Learned and Patient Pruning

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It has been explained to me by learned and patient people more than once that it isn’t actually possible for the sky to run out of rain. Nevertheless, I’m fairly confident that, as the planet isn’t making any more water, there can’t be much more of it left to fall on the wet people of Devon. It’s now easily the wettest that I have ever seen it at Château Huxbear, and the weather forecast isn’t promising much joy in the immediate future either. While I was winter pruning this morning (yes, actually winter pruning, and trying to find something far more exciting to do), I noticed that the land at the top of the hill – which is level and therefore doesn’t deposit the rain into the river quite as efficiently as the slopey bits – has taken on a kind of custard type of consistency and it moves around as I step on it. And when one walks down one of the rows – these are particularly slopey slopes – the rain is running down them in constant streams along the channels that tyres of the tractor and the passage of people have made over the years. It’s quite a sight, and is presumably happening as there is no longer any room for water inside the soil.

If you are getting the sense that we have had just about enough of mopping up after the sodden dogs and trying to keep on top of drying the waterproof clothing, you would be about right. As an added bonus, the rain has been accompanied by some industrial strength storms this week too. And we were just about to continue to whine and moan about the state of the weather until said storm picked up a quantity of the sea, deposited it on the railway line at Dawlish and took much of what holds the railway line up away with it, which helped to put things into perspective. And when one considers that there are folk up the road in Somerset who haven’t enjoyed the benefit of access to their homes for upwards of six weeks, while we perch gratifyingly somewhere near the top of our very own hill, it becomes clear that less whining and more stoic mopping up is just the ticket.

When we weren’t considering the weather, things have been moving along a bit this week. I have run out of excuses almost* entirely, so winter pruning has been the order of the day and we are now just about halfway through both fields. This means that we are moving into that sweet, sweet part of the year when it is possible to see light at the end of the tunnel regarding the pruning, and the frantic attempts to do two or more jobs at the same time in June and July still seems to be many gin and tonics into the future.

*Almost is exactly right. The storms have produced another little job for us to do this weekend. The poor and much abused chickens suffered further indignity this week when the lid blew off their house, leaving most of it exposed to the elements, causing them to cower in the covered bit where they lay eggs in more clement seasons. Quick as a flash, I was out to rescue them by wrapping one of those buckle strap things around the entire edifice, ensuring that the lid was inextricably linked to the parts pertaining to chicken. And how long do you think it took before the entire thing decided to try and make its own way out of the chicken run? Not very long. It’s currently propped up alongside a post, which is keeping it upright, but failing to keep the thing from rattling all over the place. So I have been given the go ahead to burn some more time making a hen house from a quantity of wood and four large posts that are driven many feet into the ground.

Just in time for us to start the final leg of the winter pruning a missive arrived with a thud into the vineyard’s email box informing us that all the cool kids are now doing their pruning in March (in fairness, this did ring a distant bell or two from our time at college). The idea is that the sap is flowing upwards in the vine in spring in readiness for a spot of growing as opposed to down towards the roots in autumn/winter. This helps to prevent you from spreading disease from vine to vine with your secateurs, as any traces of the disease will be removed as the sap bleeds from the pruning wounds. Allowing a little of the sap to run from the vine is also thought to help to delay the start of the growing season to a time in the year when the delicate new shoots are unlikely to be frosted to death.

Sounds good, yes? Unfortunately the email didn’t include information about where to source (and how to pay for) your army of trained vineyard people in the three week window this method allows in our part of the world. I’ll be sticking to our start in winter, finish by the end of winter and burn the disease on the secateurs to death on the cooker’s hob method until I work out how.

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