Monday, July 3, 2006


(Originally posted on Sunday, July 2, 2006 by Tim)

Cat and I have an acre and a quarter of land around the house. Of this, approximately a quarter acre is adjacent and open to the road and the ?back? acre is fenced in for the dogs. We?ve planted a number of things in both parts of the yard since last Fall and we?re in the process of seeing what sorts of fruits and vegetables we can get here.

I?ll describe some of the things we have planted in a separate post. In addition to what we?ve done, there are three ?crops? that were extant in the yard when we arrived: Grapes, raspberries, and blackberries. We had a great crop of grapes the first summer we were here. I harvested a gallon or so of these and used them to make a very nice grape jam. Last year, we didn?t get any grapes. I?d speculate that this was due to a combination of a Japanese beetle infestation and my not pruning the grape vine during late Winter.

I have never raised grapes before and I wasn?t aware that you were supposed to prune grape vines. Apparently, you get your greatest quantity of grapes from new growth. As such, you are supposed to cut all growth back to the first or second bud from the main vine. This involves some pretty extreme pruning. I was worried that I had gone too far when I finished hacking back the vines this last Winter. This level of pruning appears to have been just fine as we have a vigorous and healthy grape vine this year with copious bunches of fruit.

The benefit of heavy pruning was supposedly discovered by a monk shortly before the fall of the Roman Empire. The monk was Saint Martin, who also is the French Saint of winemaking. As legend has it, he would ride a donkey to the vineyards in order to examine the crops. On arrival at the vineyards, Saint Martin would tether the donkey to a post and go about his investigation of the grapes. Now Saint Martin may be a patron Saint, but he was no Boy Scout. As such, he couldn?t tie knots very well. One day the donkey escaped its tether. When Saint Martin returned from his inspection, he was horrified to find that the donkey had been eating the vines and had chewed some back to the trunk.* He considered having the donkey shot, but being the 350?s it was not politically correct and gunpowder hadn?t been invented yet. To his surprise, the chewed grape vines grew back vigorously and produced the biggest crops the next year. Since then, heavy pruning has been an essential component in the process of winemaking.

The easier to maintain crops in our yard are the blackberries and the raspberries. In contrast to the grapes which require pruning, weeding, and spraying for insects, I have to hit the blackberries and raspberries with the lawnmower to keep them from taking over the yard. In our first two summers here, we largely missed the blackberry crop. The fruit begins to become harvestable in mid June and it?s not really worth bothering with by July. This year, we?ve managed to catch the crop and have harvested 5 quarts of blackberries so far.

We?ve been picking once a week. At that rate, we?ve missed a lot of the fruit on the vines. I think we will want to pick twice a week in the future. I would estimate that our yard produces 2 to 2.5 gallons of blackberries a year. Based on how things were looking a few weeks ago, I decided that I should get 1.5 gallons of blackberries out of the yard this year. I'm not sure what we'll use all those berries for, but it's a goal and I'm going to hit it!

Cat used the first half gallon of blackberries to make a very nice jam. I expect the second half gallon will be used for pancakes over the year. As for the last half gallon of blackberries, who knows? Maybe we will use them in smoothies.

* Previous to the 20th century, the rampages of poorly tethered donkeys was responsible for more than a 10% annual decrease in world wine production. Repeated attempts to breed donkeys that abhorred the taste of grape vines failed. Thankfully, this dilemma was largely solved in 1907 with the invention of the Boy Scouts in Great Britain.

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