The vineyard

Tommy

Senior Member
Location
New Hampshire
2021 has been a particularly good year in our garden for cauliflower and beets, while tomatoes, summer squashes, sweet corn, and banana peppers all had respectable yields.

Throughout our marriage the kitchen garden has always been my wife’s domain and she rules it with a firm hand. My involvement has mostly been limited to building fences and rototilling. She enjoys the planning, creation, and tending of her garden and over the years I’ve been the beneficiary of the many wonderful vegetables she’s grown.

Spring of 2020, reined in by the initial wave of the covid virus, I was searching for a new outdoor home project to occupy my time. Growing grapes seemed like a good choice. Heck, grapes are easy to grow and low maintenance. A grape trellis makes an attractive landscape feature. We like most fruits and grapes are no exception. And being a perennial fruit in a whole different location, it wouldn’t infringe on my wife’s gardening domain. What’s not to like?

At least that was my thinking at the time.

There’s a saying that goes something like, “Want to make God laugh? Tell him your plans.” This is not something I believe, yet I’ll admit that sometimes it can feel that way.
 

Tommy

Senior Member
Location
New Hampshire
The Vineyard

We live on the side of a large hill although, consistent with New England’s penchant for exaggeration, it’s called a mountain. The mowed portion of our property (the yard if you will) is relatively flat but the land behind it slopes up rather steeply. Our house faces in a more or less southerly direction.
Asters.JPG
Things I learned: In the northern hemisphere grape vines usually grow best on a south facing slope. Grape vines should be planted about eight feet apart and need four additional feet of clearance on each side. A mature grape vine can produce over 25 pounds of grapes per year.

Perfect! After some thought I staked out an 8’ x 20’ area on the base of the hill that looked ideal for our new landscape feature. That should be large enough for two vines. And at 50 pounds of grapes per year they should produce far more than enough for us to eat and make jam and still leave plenty of grapes to give away.

So …all I need to do is to clear the area of its current cover of brambles, goldenrod, and other weeds, put up a trellis, dig a couple of holes, plant some vines, and wait for the grapes.

Pretty simple. Yeah.

Some wisdom from the vineyard.

Over the years I’ve found that quick decisions can have unexpected outcomes. Though I’ve known this for a long time, that still hasn’t prevented me from making commitments that end up costing me more … in time, effort, expense,, emotional capital … than I ever expected.

Proverbs 29:20 “Do you see someone who speaks in haste? There is more hope for a fool than for them.”
 

Tommy

Senior Member
Location
New Hampshire
Rocks

With a pair of work gloves and the appropriate implements of destruction in hand, I headed for the site of our proposed vineyard. I realize that “vineyard” is a presumptuous name for this speck of land and a couple of grape vines but, hey … I’ve lived in New England for over 30 years now and may have picked up a little of the local penchant for exaggeration. Besides, we have to call it something.

Slowly I started clearing away 160 square feet of dense weeds. Did you know that that goldenrod has really tenacious roots? Or that brambles and sweet pea grow from large underground runners and just break off at the ground surface when pulled? After a good part of the weeds had been removed (more or less, sorta), I decided to do a little digging at the points where the three posts for my trellis will eventually go. I measured and staked each location.

There IS a reason New Hampshire is nicknamed “The Granite State”.

We have A LOT of rocks! Years ago, shortly after buying this house, I put up a fence for my wife’s kitchen garden. While putting in the 11 posts, I ran into at least a dozen large rocks … basketball size, even watermelon size rocks. But with sweat, ingenuity, and a little bad language I was eventually able to dig them all out and relocate them.

Therefore, when I started to dig for the first post hole I wasn’t too surprised to hear a familiar metallic “clank”. I moved to the second location. “Clank”. Third location. “Clank”. Darn! I started digging around one rock … and digging … and digging. It eventually became clear that this is not a rock I’m going to be able to move myself. It is a BIG rock. Digging at the other two locations gave the same result. I didn’t fully uncover any of them but it was clear that they are each probably at least three feet across. Arrgh!!

Finding Rocks.JPG

But by this time I’m determined that this is absolutely the very best location for our vineyard, so … what do I do next …?

Some wisdom from the vineyard.

I often need to stop and remind myself that all of the problems I face in this life are trivial. Many, many other people face far greater challenges. And viewed from the perspective of eternity, all of man’s problems are insignificant. There’s so very much for me to be grateful for.

James 1:2-3. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.”
 

Tommy

Senior Member
Location
New Hampshire
Dry Stone Walls

In central New Hampshire you’ll see a lot of old dry stone walls; along roadsides, stretching across fields, peeking out from the forest’s edge. Many of these were built over 200 years ago. It’s estimated that in the mid-1800s there were about 240,000 miles of them in New England … that’s around 400 million tons of stone! Originally, the walls were not decorative. Rather, they served merely as a place to put the many rocks removed while clearing a field for planting. They also outlined the boundaries of a field. We have many such walls on our land.

