Thursday, August 20, 2009


I'm beginning to seriously question the intelligence of these sheep.

This afternoon, I was busily working away, trying to get done so I could run some errands in town. I have the windows open because it's 73 degrees today and absolutely beautiful outside. I took my headphones off for a few minutes and heard one of the lambs making a huge racket. I went to the window and saw Cocoa in the sheep pen. He was on the opposite side from the gate pacing back and forth along the fence. The rest of the sheep were on the other side of the fence eating grass, ignoring him. I watched for a few minutes and realized he was stuck in the pen. Well, sort of. The gate is 16 feet wide, and is wide open during the day so they can come in and out whenever they want and also so I don't have to run out there and let them in if it storms. I close them up in there before dark every evening but other than that, they're on their own.

Clearly, he'd gone in there for some reason and then got upset because the other sheep were outside the pen and he couldn't figure out why or how to get out. This went on for several minutes and he finally flopped down on the ground in frustration. I thought about going out there to help him but less than a minute later, he leaped to his feet, dashed through the gate and ran as fast as he could around to the other side of the pen where the rest of the sheep were eating. Frantically baaa'ing the entire time.

Oh, did I tell you? He did the exact same thing last week.

I do not know how these things ever evolved in the wild...

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

What's up in the vineyard?

I've been terribly negligent on keeping this blog up to date, so it's time for an update. So, uhhh, what's happening out there? Well, most of the vineyard chores at this point involve controlling grass and weeds, tying/training the vines to the trellis, and making sure things stay wet enough. There are no grapes to harvest this year because the vines are still too young. We will probably let the two-year-old vines produce a half crop next year assuming they come out of dormancy in better shape than they did this year. We will be taking off the grow tubes in the next several days so the vines can start hardening off for winter. These are plastic tubes that are about 30" tall, and surround the newly planted vines. They create a protective greenhouse for the vine while it begins to grow. They also help direct it up the bamboo stake toward the wire, and protect the base of the vine from rabbits and so forth. They go on right after planting, and come off in mid August. As we take them off, they get nested into bundles of 20 and stored until next year when we plant the next batch of vines.

Since early July, we have gone through several weeks with minimal rain. We've gotten some but not enough. Watering is a hassle but with new vines, one thing you can't do is let the roots dry out. Older vines, with much deeper roots handle heat and drought stress better than new vines. We have pretty heavy soil here, clay loam, which holds water well so what percolates down tends to stick around.

Anyway, we hand water when necessary and this entails putting a big polyethylene tank in the back of the truck, and driving up and down each row, putting a couple of gallons on each vine. We have a small pond right next to the vineyard and when we get decent snow in the winter and normal rain in the spring, the pond is full to the brim through late June. This year was no exception. We had a pretty wet spring and were able to store plenty of water in the pond. We have a trash pump that we keep by the pond and it sucks water up through a hose and into the tank. The tank holds about 125 gallons of water and we have 12 rows of new vines so it takes several trips back and forth. We put about 1500 gallons of water on the vines each week that we don't get at least an inch of rain. Very time consuming. Also, it takes two people, one driving, one holding the hose. Last week I rigged up a little dealie with a piece of metal pipe that extends out almost over the vine, and a couple of clamps attached to the tailgate so I could just open the valve and then run and jump in the front seat, and drive along the vine row, and water by myself. Before I had a chance to try it out though, we started getting rain every couple of days again so I haven't tested it out yet. Anyway, that will free up one person to do something else.

The long term solution, however, is to run drip irrigation. It's expensive but the value of time saved (and gas driving up and down the the vineyard rows with a half ton of water in the back) is worth something so we are probably going to do it either this fall, or next spring before planting gets underway.

I'm totally intrigued by the idea of putting some alternative energy to use in the vineyard. I'm already doing this a little bit with the "mutton mowers" as an alternative to mowing and weeding. Anyway, moving water from place to place is an ideal task for a solar or wind project. I subscribe to Home Power magazine which is a really good source for ideas and products geared toward do-it-yourself alternative energy projects. The drip irrigation will require a huge poly tank of at least a thousand gallons, which we will put at the highest point of the property (which happens to be just north of the vineyard). My idea is to use either a small wind turbine or solar panels to a battery bank (or possibly a hybrid of the two) to pump water from the pond to the poly tank, where it will be filtered and stored. The vineyard will then be divided into zones and the flow controlled by a manifold that allows only a few rows at a time to be watered on any given day. That way I can really deeply water 3 or 4 rows at a time on a given day, and then move on to the next batch the next day. Hopefully there will be enough elevation of the tank that gravity can handle most of the pressure needed to push all of that water out to the emitters, but if I need an electric pump to boost the pressure, I'll break down and buy one and run it off a battery bank charged by the panels too. Hopefully it won't be needed. I can drip irrigate overnight and refill the tank during the day when the wind blows and the sun shines. I figure if there's no sun, it's probably raining and I won't need to fill the tank anyway. There's no electricity running out to the vineyard and this seems like an ideal application for solar/wind/hydro. I've even considered buying a big thousand gallon tank that I can put on a trailer, and attach the turbine and solar panels to one side of the trailer. It would look like the Beverly Hillbillies meets Mad Max and would be a self-contained little electricity generator of a sorts, and I can move it to various vineyard blocks, which by the time we finish planting will be spread out on the 40 acres in various locations, park it with the panels facing the sun, and hook up to the manifold for each vineyard block, and let er rip...

As a bonus, that thing could be parked next to a future hoop house/greenhouse and used to provide lighting and irrigation to a winter vegetable garden when not needed in the vineyard. I've been looking at hoop houses online and have the perfect place for one just to the south of the house. I can't grow tomatoes and peppers year round here, but I could probably keep some lettuces, kale/collard/mustard greens, spinach, and cold weather veggies like broccoli and squash going well into December, and then get started in early March with lots of early spring veggies. It will also give me a lot of space to root cuttings of grape vines to either replenish dead ones or expand the vineyard to more of the acreage., and play around a little bit with crossing grapes and developing new cultivars. The possibilities are endless...

Now that I have these sheep, I have an unlimited supply of "fertilizer" in handy "pelletized" form. I've even seen people use horse manure composted in a trench inside a hoop house to raise the temperature several degrees as it breaks down. We're surrounded by people with horses, and plenty of poop to spare.

The thing about a hoop house is it's cheap, movable and when it gets hot you just roll up the sides to the open air. Once it's cold, if you garden in raised beds, and insulate the sides with rigid foam, you can even run PEX tubing under the growing beds and circulate it through a big holding tank attached to a solar collector on the outside of the greenhouse, and provide toasty warm growing beds. With a big enough tank inside the greenhouse, you can probably store enough heat to moderate the temperature of the greenhouse overnight as long as you have good sunny days during the day to heat the water up. You definitely could if you paint the tank black and put it where it can absorb heat from the greenhouse during the day.

So many ideas, so little time.