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Otters, owls, moles and pruning

You can tell it’s been a much curtailed shooting season this year simply by the number of pheasant hanging around in the vineyards.  It’s not unusual for Skeena to put up a good 30+ as she bounds out of the back door of the farm for the first walk of the day: normally they’d all be around their feed-pens in the estate across the road.

I love seeing the wildlife around here and we have a lot.  Birds of all types – from kites and buzzard to robin and wren: I’m not the biggest fan of the tawny owls we have when they start hooting between 2am and 4am but there you go.  Bats, snake, frog and toad (I found a toad in my office the other day and discovered a new use for my trout landing net).  Otter (evidenced by 14 dead carp on an island in one of the ponds) and the usual array of fox, rabbit, badger (did you know they eat rabbit?) and deer (fully deer fencing a vineyard aint cheap).  Oh – and moles grrrrrr.  The moles all seem to congregate in the same area and undermine the ground pretty well so I do need to deal with them.  I was chatting with a fascinating neighbour the other day about how to eradicate them – mothballs was her solution though not sure you can still buy them.

We manage our farm and the vineyards as best we can to keep the wildlife as undisturbed as possible (even making sure the deer fencing allowed the fallow to access their ancient routes).  Sustainability is going to be critical for all of us in the future and we are trying to embrace it quickly, having joined SWGB (Sustainable Wines of Great Britain) at any early stage.  Collating the information to get accredited is a huge exercise measuring everything from the obvious items such as how much red diesel, propane and electricity is used to less obvious things such as how much metal is in a piece of machinery, what weight of metal is used in the vine trellising, how much concrete is in the vineyard barn slab and worm counts (in the soil that is…).  We took the decision to install an air sourced heat pump for the barn we are just converting and it is excellent – can’t recommend it highly enough.

Pruning started on 1st February and took 8 days: two days in the new vineyard (not a lot to prune as they were planted last year), five in the main vineyard and one day in the Church vineyard: that’s 23,000+ vines pruned in the coldest weather we’ve had this year.  Most of the established vines have been pruned on a double guyot basis – meaning we cut off all last year’s growth except for three canes, two of which will be for this year’s growth and grapes and one for next year.  You can philosophise for ages over which one to cut but the ideal is leaving three, no thicker than a pencil, that are growing close to the crown (easier for the sap to get to them), are coming from under the fruiting wire (so they don’t break when you tie them on to the fruiting wire) and have buds every 4 inches: not so many vines play ball, however!  Some of the weaker vines we will prune on a single guyot system this year and all of them will have sacrificial canes (meaning they get cut off if we don’t need them after the bud-burst frosts).  The cuttings are laid down in every other row and will be mulched over time – the days of burning them are long gone (unless there is sign of trunk disease which fortunately there isn’t in our vineyards).  I’ll keep some of the prunings for BBQ as they burn at the perfect temperature – in fact, I was once told that Harrods sold bundles of prunings for BBQ at £10 a pop: if only!!  We’ve laid the prunings out in every other row as we plan to take a look at the soil compaction when the weather dries up a bit to see if we need to subsoil and get more health into it.  If we do, we’ll subsoil half the rows this year and half next, possibly replacing the grass we have with a slower growing grass to reduce the number of mowing passes we need (sustainability again: less fuel and less soil compaction) – and one vineyard (the Church vineyard) we will probably seed with a wild flower mix.

And yes, I am still having nightmares about frost but I may have the beginnings of a plan for that (like everything, not a cheap plan…).  Unfortunately, as All Angels is produced purely from grapes grown on our land, we can’t really take the “just have to accept it and suck it up” approach that another vineyard owner suggested to me quite so easily.

Daylight is lasting longer – as each day gets longer, it almost feels as though nature is heralding in more hope that we will soon be out of this Covid nightmare. 

Keep well, everyone.

Double guyot