Thursday, 25 January 2018

winter pruning

It was a bright, still, and mild morning, and I made a start pruning the vines around the weedy area that used to be the vegetable patch.  Looking at the state of the beds I found it difficult to imagine that I'd be growing any vegetables this year, but we'll see how things go.  The patch is surrounded by wire netting to keep the rabbits out, although the last time I tried my hand at vegetables I discovered that the netting had come loose at one corner, and rabbits ate or dug up several of my efforts.  The vines were planted to hide the netting and make the whole area more visually appealing, rather than in any serious hope of grapes.  One year I spent a long time thinning the bunches, and the grapes were still tiny, pippy, and disgusting, so nowadays I leave them to the birds, though I have used the leaves in cooking.

There are a lot of highly technical systems for pruning grape vines, and mine are not pruned according to any of them.  I have read about them, and I am sure it would be lovely to know how to do it properly, but my efforts are always limited to a desperate dash to bring the vines back within bounds before the sap starts to rise.  Grape vines are notorious for bleeding, and garden writers are always advising their readers to prune them before the New Year.  It was on my list of things to do, if I hadn't gone down with the lurgi.  A couple of years back in a spirit of scientific enquiry I cut one stem of the vine when I thought the sap would be rising, just to see how much it bled and what a vine bleeding looked like.  The result was spectacular, a steady stream of sap running out of the severed end.

Fortunately the sap had not started rising by this morning.  I began to feel slightly reassured yesterday reading Dan Pearson's book, in which he airly writes about pruning vines in February.  I feel sorry for the vine, though, having me chopping away at it with the sole aim of reducing it.  I have encountered hairdressers whose main response to being asked to cut my hair was an overwhelming desire for there to be less of it, and the result was never a good haircut.  I don't want the vine to do anything beyond hide the wire netting and not bleed to death, so my random ministrations should be good enough, but still I feel bad that I don't understand the way the vine grows.  It makes enormously long growths every year, and I never know how much to shorten them, and the next year there always seem to be little dead branches a few inches long and I wonder if I should have cut them right back to the base.  Sometimes entire older branches die as well, which makes me think I need to be keeping some of the long growths to train in as replacements.  It always feels like a gigantic muddle, whereas when I prune rose bushes I feel I know what I'd doing.

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