Sunday, 29 January 2017

overdue pruning

Yesterday morning and this morning I pruned the grape vine.  Vines are notorious for bleeding if cut once the sap is rising, and received wisdom says that they should be tackled before the new year.  I fully intended to prune ours then, except that I was ill and nothing got done in the garden, not even urgent pruning.  Since then I have been seized with guilt each time I read another gardening article telling me to prune the vine before the end of December, if not in November.  Finally the deed is done, and it did not bleed, or at least not at the time.

One year in a spirit of enquiry I severed one stem, not too thick, at a time when I thought the sap would be rising, to see what bleeding looked like.  It was pretty dramatic.  I'd imagined an occasional drip, a sort of sniffle, but liquid ran out of the cut end like a running tap.  I could quite see why you would not want that happening all over the plant.

I call it pruning, but apart from the fact that I bother to cut back to just above a bud and avoid leaving snags it isn't a process that any viticulturalist would recognise.  I have read about systems of grape vine pruning, and always finished up thoroughly confused.  My pruning, or cutting back, consisted of removing the yards-long shoots that the vine made at some point last year when I wasn't looking, to leave short side branches, apart from a few long shoots that I kept to lead the plant further around the wire fence on which it lives.  Vines make a phenomenal amount of growth each year with no encouragement or feeding whatsoever.  Proper vine growers must have some method of dealing with this during the season.

I call it 'the vine' but in fact I think there are two different plants.  Unfortunately due to poor record keeping I don't know which they are, and since vines are very ready to root themselves if you let a branch touch the ground I am not even sure where one ends and the other begins.  I have never had a decent bunch of grapes, even in the year when I spent ages thinning them.  I have cooked with the leaves, stuffing them with a mixture of spiced rice and mincemeat, and they were very good, but the main purpose of the vine from my point of view is decorative, to screen the anti-rabbit netting around the vegetable plot.

The vegetable plot itself is desperately weedy and the wooden edges of several of the beds have collapsed.  I tried to imagine whether this was going to be the year I finally manage to grow vegetables, but I'm not sure.  It's nearly February and I haven't tackled any of the boundary hedges yet, or pruned most of the roses.  Losing a good month's worth of gardening time to flu has set me behind.  Luckily it is forecast to be warmer this week, so I might start getting things done if it doesn't rain too much.  It will be the moment of truth for the vine, if the warmer weather prompts the sap to start rising, whether it bleeds anyway out of its recently cut ends. 

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