A Small Vineyard

Around nine years ago, I got an inkling to grow grapes.  I do not know exactly what piqued my interested in the subject of growing grapes.  I was not, and still am not much a oenophile.   I will have a glass here and there, and will always be keen for a Malbec or Foch if offered.

We were living in the Duluth, MN, area at the time, and we had limited planting space in our modest quarter-acre yard.   A space maybe four feet wide by thirty feet long; it certainly would not be able to house enough vines to produce enough grapes to make a carboy-worth of wine, it would at least be an experiment.

In late winter, I placed an orderfor a half-dozen Frontenac vines from a place in Iowa.  Frontenac seemed like an interesting varietal.  It had its origins in Minnesota and seemed to have hardiness

that might work in the Duluth area (USDA Zone 3b).  And that was about all I put into which varietal to get.  Nothing

really about the potential type of wine or even consumable juice would be produced.   I really did not care whether it

was white or red, foxy tasty, or any of a host of other characteristics one might want.

The vines arrived, and with the help of a friend, we got them planted.  And we waited.  Over the time we remained in the Duluth area (until May 2012, when we moved), the vines ebbed and flowed with the seasons, dying back to the ground after a particularly harsh winter.  The vines did produce a few clusters of grapes, but nothing more.

…and we moved.

Here in St. Paul, MN, up until last year, we had only planted a few juice/jelly grapes – mostly the varietal Beta With none of these vines producing grapes, yet.  Last year, however, the inkling to plant a small vineyard came back.

In late spring of last year, we cleared a stand of buckthorn and mulberry trees on the north side of our property – behind our house – it’s roughly an area of 1,200 square feet.  The area has a decent amount of sun exposure in the summer from mid-morning to mid-afternoon.  We tilled the soil – mostly to remove the grass, and loosen things up.  Tilling was also useful to loosen the many buckthorn stumps.

In late winter of the previous year, prior to clearing the stand of buckthorns and mulberries, we decided we would grow the varietal Maréchal Foch.  I had recently tried a bottle from a local vineyard, and, as with Ogdan Nash’s poem, Termiteand how the termite tasted it, and found it good [in relation to wood], I tasted the Foch from St. Croix Vineyards, and found it good.

In January of last year, with a bit searching, I located a nursery and vineyard that sells Foch – Aberfoyle Vineyard & Nursery, which happens to be in Minnesota.  I placed an order for 25 potted Foch vines.  More waiting – mostly because it was winter.

With the trees removed, the ground turned over, and most of the stumps gone, we put a relatively simple fence around the space; we have hounds, and hounds are curious critters, and I could see them wandering off with neat bunches of grapes in your mouth.

The potted vines arrived in April of last year, and with the help of my wife and her sister, we got all 25 vines planted, and we waited.

Winter passed, and all the vines survived.  Once the vines had a bit of growth, we put wood stakes in place and loosely tied each vine up.  As an aside, if we were doing this on a larger scale, I would certainly be using grow tubes to train the growth.  On the topic of larger grow operations, the spacing we chose for the grapes would be generally be considered too close.  It would be too narrow for any machinery to be driven down, but with a row length of around 35 feet, I do not intend to drive anything down the rows.  We will have to keep an eye out for issues with air circulation, too, with the rows being somewhat narrow.

With the vines staked, and with a considered amount of growth having occurred since we staked the grapes, it was time to get the posts and wire trellis installed.  Using a two-stroke, single person post hole auger, I set to work on getting postholes made.

We used 12 gauge, stainless steel orchard wire, as well as using one-way wire anchor vises – which, I have to say, are probably the damn coolest device I’ve come across in a while.   We decided upon using a top cordon trellis system, so, there is just one wire, 66″ above the ground.  Generally, two vines from each trunk is brought up (trained) to the top wire, and then it simply grows down the wire.

Time will tell if we are able to produce enough grapes to make a bit of wine.

