So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
– F. Scott Fitzgerald. The Great Gatsby (1925)
Ah, working the tractor. What do we see when we’re up there? Sure, the mind wanders, and you might think it dull work, but its an opportunity to scrutinize each vine while traveling at 3 miles an hour. Here’s one lacking flowers, another that’s dead, still another covered with shoots, all looking fruitful, so positive and full of hope. You make a mental note and inexorably move on, at once going forward and looking back.
We spent Saturday at the Central Virginia Wine Festival in Glen Allen. a northern suburb of Richmond, then high-tailed it out of there to be able to get a fungicide spray in the vineyards on Sunday. It was the perfect day for it — not windy, mild, pleasant to be outdoors, though sitting on the terrace with a Mint Julep in hand while watching the dogs chase squirrels across the lawn and idly thumbing through a magazine would certainly have been preferable.
The vines are at a stage where all appears possible, that great things could happen, or a tragedy. All stages in the life of a vine seem critical: bud break and bloom especially. At bud break, the possibility of frost threatens catastrophe, with the potential loss of the entire crop. Another threat is the climbing cutworm, which if unchecked can be equally destructive. An ill-timed rainstorm during bloom causes its own kind of havoc, which may result in irregular berry set, though in the scheme of things, this isn’t too bad because the resulting loose clusters can avoid disease.
The worst of the winter is behind us (unless you are reading this from Colorado and Wyoming, which just had up to three feet of snow in some parts earlier this week), and It is too early to speculate about the hurricane season, so all there is to do is keep disease at bay and hope for temperate spring weather.
With the new vineyard, we want to get the vines off to a good start with at least three sprays that incorporate the foundation Biodynamic preparation known as B.D. 500, otherwise known as horn manure. Its application is believed promote microbial activity in the soil, which in turn allows the plants greater access to nutrients in the teeming life below ground. Practitioners recommend spraying the ground, but we see no reason not to have a foliar feeding of the vines, so we spray everything. We also add fermented horsetail tea, which is a powerful antifungal agent.
Horsetail (Equisetum arvense) is a plant source for silica, which is believed to harness solar forces, thereby discouraging mildew. It sounds crazy and the fermented tea smells very bad, but we swear by it. The plant is made up of silica, potassium and calcium. Shortly before bloom we will add to our standby fungicide spray mixture of sulfur (which helps protect against powdery mildew) and Manzate (a magnesium based fungicide, which combats downy mildew) B.D. 501, horn silica, which is powdered quartz, and is believed to improve photosynthesis.
This was our first pass through the new vineyard on a tractor. A first visit is always cause for anxiety, because you don’t quite know the “lay of the land.” In time you come to appreciate and anticipate every dip and furrow and can adjust accordingly, but in a new vineyard its all vigilance and caution. It didn’t help that our trusty New Holland vineyard tractor was in the shop, so we had to manage with a full size loaner that came equipped with a front-end loader, so navigating is extra tricky. We usually navigate every other row, but not in this monster, which lacked the turn radius of our tractor. Its a wonder we haven’t taken out any posts maneuvering this thing.
And with that, we are left wishing for even more time to accomplish everything we set out to do, and need to do. Going forward, looking back, re-assessing and planning.