life as well.   I have known groups of people who began their lives as idealistic hippies wanting to live together in peaceful communes.   They had much the same experience that the settlers at Plymouth Colony had with their communal living arrangement.   There were people who drew from the communal supplies but never contributed anything to the gardening, cooking, cleaning or building.  

The experience of living with such people have made the survivors very cynical.   I recall being instructed by one such person many years ago that they did not want to do favors for people.   Because what if they never did any for you?   How would that be fair?   This person could not understand how I might want to do her a favor just because I cared about her, that there was no quid pro quo implied by my actions.   

And even if their was a quid pro quo, would it be so terrible to be asked to help me out sometime in the future if I needed help?   If Jim died, would this person tell me to contact social services for help, to go to a professional counsellor for my grief rather than listen to me and hug me while I cried?   Is this person really a friend?   How do we define friends anyway?

I could go on and on, but I guess I’ll just say that when we decided to share our bank accounts, and when we decided to have one shared email account, that did not mean we were idiots.  It meant we loved and trusted each other, and have no reason to keep secrets.  

When we do favors for people, we do it because we love and care for them, not because we are going to present a “bill” in the future in the form of a demand for a favor in return.  We are not the Mafia.

People who don’t understand these things I just feel sorry for.

 

Bonfires

Flaming is a hostile and insulting interaction between Internet users, often involving the use of profanity.

Flaming usually occurs in the social context of an Internet forum, Internet Relay Chat (IRC), Usenet, by e-mail, game servers such as Xbox Live or PlayStation Network, and on video-sharing websites. It is frequently the result of the discussion of heated real-world issues such as politics, religion, and philosophy, or of issues that polarize sub-populations, but can also be provoked by seemingly trivial differences.

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Of course, the above definition does not point out that often the “seemingly trivial differences” are never trivial in the eyes of the flamer.

You might wonder why I would mention flaming, and the reason, of course, is that I have been flamed recently.    I think anyone who uses the internet either has been flamed or will be sometime in the future.   The person who flamed me has done so before, and even before the internet was prevalent or we had a vernacular name for this sort of personal and vindictive attack.

My policy previously has been informed by my dear spouse, who has advised me that this person gets furious, vents, fumes, sulks (sometimes for years) and then eventually lets go of the issue and everyone can move on.   The best thing to do, he has told me, is to do nothing and not worry about the situation, which will eventually resolve.

This has indeed been the case in the past times.   The problem is, when one has been viciously attacked, even when the attacker has let it all go, it is hard to forget the previous attacks.  One tends to be on guard, and careful.   The explosion is never pleasant.

I let my guard down recently, and the inevitable attack occurred, via an email that was a huge “FUCK YOU” written with a pen dipped in poison, expressing feelings engendered by misinterpretation. It was painted in terms that were insulting and mean, and contained assumptions, inaccuracies, slurs, innuendos, and character assassination.

I have refused to respond.   And I will not.   Nothing is accomplished by flaming except the wonderful power of being able to hurt people by doing so.

Of course I was hurt, deeply, but mostly I have recovered.   At present I have found deep compassion for this person.  While my compassion is there, I have learned my lesson, finally.   I have no need to ever see this person again, or to exchange any words, nor will I.  This means that I will not have to suffer another flaming episode, as I will know not to read any further correspondence from that quarter.

I read my Tarot cards about the situation, doing a four card layout I like, called “clarification of a situation or emotional condition.”  After you select the cards, they wind up in a square layout.  The card in the North is the actual theme which is really of concern at the moment.   The West card shows what you are receptive and open to.  The South card shows what you are expressing and showing of yourself outwardly.  East is the key; pointing a way in which to overcome the problem actively.

This was the layout I got:

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Honestly, I really was not expecting such a group of positive cards.  The theme card, 10 of Cups (Satiety), indicates that I should let things develop by themselves, and that everything comes to me at the right moment.   What I am open to is the 3 of Cups (Love), and indicates that I have something especially valuable to share.  I must be open for the people who can share these feelings.  They are a gift and I don’t need to look for them.  What I am expressing, Prince of Wands, indicates intensity, blossoming love, intuitive creativity, and moving out of the darkness into the light.   The key, the way to overcome the problem, is 9 of Wands (Strength).  I am advised to use the power gained through unifying conscious and unconscious energies, and demonstrate wholeness.

Nice to know that I am surrounded by love and am coming into my true power.  I certainly know I have something valuable to share!  I feel this truth more and more in my professional life.  Last week, two different people called me a miracle worker because of the effect my body work had on their health and pain levels.

A beloved, powerful, miracle worker:   I can live with that.

 

Another year has passed in the vineyard.   We are in the crush, which of course is not nearly as intense here as it is in Bordeaux or Napa County.   It hardly seems fair to compare our 64 vine vineyard to the thousands of acres that exist in the major wine producing areas of the world.

Still, we get an inkling of the size of the job by doing our little wine production here.   

We have already picked the Marechal foch and Baco noir rows.  This morning we picked the Chambourcin and the Concord grapes.   We have only two vines of Concords.  The last row left is the Cynthiana, also referred to as Norton.   They are not quite ready yet.

Below is the page that Jim has been keeping to record grape production in the vineyard.

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When we first started making wine, we meticulously kept the varieties separated, which became a huge pain in the neck when it was time to rack and press.   Rarely did we get amounts of juice and wine that were easily divisible by 5 gallons, which is the size of the carboys we age our wine in.   So we wound up with say, 10 gallons of Marechal foch, 5 gallons of Marechal foch/Baco noir mix, 5 gallons of Baco noir, 5 gallons of Baco noir/Chambourcin mix, etc.   It did not take us long to decide that this was not worth the trouble, so now we just mix all the grapes together and produce what we call “The House Blend”.   Of course it is different every year, because every year we get different quantities of each variety of grape. 

We are not trying to win any contests or sell our wine, so we don’t really care that it is not reproducible.  It winds up being quite drinkable, and that is really what matters to us.

Anyway, the numbers tell the tale every year.   The Chambourcin grapes are not worth the row space.   

It isn’t just the numbers, though.   The health of the vines is another issue. 

Compare these two shots:    Marechal foch row is first, Chambourcin row is second.

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Here’s a closer comparison.   This is one vine.   Marechal foch first, Chambourcin second.

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Now look at the individual bunches.   Again, Marechal foch first, Chambourcin second.   

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As you can see, the Chambourcin bunches are quite a bit longer, but not so full of grapes.  They also are quite irregular in terms of production. The one on the left in the shot has been culled all year because this variety is very susceptible to black rot.  The main way you control this fungus in the organic vineyard is to check the rows every few days and remove any grapes that are showing signs of infection.

This is tedious and time consuming, and results in bunches like you see above.

Another problem with the Chambourcin is those very long bunches.   The stems wind themselves around the paddles of the stemmer/crusher and jam it.  They also lay themselves out along the screen and prevent the grapes from dropping through into the hopper, which makes processing them messy and frustrating.

One last shot, showing the black rot fungus infecting the Chambourcin leaf.   The first image is a Marechal foch leaf.

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The upshot of all this is a decision to remove the Chambourcin vines and replace them with Marechal foch.   We have done a lot of studying on the subject and have decided that what we are going to do is cut off the vines we are removing, leaving the root stock behind.   Then we will graft Marechal foch canes to the root stock.   Since the roots are old and strong, we will get quick vine growth and be able to anticipate full production of Marechal foch in about two years, rather than the four years it would take if we started with new vines.   

This is according to the experts…. wish us luck

Meanwhile, we have a fermentation vat with about 37.5 gallons of must bubbling away in the dining room.  It smells like a winery  in here!

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