Winter

Winter

With snow on the ground and the hives tucked in until late December when we will need to check food supplies and general wellbeing, it’s about time to get around to finishing the extraction of honey (e.g. removal of honey from comb).  We pulled about seventeen full and partially full honey boxes from the ten hives we had this season.  We have extracted about two-thirds of the honey from Racine, MN and have yet to get to the St. Paul honey. As far as hives, we are over-wintering seven of the ten hives we ran this season; three having failed in late fall – two in failures in Racine, and one in St. Paul.  There will likely be at least couple more failures to bring the mortality rate to the usual 50%.

Winter is usually harsh on hives in Minnesota (and elsewhere in the upper midwest).  And, over the last couple of days, it snowed a bit in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area as well as elsewhere in the state of Minnesota.  Here in Hibbing, we awoke to -10 F Thanksgiving morning.  Astronomical winter will not be here for another month or so, but, with a few inches of crusty white snow on the ground and temperatures now well below freezing (and zero here on the Iron Range), for many practical purposes, winter has arrived.

racine-half-acreIn the mean time, we plan.  We have been tossing around the idea of having four or so hives north of Hibbing and Chisholm, MN, on family-owned forested property.  Melissa also has family near Finlayson, MN who have the startings of a CSA-type farm.  They are interested in including honey with the vegetable and poultry shares that they will have available next year.  And, back in Racine, the farmer is letting us play with a half-acre for a large garden.  We plan to plant a large amount of buckwheat, monarda, and other bee-friendly-plants in addition to the regular staples of a vegetable garden.  Needless to say, we will be busy next season.

When life gives you lemons…

Well, the last month hasn’t been the best month of my life as far as my health is concerned.  After multiple doctor visits, an ER visit and numerous tests I still don’t have any real answers.  I’m hoping that with the next two tests I will finally have some answers and will be able to focus on getting well.

One thing I’ve realized during this past month is that even though it is easy to say “why me” it is best to say “that’s ok, I’ll be fine”…or as Alex likes to say “meh”.  I say “meh” to illness and I’m not going to let it win or get me down!  I think that Henry is a perfect example of not giving up.  I am truly amazed as I watch him as he goes about normal doggie things on a daily basis.  With his peg like leg he can’t always do everything he would like (sometimes this is a good thing) but he always tries and never gives up.  He has more heart than any other dog I’ve known and I think us humans could learn from him.  So from now on I’m going to live like Henry…I just hope I don’t get as many wrinkles and have much saggy skin as him!!!!

Henry and Eve

On a positive note, Eve is finally eating!  Who would have thought that you would have a problem getting a basset to eat?! I guess she has now gained an appetite and was even caught trying to steal some food the other morning.  Hopefully this will help her grow and fill out a little more before our next show!!!

Henry and I are currently in obedience classes and it is going well so far.  With his leg it is a little bit harder for us to do all the commands as they should be done but he at least does them.  I’m just glad that he seems to be liking it and is following commands pretty well.

Alex is currently working on planning out our gardens for the spring.  We have big plans to turn a lot of our front yard into veggie gardens so he has been busy drawing up plans and ordering some seeds.  As soon as the frost leaves the ground we will put in fencing to enclose the front yard.

Balm labels

Another thing that we have been working on is adding to the list of things we make with beeswax.  Last year we started by making soap, which ended up turning out very nicely.  This year Alex decided we should try some balms and salves.  Once again, I think that they have turned out well.  So far my favorites are the Lavender and the Tea Tree balms.

Until next time…

Long Time No Blog!

Well, it has been awhile since I last posted a blog entry.  Life just seemed to get busy and I didn’t have time to keep writing.

Here are some fun things that have happened since my last post:

  • Henry has grown up – now weighs 51lbs!
  • Eve turns 5 months old today!
  • Chickens have started laying eggs!
  • Eve and I went to our first show!
  • Put in a new garden (thanks to the crazy nice November weather)!
Sarge and Henry sun bathing!
Eve playing referee!
Our first eggs!!!

That is about all for now.  Until next time!

