Pruning grapevines

These past few days we’ve been spending a lot of time with the grapevines. The vines were planted as cuttings, with several cuttings set in one hole and the hope that maybe one would take. We’re finding that, in most cases, 4 or 5 vines took. Really well.  Wire cages were put in probably in some efforts to keep the plants growing upwards. They grew upwards, and then spilled out and over the sides, they wound round and round, and through, and in between. With the ground still frozen, we can’t pull the cages out completely. But we can “unzip” them enough to reach in and start trimming.

We’re being very severe with these vines. More severe than either of us is comfortable with. We keep reassuring ourselves that this is what’s best. We’re cultivating a healthier, more sustainable vineyard. Maybe crop yields will be lower this year, but they will beef up the following year. There is much deliberation over which to keep and which to cut. Lot’s of back and forth: “Cut that one.” “No you cut that one.” “But it’s so strong and happy.” “Why can’t we keep them both?” “We can’t.” “Don’t be cruel, they like each other- look how they are all tangled.” “We have to do this.” “Fine, but I can’t watch.”

We’ll save cuttings with 2-4 buds for new plantings. If anyone would like some grapevines (Valliant, and Concord), we have a few.

 I’ve tried to take some before and after shots here to show the extremity of our grapevine situation.  There are five vines growing in the clump to the left. The little, lonesome vine on the right is all that’s left afterwards. Conjures images of riot police dispersing protesters, Viking raids, Nurse Ratched, buzz cuts – all things cruel and unjust… doesn’t it?

Asparagus sprouts, fuzzy buds, and chicory stems.

Our asparagus seeds sprouted yesterday. They are the most tender, delicate little wisps of sprouts. They make me want to hold my breath for fear of maybe toppling them with an exhale.  We’ve got two varieties going: Mary Washington and Precoce D’Argenteuil. Jeremy and I have never grown asparagus before and don’t know exactly what to expect, but the seed catalog describes the Mary Washington as a “popular variety” with “long green spears.” The fancy, frenchy one is an “old heirloom variety” that also does well as a blanching asparagus. These both are from Baker Creek.

From seed, asparagus take 3 years to develop before they can be harvested for eating. Or you can start asparagus from crowns, or root stalk, and harvest after two years. Despite the additional wait, we chose to start asparagus from seed because we couldn’t find asparagus crowns we liked. What we found available as crowns were either hybrid asparagus or patented, hybrid asparagus. Hybrid seeds are common in mono-crop operations; hybrids don’t allow flexibility for evolution, resilient innovation, and diversity.  We’ve been intentionally selecting open-pollinated varieties for seeds – avoiding hybrids and patented seeds – and didn’t want to be growing asparagus we couldn’t even save seed from.  And as regards saving seed: asparagus are gender binary. I’ve been reading. Most of these books suggest growing only male plants. Because they spend energy on seed production, the female spears are often scrawny and they make for over-crowded beds – crowded with new shoots from all their seeding.  Despite these suggestions, we’ll commit to doing a little extra weeding so that we can keep some matriarch asparagus and have seed to save.

On a walk around with the dogs this morning we think we may have identified a pretty sort of dead-flower-stem thing that’s up and about all over the irrigation ditch and in with the spruce trees. Is it chicory? The only plant ID guides we can find are of flowers in bloom. To me, it seems like if you were to give one of the chicory plants in these photos a big spoonfull of South Dakota winter, it would end up looking a lot like one of these dead-flower-stem things. (Mollie, what are your thoughts? – please say yes. Jeremy is very excited about chicory coffee.)

On this same walk around, we noticed the grapes have started to peak out little fuzzy buds. Little, bitty ones. Oh boy. This is the moment we’ve been waiting for, this is our signal to get out there and prune. Shears ready, shears sharpened. Jeremy and I have been getting a bit stir crazy, with the ground still frozen and so much work to do. This is the onset of spring’s irreversible torrent; flushed out of the eddy, we are straight in the thalweg now.

And lastly, but heavens, not leastly. Certainly not. Our most favorite fuzzy muppet, Amelia, is visiting for the next month. Amelia and Radish are getting along fantastically – play time has not stopped since she got here. Two big, happy farm dogs. One little, bitty farm house. The rugs are all overturned, the furniture is in disarray, the doors are scarred, absolutely everything is dusted in dog fur, and our sides are sore from enjoying the mayhem. Jeremy and I got a chance to spend six (7?) months with Amelia a couple years ago while her man, Barton, rode his motorcycle through Eastern Europe and across Russia. Now he’s headed up a volcano in the Andes, and Amelia is our first farm guest. Having the world’s two most ridiculous dogs, Radish and Amelia, is everything irresistible and fun. Need a little puppy-time pick-me-up? You ought to stop by Cycle Farm for a visit with Radish and Amelia. Spirit lifters. No appointment necessary.

Grape jelly

We’ve been enjoying delicious grape jelly Randi made last summer from the vines outside. Sounds like there was a very merry, very prolific harvest. The Wickstrom’s cultivated gorgeously manicured vines. These rows are stunning. So well kept, so tamed. Each sinuous vine practically sporting a starched collar and ironed slacks.

Jeremy and I have never pruned grape vines before. It sounds like it might be a lot like giving a hair cut. Which is something we can do, sort of. I sure hope we don’t butcher these. We may end up with a dissident lot, in mohawks and ripped RANCID t-shirts.

I’m sure we have a book on pruning grape vines somewhere around here.

Come’n gittit!

Cycle Farm 2011 harvest flierStatus update: Cycle Farm is producing food. Jeremy is in Oregon. Trish is in New Mexico. Randi and David have suddenly become farmers. They’ve got apples, black walnuts, hops and valiant grapes. Get hooked up with some fresh, local delicious treats, call Randi and David, or email us at