Stone Wall.JPG

The old walls contain a number of large and medium-sized rocks … my wild guess would be in the 100 to 500 pound range or larger. How those early New England farmers moved and stacked those stones is a mystery to me. Livestock was undoubtedly involved, along with leverage and a lot of Yankee ingenuity. That must have been a very, very hard, slow process.

As it happened, in September of 2000 we’d already arranged to have a guy come to our house to do some other landscape digging. “Scott” has a big, steel-tracked Caterpillar excavator. I asked him if he would also dig a trench through the vineyard area to remove the rocks while he and his machine were here.

Now in past years we’ve noticed that, as winter is coming to an end, the ground on the south sides of our stone walls are the first areas to be clear of snow. Possibly the sun’s heat is absorbed by the rocks and transferred to the ground beneath. So when Scott asked what he should do with the big rocks he removed, I asked if he could build us a small stone wall just uphill from the trench. Hopefully, the additional warmth from the wall will warm the ground around the vines and so start growth a little earlier in the spring.

Not only was Scott accommodating, but it turned out that he’s a real artist with his big yellow machine. Watching him gently pick up, sort, rotate, and place each of those big rocks was nothing short of amazing.

Vineyard Wall.JPG

We asked him put the soil he removed next to the trench. Also, knowing that we’d lose quite a bit of volume after the rocks had been removed, we had him bring in about seven cubic yards of screened loam. Now we’re ready to start some real work.

Some wisdom from the vineyard.

Most of us take notice when a person does something really well. It tells us something about their character. When that person is a Christian who is motivated by their faith, their actions glorify Almighty God.

1 Corinthians 10:31 So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.
 

Tommy

Senior Member
Location
New Hampshire
Sifting Sand

Basic manual labor … very basic. About as basic as it gets.

The original trench was a little over twenty feet long, four feet wide, and three feet deep. The goals were simple. Clean up the trench walls and floor, separate the stones from the removed dirt, and then return that cleaned dirt to the trench.

For nearly 50 years my wife has been a loyal partner through my many, often dubious, exploits and I love her all the more for that. This was no exception.

It has taken us many hours over several weeks to finish removing all of the stones, hauling them to one of two rock piles, and returning the dirt to the trench. Stones smaller than a ping pong ball have generally been left with the soil. Large rocks have been stacked at the end of the trench to be added to the rock wall at some future time. All of the rest have been loaded into 5-gallon buckets and carried to our resident rock pile behind the barn.

It was a very slow process, yet somehow not unpleasant. And there is a great sense of satisfaction in having the job completed.

Some wisdom from the vineyard.

In the early years of my career I worked as a bench and field chemist. After a while I moved on to supervisory and then management positions but I always felt a certain longing for those earlier hands-on days of Pyrex glass and bottles of reagents. There’s a definite satisfaction that comes with working with your hands … whatever the task might be.

It’s wise to remember that nothing we do is unimportant. Ill-advised sometimes … maybe, but never unimportant.

Colossians 3:23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters,
 

Tommy

Senior Member
Location
New Hampshire
Grapevine Training

Who would have though it? Grapevines need to be trained. Trained??? Yup. A vine planted in any decent spot will probably grow, but if the goal is to get a respectable harvest of grapes a training strategy is needed.

There are dozens of training methods. In New Hampshire, one preferred method is the “Four Armed Kniffin” system which was devised in the 1850s by William Kniffin. I like it because, from the pictures, it looks more or less what I originally had in mind but didn’t know it had a name. But as it turns out, it’s a little more complicated than I had expected.

#6 Grapevine Training.jpg

Basically, two stout wires are strung between posts above the plants. The lower wire is at 2-1/2 to three feet above the ground and to upper wire at 5-1/2 to six feet. As they grow, the vines are first pruned to have a strong central trunk and, when they reach each wire, the two strongest side shoots, called "canes" are tied to the wire on each side. All other shoots are cut off. The new shoots that then grow from those four canes are the ones that will actually produce grapes. After harvesting, the old canes must be cut away and replaced.

Things I learned. It takes at least three years from the time of planting for a vine to start producing grapes. Mature grapevines are heavy, so strong wires and posts are a must. Grapevines need to be pruned every year and you really have to understand what you’re doing before you start cutting.

Pruning is done while the plants are dormant. Around here, that means between January 1st and the end of March. I’ve been warned that it can feel absurdly extreme … cutting away maybe three-quarters of that beautiful vine you’ve just spent the whole summer growing. Still, I’m told it’s necessary to get a good crop.

Some wisdom from the vineyard.

