Sunday, March 25, 2012

Pruning, 2012

Now it's a race! The Sabrevois vines have broken their buds and the first leaves are popping out on the canes. This is very early, even for Sabrevois. This ridiculously mild winter, followed by what appears to be an extremely early spring has pushed everything out of dormancy a good month before our typical last freeze. Hopefully the trend holds and it's like this from here on out. A late freeze really does a number on tender new shoots and buds. I'm pruning as fast as I can and I'm leaving extra buds and longer than normal canes for this year's growth in case we do get a freeze and it kills the vines back. It happens.

The good thing about grape vines though is if you leave extra length to the canes you are pruning, typically the buds that are near the tips pop open before the ones closer to to the cordon and trunk. This means that by leaving extra buds near the ends of the canes, if you get a freeze, those might get killed back but the ones that haven't started pushing out new growth are still a little protected. It creates an extra step if you don't get a freeze and have to go back and prune a second time to get rid of the excessive growth, but it's cheap insurance.

I'm about half way done with pruning. I'm done with the Sabrevois vines and I'm almost done with the three-year-old Traminette. I'll be starting on the four-year-old Traminette sometime this week, and then go to work on the Cynthiana after that. Sabrevois is completely in full bud break now. The Traminette and the Cynthiana are a little behind but just about ready to go too. The longer it takes to finish pruning, the harder it is because once the buds start to swell and open, they're really fragile and are easily knocked off, essentially wasting a cane and leaving a gap where this year's growth should be. I'll have to be more careful while I prune to avoid knocking them off, which means no tugging and yanking on the canes while I prune. I'm hoping to be done with this by the end of next weekend. That may be a little ambitious but we'll see.

One little adaptive strategy that grapes have is that within every node where a bud pushes out, there's also a tiny secondary bud, and a really tiny tertiary bud that will push out if something happens to the primary and secondary buds. The only problem with this is that while the secondary and tertiary buds create new shoots that grow into canes, these buds are not fruitful so you don't get a cluster of grapes from this node (there are a few hybrids that do have fruitful secondary buds but none of the cultivars we are growing do this). So, a late freeze can do a lot of damage to this season's crop, but not necessarily damage the entire vine.

Hopefully we're out of the frost window and well into spring at this point. Hope-Hope-Hope...

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Winter Gardening

One of the long-term goals I've had since moving to Iowa has been to have a greenhouse so I could extend the growing season both in the early spring and also the late, late fall. Over the past month or so, I've been putting together some ideas on how I can transition to full-time farmer. One way is to be able to grow produce for local farmer's markets, restaurants, and eventually start a CSA/subscription farm. One of the things I'm really interested in is food security on the local level, and helping the community, in my case my little town, grow and produce more of what it consumes. Our vineyard is the first step in this direction. Greg and I hope to be marketing wine under our own label in the next few years and in spite of the dramatic growth of artisan wineries in Iowa, and all over the Midwest, there isn't one in our county. We intend to change that. Expanding into raising other types of produce gels well with the existing vineyard, as we have already purchased the tractor, implements, and tools we need, so the additional expenses are fairly minimal.

In conjunction with the vineyard/winery, we've got plenty of space for several greenhouses/high tunnels, and Iowa State and Cornell have been researching growing raspberries and blackberries in tunnels with some very good results. I'm considering doing this along side the vineyard, and there are several potential markets for the berries, including restaurants, wineries, farmer's markets and bakeries. I'm researching the feasibility of putting up a big tunnel and raising fall-ripening berries. I already have the majority of the equipment I would need, I'd just need the tunnel and the plants. Oh, and I also have two hives full o' bees!

In the meantime, I bought this...

on Craigslist last week. It's a 14 x 44 foot tunnel greenhouse that I bought from some folks up north. They used it to raise cut flowers and nursery plants and got out of the business and put the tunnel up for sale. Nice people. They're delivering it next Saturday. This is a decent sized greenhouse and it comes with all of the fans, benches, lumber, and so forth that we would need. We'll put it up this spring and use it get a jump on this year's garden, and see what kind of production we can get from it before it's warm enough to start the outdoor gardening. I'm going to use this season to get a handle on growing for markets and one restaurant customer who's interested in what I'm doing. I'm going to start out at our little Albia Farmer's Market and spread out from there. There are five markets within about 20 miles of me, all on different days of the week, starting in early May and running through October. Keeping good records this season should allow me to estimate the volume I'll need to grow to cover the markets, restaurant(s) and a small CSA.

I'm taking a self-directed crash course in all of this and I'll document the progress on this blog. Feel free to ask questions or offer input.