Sweet Mama Squash Chocolate Chip Muffins

Sweet Mama Squash

Well, being Alex’s birthday I decided to bake him some muffins.  Seeing that we picked a sweet mama squash from our garden this morning, I figured I would try making squash chocolate chip muffins.

Here is the recipe that I semi made up upon not finding an exact recipe online.

Sweet Mama Squash Chocolate Chip Muffins

3 C flour (I used whole wheat white flour)

1 3/4 C cane sugar

1 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp baking powder

1 tsp pumpkin spice

2 eggs

1 C oil

1 Tbsp vanilla

2 C shredded sweet mama squash

half a bag of chocolate chips (can’t have too much chocolate, right?!)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Mix all of the dry ingredients together in a bowl.  Then mix the eggs, oil and vanilla together in a large mixing bowl.  To the egg mixture add the squash.  Then dump in the flour mixture and chocolate chips and stir.  Be careful as you don’t want to over stir!!!  Bake for 20 minutes.

They are now out of the oven but we haven’t sampled them yet.  I will let you know how they turned out after we enjoy some later this evening!

And the verdict is…Alex ate three muffins and I ate two = very delicious!!!!!

Dude, are you making beer?!

That is what everyone asks when they either see or hear about us growing hops here at the house!

Harvested Hops

No, we are not making beer…

Yes, we like the vines…

Yes, I use it a few of my soap recipes…

Yes, we will try to sell it!

We have picked about a sixth of the hops that we have this year so far, about 7 gallons worth.  I have a feeling there will be more picking of the hops this weekend…now if only the dogs would grow posable thumbs and do it for us!

Time out of mind…

Kathleen and Bunch of Onions; circa 1982

Alex said, “Did you used to plant Blue Hubbard squash? I seem to remember some knobbly, large squashes in the garden when i was young.”
Really? Sometimes I fear I can barely remember my name ..and what day it is passes me by easily.
We chat abit more about gardens and ordering seeds and soil and he says, “Why don’t you go out in the garage and look at the journal you used to keep. I think it’s still there.”
He’s right. It is still there and the first entry is marked, May 29, 1982. A lifetime ago.
I have kept meticulous records. Amazingly precise. Amazing considering that I had two very small children and a house in the process of being dismantled and
reconstructed. But I had been brought up to know the pleasure and need of eating and growing your own produce.I knew the smell and taste of carrots fresh out of the ground, washed under the hose and eaten leisurely was superior to any found in a grocery store. And the same could be said for just about any other fruit or vegetable. My mother had turned over our backyard to a huge garden that was a riot of any vegetable she could squeeze in.
I brought my diary in to the house, poured a cup of tea and sat down at the kitchen table to read it. I had titled it “Garden Plots” hoping i’m sure that someday someone would see it and mistake my recordings for the musings of a true artist, a true writer.
May 29, 1982. Meg was almost 4 and Alex was about 1 1/2. In fact, Alex was little enough that i recall perching him in the rigid frame baby backpack and digging my garden with him peering over my shoulder. Yes, I did. I dug the whole garden from scratch-cleared the grass out, and “double “dug it- which was the Mother Earth approved technique, also known as French Intensive gardening. And then I planted it. And planted it. And drew it all out in my journal.And notated and annotated every single seed type or plant that went in the ground. I reported on the weather conditions, the soil conditions, and , of course, how it all turned out in the fall.
And i did plant Blue Hubbard squash and they weighed between 10 and 14 pounds each! But the Sweet Mamas out shone them all.. they were firm and sweet and grew in only 50 days which was a wonderful thing asour growing season being so short.
I have done the math also on how long ago that was. Long enough ago to almost have forgotten. Had I not received a phone call from Alex propelling me back, back to a slim young mother with a bandana on her hair and a baby on her back. And another standing by asking, What’s this one, momma?” And me saying, “your grandmother used to plant raspberry bushes just like this when I was little. .Wait till the berries come and you taste them.” And the berries did come.
And those children did grow up. And it was 30 years ago.
Already.