One weekend’s worth of sunshine followed by some standard erratic English springtime fayre can only mean one thing: everything is happening, and it’s all happening at once. Something very much like this tends to happen about this time of year every year, but it always comes as a bit of a surprise. It’s usually preceded by conversations along the lines of “Are those vines ever going to get growing properly?” and “We haven’t even had to cut the grass yet!” and is immediately followed by mild panic, lots of rushing around and one or both of us collapsing in a heap, having attempted to ram those four weeks worth of work into one.
Although the growing season technically started about a month ago, the period between then and now is mostly comprised of worrying about the frost, finishing off spraying the weeds and arguing about whether it is time to turn the central heating off. And this year has been a fairly standard one in this respect, one moment we were baking in the sunshine attached to a gin and tonic, preparing for an entire summer’s al fresco dining, and the next we were climbing into our ancient* tractor between showers, turning the key with crossed fingers while uttering words of encouragement. And it is when I am chummily patting the tractor on the bonnet – as it rolls out of the equally ancient shipping container that it calls home – that I know that summer is well and truly under way.
*If you haven’t been with us for long, you won’t be aware quite how ancient our tractor is. I was two when it rolled off its German production line, and though I tempt fate horribly by saying this, it has been considerably more reliable than I have. Then again, it is of course still in the first flush of youth. Like me.
In spite of the additional workload, I absolutely love this time of year. The vines are powering ahead and we can see the flowers that will be doing their thing during the dog days of summer, when the weather will be not at all erratic (we have spent a lot of time with our fingers crossed this week). This is also that nice time of year before we have to worry about spraying the vines, as the mildew is extremely unlikely to get up to any mischief in anything but the most appalling weather at the moment; it’s nice just to go for a walk amongst the vines and enjoy their company, without feeling the need to inspect every other one for anything untoward. Especially when the grass has just been nicely cut and no longer littered with nettles on the lookout for bare legs (or thin trousers) to sting.
In fact, the only fly in the ointment in our idyllic little enclave is my aching hamstrings and wobbly gait. Experienced vineyard types will immediately diagnose this condition as bud rubber’s bend. If you haven’t had the pleasure, bud rubbing involves bending over and knocking off the shoots that you don’t need from the bottom of your vines. In the case of our new vines, we would remove all of the shoots except one, which will eventually become its trunk, as the established ones already have trunks, one would remove all of the rogue shoots from the ground, up to the wire, where the important stuff happens. This is great for the vines, but all that bending over leaves us hobbling around like a very old married couple.
Happily this gets easier as the vines become older, as the older wood is less likely to produce rogue shoots, a bit like the trunk of a mature tree. Last year we removed the guards from a couple of thousand of our most well established vines (in an area where there are fewer rabbits) to see if it would be possible to do without the guards entirely as they were starting to look a little tatty, having been blown around the vineyard on countless occasions by the increasingly lively storms and degraded by the sun when it condescends to shine. In my head, the rabbits would hop along and helpfully remove the shoots from the trunks of these exposed vines for me, and I would return heroically from the fields having secured a couple more weeks of gin and tonic time and ready to inform Lucy that we could stop hobbling around town looking ridiculous.
Did the rabbits do us a favour and save us from having to do our least favourite job of the year? Not a bit of it! Apparently, digging under the back of our raised flower bed in the garden – with fencing worthy of Fort Knox – so that they could eat all of our lovely herbs was fair game, but the tender and unwanted new shoots of a vine is not. They are of course good enough to nibble a bit of some of the shoots to make them harder to take off, but that is sort of par for the course. And in any event, I’m telling myself that we will both be doing yoga well into our nineties on account of all of this stretching, so it’s probably as well that it isn’t working out.
The generator. Hmm, I was confident that I’d have an exciting update for you this week, but I’m afraid that I don’t. I am however talking to lots of interesting people about it and expect that I’ll be able to cobble one together out of blu tack and paper clips by the time that I’m finished…