A personal perpsective of life in our Virginia vineyard... Christine Wells Vrooman



Oh, The Merry Month of May

May is probably the busiest month of the year in a vineyard, especially when we receive an over-abundance of rain.  The growth is uncontrollable and we find ourselves moving about in a jungle of vines gone wild!  We are in the thick of it now, and perhaps in the next couple of weeks we might feel like there is some semblance of order in there.  But for now, it's bedlam in the vines.
May 3

May 31

Our fruit set in the Chardonnay was not the best, as we had a long stretch of drizzly, foggy weather while the fruit was in bloom, just like in 2010.  Fruit set in the Pinot was nearly two weeks later and the sunshine was more abundant during that stretch, giving us a beautiful fruit set. 

Loose clustered Chardonnay

Tight clustered Pinot Noir
We have gone from tiny, tight flower buds to large, berry clusters in just three weeks.  Usually this happens in June, so we continue to run about three weeks ahead of normal.  I have only sprayed four times, following weather patterns closely, and am happy with the health of the vines.  Our vineyard consultant, Lucie Morton, came down yesterday and was extremely pleased with how everything looked, so I would guess we got an A for our vineyard report card!

I have taken on a new pursuit in the vineyard, a "Peaceable Kingdom" of animals to control a variety of pests.  Here is an article I wrote for the quarterly VA Vineyard Association Newlsetter where I describe this endeavor of creating a team of protectors and caretakers of the vineyard... dogs, guinea fowl, chickens, cats, owls, bluebirds, sheep.  Quite interesting this experiment will be!  You can "like" us on Facebook for all the updates as they happen.  Should prove to be quite interesting to say the least!  Much more to come on this later.

 On the honeybee front, our single hive has multiplied to three, with an additional two swarms (at least) that got away to start new colonies somewhere in the wild.  I am grateful they appear healthy, given the current issue of Colony Collapse Disorder. My "bee mentor", Bill, came by and we intentionally divided the single hive into two.  In doing so, we ran the risk of losing all, but they did what we had hoped; the second colony created a new queen and started a new colony of their own.  And then a few days later, a swarm came out of one of the hives.  We didn't want to lose it. Our bees are very docile.  I called Bill.  He couldn't come to the rescue.  I had to capture it myself, with Arnold's help. I had never done this before, nor seen it done!  Help!  We only had one suit, which I donned.  Nathan came down from working on the winery to assist as well.   It turned into a five hour ordeal.  The bees swarmed and settled high up in a tree near the hives.  We had to wait for a friend to deliver a ladder tall enough  to reach the limb.  We quickly put together a new hive, all the while hoping the swarm would not take off.  We were finally all set.  Arnold, then Nathan, climbed the ladder and sawed off the high limb, only to have the limb get caught in a nearby tree.  The bees swarmed into that tree.  We then sawed off that limb and the limb hung in the air just out of reach.  I desperately needed another set of hands to snip off that limb while I grabbed it to shake the bees (and hopefully the queen within the cluster) into the new hive. So Arnold went to the cabin and returned about ten mintues later wearing the outfit you see in the image below.

Arnold's resourcefulness shines with this impromptu beekeeper's suit!
As odd as the outfit looks, it worked great!  He was able to maneuver in it, use his hands to snip off the limb while I held it and then quickly shook it over the empty hive box.  Touching the limb covered with bees was one of the oddest sensations.  I was struck by how soft the bees were covering the limb.  I have never experienced anything like it.  I shook and shook and quickly set the frames back in the hive and hoped the queen was somewhere within the hundreds of bees now inside the hive.  After a few hours, we could tell she was in there because of the quick adaptaion to this new home by all the bees flying in and out of the hive.  Success!  And what an experience!

Lambs, Lambs!  Our ram, coined Stud Mutton, surely has lived up to his reputation. Nine of the ten ewes pregnant gave birth to twins, so we now have nineteen lambs, many with colorful patches of brown and black.  More pix to follow.  I am planning on working with these lambs to train them so they can stay in the vineyard nearly year round.  This should be interesting!

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