Thursday, 13 May 2010

Couch Grass - an Organic Nightmare

The dreaded couch grass has appeared on the perimeter of the vineyard. Couch grass is a noxious weed whose spiked flowers somewhat resemble an ear of wheat in structure. It is a perennial grass and the rhizome spreads rapidly in all directions in light soil, sending up leafy stems from the nodes.

Couch can be a nightmare for organic growers as we can't use herbicides and the only real way of removing it is a lot of hard work on your hands and knees pulling out the roots.

Fortunately it's not too bad at the moment and Alex has been able to pull out most of it. Fingers crossed it won't spread into the vineyard.

Frost attacks the Vineyard

For the second night running the vineyard has suffered a fairly severe frost causing damage to buds and leaves on the vines. Were not sure how much damage has been done but it will become apparent during the next few days as leaves will appear burnt and buds will shrivel and fall off where the frost has attacked them.

New shoots will appear in a few weeks time but they won't be as vigerous or fruitful as the first ones. This doesn't matter too much this year but next year (our first cropping year) it could significantly reduce yield and leave less time for the fruit to ripen.

Severe frost this late in the year is unusual in Surrey but we will have to make sure that from next year onwards we are well prepared to minimise any damage. This may involve using bougies (french for candle - a sort of oil lamp) which are placed in the rows every 12 metres. By my calculation we would need over 3000! Alternatively there are machines called frostbusters but they are expensive. Spraying the vines with water in the early hours so that a protective layer of ice forms around the buds can also be effective but it requires an enormous volume of water and is therefore not very environmentally friendly.

So that we know how low the temperature is getting we will be installing a simple weather centre with a mobile phone connection which will send a warning alarm to me and Alex when the temperature is getting too low. This will inevitably mean a few early mornings in years to come as we will have to be up at about 3.00am to light the bougies or spray the fines!

Experiments are taking place with electrical and microwave heaters which we will investigate further.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

No time to vote - 12,600 more Vines Planted!

Oblivious to the election results, we were up at 5am yesterday morning to complete the planting of the vineyard. Thanks to Volker Scheu and his satellite guided planting machine, we managed to finish the planting of another 12,600 vines on about 7.5 acres in little more than 24 hours.

The new vines are mainly the traditional champagne varieties including:

   Varietal                     Rootstock     No.
   Pinot Meunier 865      41B             1,250
   Pinot Meunier 925      41B             1,250
   Pinot Noir 115            Fercal         1,100
   Pinot Noir 459            Fercal         1,100
   Pinot Noir 870            Fercal         1,100
   Pinot Noir 872            41B            1,100
   Chardonnay 95           Fercal         1,450
   Chardonnay 124         41B            1,450
   Chardonnay 277         41B            1,450
   Syval Blanc                SO4           1,175

We've also planted 175 Pinot Gris as a bit of an experiment.

Before planting, the roots of the vines were soaked in compost tea and then dipped in a solution of mycorrhizal fungi which breaks down organic matter releasing nutrients (particularly phosphates) and can also significantly increases root capacity.

The planting nearly didn't happen as Volker's machine got a puncture on the way to the vineyard. However, thanks to Philip and Gary, we were able to replace the wheel with one from Gary's tractor which allowed us to complete the planting while a new tyre was being sourced and fitted.
Thanks to all the team (including Volker and his planters, Alex, Stephen, JB, Philip and Gary) for a huge amount of effort and an excellent result.

Volker and the team with Philip (left) and Stephen and Alex (right)
In total we now have some 21,000 vines planted on nearly 13 acres. During the next couple of weeks we will be spreading 90 tonnes of organic compost on the vines, together with a huge amounts of woodchip mulch which will hopefully keep the weeds at bay!