This morning we stripped trunks.
Sounds risqué, but it’s a chore like everything else. Stripping trunks involves snipping
unwanted growth off the vines’ trunks. Sometimes the growth breaks off with a swipe of the hand. More often we snip with pruning sheers. Sometimes the growth is easy to see, other times it’s camouflaged in the grass or hiding in the twisted trunks that stick in the air like legs from the graft site.
Stripping trunks is sort of the opposite of hedging, a job I detest (see August 8, 2016 blog post.) Rather than cramping my neck to look high as
my tired arms lob off mighty shoots that spill over the top catch wire, in stripping trunks I’m focused down, below the fruiting zone. My arms barely twinge from the work. We get started when the sun is gentlest, right after coffee and buttery English muffins. With the soft morning breeze rolling off the hill, the job is almost pleasant. We each take our own row and chatter as we move down them.
My youngest is in a foul mood. For some reason she doesn’t think stripping vines is fun. John says, “Get over it.” She stomps to the next vine.
We once had an acquaintance give us a hard time about child labor. John just smirked. “I pay them,” he said. Sure, we bring in outside help—we’d be in deep trouble without it. But we’re essentially a family business, and I mean family. The old-fashioned work ethic is alive and kicking at Ox-Eye. Our motto, borrowed from Virgil, is carved in stone on our entry gate: Labor Omnia Vincit (Work Conquers All.)
When our kids are young they do the simplest farm jobs. Even so, they grumble from time to time (so do I), but each one looks back on our labors fondly. My older daughters say their happiest memories involve working in the vineyard with the family.
I guess you could interpret that two ways, come to think of it.
The reasons we strip trunks are similar to the reasons we hedge: to rid the plant of needless growth so the vines’ energy goes to ripening fruit; to open the lower canopy for air flow, which helps prevent disease, and so sunlight can reach the grapes; to keep the trunks tidy so winter pruning will be easier; and (this is a biggie) we to protect the vine from weed killer.
This year we feel on top of things! The vineyard is shoot positioned, hedged, and leaf pulled, almost ready for netting, and the crop is large and healthy. June rains brought an onset of downy mildew, but John beat it back with phosphorous acid, an organic fungicide. Down at the house our vegetable garden, usually a weedy mess, looks pretty darned good. True, the basil and tomatoes are anemic, but that’s because I forgot to water last week. Thanks to raised beds and a new tiller, our garden could compete with those in Colonial Williamsburg. And our pumpkin patch, which is where we compost and plow tons of grape skins and seeds, is promising fun in the fall.
In case you’re wondering, John fact checks all my posts. He doesn’t really mind that he sometimes comes off looking like an overlord. He just doesn’t want to look like a wimp. Ever.