Most of the time I’ve spent in the garden has been in pruning the vines. I have to do it ‘Mother-Style’ (that’s not some weird Gangnam-Style thing) but the term I use for a really good hard prune. My mother prunes things brutally hard. I was always a bit of a namby-pamby pruner, but grapes always appreciate a real hard prune. Even last year when I had no fruit crops to speak of, I still had bounteous grapes. Even my neighbours were amazed. Their grape harvests were meagre.
A friend of mine, an Australian lady who has a vineyard close to me and uses both French and Australian viticulture traditions, reckons the ‘feet’ of my vines are a good 40 years old. I believe her. I have in my head the fact that the last lady moved in with her husband when her youngest daughter was married and lived here for 40 years without doing anything after the first year. All the decorations and furnishings seem to have come from that first period of their life in the house. My Australian friend would have torn all the pieds out and put in new ones. If I were to tear them out, I would maybe put three or four table grape vines in, but as I have really no use for an assortment of 150 random vines (I don’t drink wine much and I definitely am not a pineau drinker) there does not seem to be much point replanting them. As they are, I shall just keep growing them and looking after them. They are still very productive and although they’re a real assortment, I use the grape juice in lots of things, including jellies, sorbets and in with chutneys.
So far, I have pruned 42. They are already well established in a kind of T shape. I leave four shoots, two on each side. One is two buds long. The other is four buds long. French-style vines are about knee high. My Australian friend has hers at hip height. I’ve noticed some of the Pernod-Ricard vines are like this too.
Now I’ve picked out which ones will grow, I go back over them and prune the tiny bits back as hard as I can.
I’m planning on replacing the stakes and frames as well before spring. They’re very rotted. Then I’m going to put layers of newspaper down between the rows and put stones on them. The vines are impossible to weed around and mow around. More nutrients go to the weeds than go to the grapes, I reckon.
This is, as you can imagine, quite a lot of effort for a thing I don’t care much about.
I could rip them all out and put concrete down.
Of course, I will do no such thing. I like the fact that they are part of my garden eco-system. I still have plenty of space for all the other stuff I want to do. Space is one thing I’m not short of.
The vines did not have an easy year last year. First we had the hot and cold spring, then rain. Whilst it rained, I could not mow or keep the weeds back. The rain kept on falling; the weeds kept on growing. The vines ended up under water in May.
I’m not interested in becoming a viticulturalist or a wine geek, so they’re just a little hobby for me. I am not interested in all the load/yield/pruning science. It’s too technical and I’m just not that kind of a gardener.
I’ve got five things remaining in the vegetable plot: leeks, savoy cabbage, white cabbage, broccoli and cardoons.
Cardoons are these great, enormous dinosaur-thistle things:
You can eat the stems, once pared and boiled, like celery. They’re very popular in North African cooking. I plan on tasting some like that. As it stands, I have no idea what will happen to them. The seed catalogue I got them from shows a picture of them with the thistle-like globe artichoke-like head, but wikipedia says that the cynara cardunculus variety is used more for braising stems like celery. If they get heads on, all well and good. If they don’t, I shall pare and braise them. Not only that, they are quite beautiful and I am perfectly happy to have them as a simple architectural flower.
You can also see a few stalks of corn I left for the birds. I also left them some sunflowers and teasels.
Cardoons are also used in a popular Spanish dish, cocido madrileño. Most of the recipes I found for it usually say cabbage instead of cardoon. It just shows that these godzilla perennial vegetables aren’t so easy to get hold of, and that’s what I want for my garden. Rare things, unusual things, a little of lots of things. I also want to have a few more perennial vegetables, like artichokes and asparagus. I’m going to put in some rhubarb this year. I really miss a rhubarb crumble from time to time! Perennial = less faffing.
Not only that, but they have been ridiculously easy to grow. I planted them. They germinated. I put them in the garden. They grew. They’ve needed virtually no water (though that was true of most of my garden last year) and they’re growing super-healthy. They attract bees, apparently, too. Yay. There aren’t many cardoon recipes, but here are a couple. One is a Tunisian lamb casserole and this one for honeyed cardoons with pine nuts and thyme, which sounds rather Greek if you ask me.
I’m making the most of this ‘inter-cold’ weather, which is not particularly cold (vest, thin jumper and gardening ‘seed-attracter’ wool jumper, complete with seed pods… hat and scarf) to dig over the remaining plots. This one is being prepared for my peas and broad beans The edges need some work yet to take it back to 2.5 x 5 metres.
The broad beans will go in next week unless there is a frost. I’m a little late this year, but I’m sure they won’t mind. There is a lot of speedwell in the ground, since this has only been cultivated for two years as a vegetable plot. Each year gets a little easier. This year, I think I’m going to put some logs around the patches because they are both moveable and easy to see where the edges should be!