Baby tomatoes

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Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Vineyard Workshop

Apparently someone around here (namely, ME) forgot that she likes to sleep in on Saturdays! I signed up for a grapevine pruning workshop early on a Saturday morning- in Iowa- in early April! I must be NUTS! We had SNOW two days ago, but it turned out to be a very wise decision and a very wonderful learning experience.

All bundled up against the breeze, learning to prune a 2 year old vine.
As a lifelong gardener I am always looking for something new to add to my garden. I have this little nook in the yard that has kind of crummy, rocky soil. Now, my education in oenology tells me that grapevines thrive in crummy soil, crummy conditions and don't require as much water as many garden plants do. They send very long roots deep into the ground and find a water source. They are very very resilient, as long as you are growing a variety suited to your zone. Anyway.....I decided that a grapevine would look really awesome in this particular spot.

Rows of beautiful Concord grapevines
And then along comes this workshop. Hosted by Dean Rogers of the John 15 Vineyard near Scranton, Iowa, and I had to sign up! A little about John 15- it's not your typical Iowa vineyard. There is no winery here. Instead Nancy and Dean raise grapes and use them for jellies, baked goods, candies and more. You can also purchase grapes by the pound for your own creations. They have a marvelous lodge on the property with guest rooms for overnight stays, meeting space, a huge kitchen (and I wish I had some canning girlfriends nearby- we could rent it and can up a storm overnight!), a treehouse for camping (yes, a TREEHOUSE), playground and they are building a golf course on the property as well. It's located in a secluded part of Greene County surrounded by trees and wildlife, and is the perfect place for a meeting or event. You will never meet nicer folks than Nancy and Dean. They are so welcoming and helpful and love to visit.

Sarah trims up a 2 year old Concord vine
So, my friend Sarah, her brother Brian and myself arrive bright and early on this brisk and breezy spring morning, pruning shears and sweatshirts, ready to get out there and learn! Sarah has a very old and seriously overgrown grapevine in her yard, so she wants to learn how to get it back into shape. Brian is a young man seriously interested in horticulture and gardening and has started his 2014 garden from seed already, and me, well, you know- I have the perfect spot for a  grapevine!

The Vine That Started it All
Dean leads us out into the property and introduces us to the "vine that started it all"- the original concord grapevine that was there when they purchased their home. This, he tells us, is what a pruned vine should look like- to me it looks like someone cut the life out of it! But a tiny snip reveals living green wood inside the brown bark and little buds waiting for the warmth of the sun to pop them open. 

It looks forlorn but it's healthy green wood waiting to burst
open new buds, leaves and bunches of Concord grapes
We move into the vineyard itself and Dean explains the different varieties they grow. Since he has just begun the pruning process many of the vines are still heavily overgrown and look like a tangled mess. I'm beginning to wonder if I've bit off more than I can chew! But he starts to work on a vine and in a matter of minutes it's trimmed and under control. I'm amazed, but still not sure I want to go hacking up someone else's vines! 

A couple of the varieties grown at John 15 Vineyard

Dean is not worried, and one by one he walks us through pruning first an older vine, then a young vine and each got a chance at pruning a couple vines. It really wasn't that scary at all! We learned to identify different diseases, live wood from dead wood, buds, old growth, and training vines to grow in the direction we want. 

Someone desperately needs a trim!
The Rogers' grow several different types of grapes in the vineyard and we learned a little about each one. You think a vine is a vine is a vine but Dean taught us otherwise- every variety is different and has different growing habits. We learned about weather affecting the vines, wildlife thinking it's a salad bar, and he shared many stories of successes and failures. He pointed out one vine- a wild grape- that he transplanted just for fun and quickly learned that was not the best idea.

Brian got right in there, identifying old and new  wood,
diseased parts and new buds
As we wrapped up our workshop we got to visit with Nancy and Dean about vines and gardens and different plants. Sharing stories about gooseberries, blueberries, even huckleberries-what an enjoyable morning. Nancy gave us all a sample of jelly made with Niagara grapes- it looks nothing like grape jelly! Niagara are sweet white grapes often used in winemaking but they make amazing jelly! Your eyes are telling you "apple jelly" and your mouth is telling you "holy heck that is GRAPE jelly."

I trimmed this little Concord vine all by myself!
After leaving the vineyard we stopped to take Brian home and he showed us all his garden plants he is working on, and the area he plans to till and raise vegetables in. I really admire that in a young man. He has a serious interest in horticulture and that makes me so happy !! So in spite of grumbling when the alarm went off, it was a wonderful Saturday morning. One of the things we learned is how to make starts from cuttings and Sarah is going to attack her monstrous vine and pass along a few cuttings, so I will have plenty of fun this summer!

If you are ever in this part of Iowa, plan to stop by John 15 Vineyard. Check out their website and Facebook page and even if you stop in for the jelly, it's worth the drive! You can find the link to their website on the right side of this blog, so check it out!

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