We are really feeling like farmers now that we have started to convert an acre and a half that was full of brome grass and wild parsnip, sumac and prickly ash into our south-facing vineyard on the upper part of the hill side and a pollinator-friendly prairie in the lower area (too prone to pooling cold air in spring and fall for grapes.
This vineyard has been in the planning stage for a few years as we brainstormed with experts at the UW West Madison Agricultural Research Station, which has been field testing seedless grapes for about a decade, and Judith Reith-Roselle, who initiated that program. Judy advised us to RoundUp the whole area as the best method to keep the flourishing brome grass and invasives from crowding out our grapes.
We reached out to several neighboring farmers to see if they could do the herbiciding, plowing, etc. for us, but they never seem to have the time. With the weather becoming more erratic, farmers are kept on their toes, looking for the moment to progress their own crops and not surprisingly, those times always seem to coincide with the best time for our projects as well.
So this spring, we decided to take on the task ourselves. We got ourselves a little sub-compact tractor, a Kubota BX with a 5-foot belly mower, a box scraper and a tiller.
But before we could start to mow the field, we had to lop or chainsaw out all the shrubs and yank out the remnant roots of a clump of spruces that we removed last year ). See my post A Seedless Grape Vineyard Begins with Tree Clearing
That was just the beginning.
A soil test showed our soil to be pretty great for grapes, except that it has too much phosphorus. That’s not usually a problem, but Judy felt it would be best for grapes to mow and remove all the vegetation to bring the phosphorus level down.
Raking an acre and a half was no small undertaking. I know that is the way that all fields were harvested before the industrial age. I’m here to tell you that that’s a lot of people over time doing a LOT of raking. We were happy to join the legions who brought in their crops by hand.
I’m not going to say that it was all fun. We labored mightily on this project, grabbing our rakes, loppers and tarp and setting out for an hour or two every morning and evening for a couple of weeks. I actually came to feel a certain amount of dread as I thought about the hours that were not being spent on other spring projects.
But now that we finished two days ago, I’m feeling pretty good about it.
I feel like I know that field now – really know it – every undulation. Where the grass is thick, and where it’s sparse. Where the brambles and prickly ash and sumac were making serious inroads. Where the spruce had spread their roots. Where the ants had made hills. Thankfully, two things we did not see were ground bird nests, or field stones. (Here in the Driftless Area, where glaciers have not ground down the earth for about 500,000 years, we don’t have all the field stones that glaciers sprinkle in their wake.)
As we raked, we tuned into a different set of bird song coming from the woods around our new ag field than those that inhabit the woods near the house. A machinegun rhythm of big pileated woodpecker and the sweet and varied tunes of a brown thrasher were our soundtrack. We watched the sun rise over the house in the distance and in the evening, set behind the farm across the road. The clouds gathered and rolled past in the wide-open sky above us. And on one break in the shade along the edge of the woods, we found a hat-full of morel mushrooms, which Doug savored for several days.
By season’s end, we hope to have the prairie planted and the vineyard prepped, ready for planting grape vines next spring!
Categories: TALES FROM OUR 44 ACRES