In many areas of our lives it’s sometimes necessary to take corrective action to stay in track toward reaching long-term goals. At times, those corrective actions can seem severe and painful but we know they are necessary. This is true in our eternal lives as well as in our earthly ones. Understanding God’s purpose can help us to make sense of life’s difficult circumstances.

John 15:1-2 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.”
 

Tommy

Senior Member
Location
New Hampshire
Planting Posts

I’ve chosen pressure treated 4x4 pine for our trellis posts. The wood is relatively inexpensive, easy to work with, and I like the appearance. With the current covid-driven shortage of lumber, I feel fortunate to have gotten the last three straight, clean boards our local lumberyard had in stock.

Over the years I’ve planted any number of fence posts but I don’t consider myself to be anything close to skilled post installer. I’m more of the “dig a hole - put in the post - hold it relatively straight - pack the dirt back in” sort of post installer. Now for our vineyard, the posts needed to be both straight and sturdy so it’s time to learn a new skill. I resorted to everyone’s favorite “how to” information source … YouTube.

Like most things on the internet, YouTube research involves a very high degree of discernment. Loads of information … most of it bad … and one needs to sort out what is actually accurate and useful. I’ve watched dozens of different videos, each describing different, sometimes wildly different, approaches to installing posts.

What I learned (or rather, deduced): To be strong, a wood post should have between one-quarter and one-third of its total length buried in the ground. At least four inches of course gravel should be placed in the hole beneath the post to promote drainage. The post hole should be three times the diameter of the post and contain at least two vertical feet of concrete around the post. The top of the concrete should be covered with soil to prevent water channeling.

Scrounging around YouTube, I also picked up a couple of tips that are actually helpful. I’ve now learned how to hold a post straight by clamping two 2x4 boards near the top at a right angle to each other and positioning the other end on the ground. In the picture below, it looks like the guy nailed the supports to the posts; I just used quick clamps and it worked fine.

It seems so obvious now and I don’t know why I never thought of it before

#7A Planting Posts.jpg

And did you know that bags of cement premix can be poured directly into the hole (dry) and then soaked with water? … no need to mix it first. Apparently this is a common technique and I can understand why!

It seems to have worked. The posts are straight and seem to be very strong.
#7B Planting Posts.jpg

Some wisdom from the vineyard.

T’was ever thus …. There has always been a more than ample supply of people clamoring to tell others the “right” way to do something, or to act, or to think, or to believe. Deciding on what is true and right is a matter of personal discernment as God grants each of us the ability to discern truth. This applies to all areas of our lives.

1 Corinthians 2:14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.
 

Tommy

Senior Member
Location
New Hampshire
Choosing Vines

October 2020. It's time to decide what kind of grapevines to buy and where to get them …

According to the internet there are over 8000 varieties of grapes. 8000! How to choose???

Well, our vines will absolutely have to be hardy enough to make it through our cold northern New England winters. I’ve probably driven through the beautiful wine country in central New York state over a hundred times, but it looks like our current location is just enough further north to make a difference in which varieties will survive.

Then too, we know we want “table grapes”. The majority of grapes varieties are “wine grapes”. During our “before children” days, my wife and I made wine … quite a bit of it actually. Been there, done that, got a few proprietary bottle labels around here somewhere as souvenirs. We also know we want seedless grapes. Those two things will help to limit the options … well, somewhat.

And of course it also depends on what’s available. So I called our local garden center and asked what types of grapevines they sold.

Long puzzled silence . . .

"We don’t sell grapevines.” Hmmmm … Then, in a blinding flash of the obvious, I contacted an area college and spoke with their grape expert.

Jackpot!!!

She not only recommended several suitable varieties but also pointed me to a reliable seller – Double A Vineyards in Fredonia, NY. Their web site contains a wealth of helpful information,

I was surprised to learn that grapevines need to be ordered about six months in advance. I looked over their offerings and chose a variety called “Canadice” and one called “Mars”. I’m not particular about the color, but for the record Canadice grapes are red; Mars are blue.

# 8A Choosing Vines.jpg
Canadice

#8B Choosing Vines.jpg
Mars

I know that winter kill will be a very real threat to our new vines, and by the time we discover a loss it will be too late to get a replacement. I ordered two of each … one to be the primary vine and the other to serve as a backup. I chose to have them delivered during the third week in April.

Some wisdom from the vineyard.

Not every grapevine is suitable for every purpose or setting. A vine that thrives on the hot, sunny slopes of Spain would wither and die in New Hampshire. Grapes that make a wonderful Merlot would probably make a terrible grape jam. But every variety has a setting and a purpose for which it is suited and in which it can shine. The trick is in making the right choice.

So it is with people. We each have characteristics and abilities that make us well equipped for some tasks but poorly suited for others. Likewise, we each have countless opportunities to serve in roles that may or may not make the best use of our unique talents. Pray to the Lord for guidance in making wise choices.

1 Corinthians 12:4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.
 

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