Working with the sun on your back

So I have taken over part of a vineyard. I must be mad! The closest I have ever come to viticulture is helping neighbours in the valley at the vendemmia. As I discovered cutting bunches of grapes in long September days is pleasurable, especially when there is a good farmhouse lunch too….
Otherwise I know nothing!
Last week said neighbour came and showed us how to prune vines. He makes it look so simple, I guess it is, but these vines have been neglected and require radical pruning, to my mind a skilled task.
Anyway in the warmth of yesterday’s sun and ignoring the fact that I still require to finish pruning my olive trees and the lawns at Bellaugello Gay Guest House are growing madly and require again to be cut, the garden tidied and preparations made for our first weekend 29th. March I set off to the vineyard.
The newly bouncy Jenny at my heels, we went in the car, the Apetto would not start… Rats! Down into the vineyard and secateurs at the ready begin pruning. It is scarily uneasy when there is nobody else there. Analyse, cut, saw, trim, tie, working with the sun on my back it was a real delight. Three hours soon passed.

I managed to get all but three vines in one row done when my friend Isis with whom I am sharing the vineyard came down to have a chat and inspect my work. Isis started working in the vineyard last year, so her knowledge is slightly greater than mine… We walked my row of pruned vines, it was real odd trying to justify how I pruned individual plants, I couldn’t until I worked out that we were walking in reverse from how I had pruned them. Walking from top to bottom I saw the logic in my pruning, one puny vine then one vigorous vine, the differences explained.
So yesterday I pruned one complete row and two further vines, that doubles the pruned rows! Only another 19 rows to go……..

In the vineyard, lesson one

A chilly blustery morning finds me and Isis, my neighbour down in the vineyard being given our first lesson on how to prune the vines.
March is the month for the initial pruning, and my neighbour and good friend Martin demonstrates how the vines should be pruned and tied. Martin is one of the few remaining farmers in the valley who still has a vineyard, he being taught many years ago by one if his neighbours. You can see that the vineyard has suffered from a few years of neglect, but is very salvageable. We learn to cut out the older tired wood and tie the strong youthful shoots to the wires in the old way using willow sticks cut from the tree on the edge of the vineyard grown specifically for the purpose.

Morning one almost a full row done, only another twenty to do, we need to speed up!

Glorious spring day, but which to do?

The sun has returned, and it is warm here in Umbria.  This morning I awoke at Bellaugello Gay Guest House and really surprisingly there was frost on the ground, the first frost of this winter.  Why oh why does it have to be frosty the morning after I cut and fertilised the lawns?  Last week continual rain and warmth mean the the lawns were looking bedraggled to say the least,  and it was clearly time to give them a trim.  Unashamedly early in February, but necessary.  So out with the big red cutting machine and up and down up and down, the result pleasing.  Then a bucket full of fertilizer and handfuls strewn on the cut grass, This morning frost.

So anyway frost or no frost, I had to be in Perugia this morning, off I trotted by the time I left Bellaugello it was bright sunlight, clear air, freshly washed countryside, so sunglasses necessary the car temperature gauge registering 20˚c.

Down to the agricultural merchants for their great fertiliser and a bag of lawn seed.  It is my annual pilgrimage  for the bags of lawn treatment, why change a successful regime.  Next door under the same ownership as the merchants there is a garden centre, a stroll through the depleted shelves thinking I might find some bargains and especially some nice roses, and a couple of hydrangeas, but no, the roses were all tired and sad, left over from last year, unwatered,unkempt and unloved, and the hydrangeas tiny and exorbitant.  I checked the labels of the plants, stalks cut well down, ‘likes sun or partial sun, do not prune’.  Haha!  They will be ideal I have a friend with a shady space between two buildings and he has filled it with huge terracotta pots planted with large hydrangeas, an effect owing to our south facing aspect, I cannot re-create here at Bellaugello.  However I want them for the bed outside the terrace of the Specchio Suite, although it too faces west and south it is shaded by a hedge and the roses I planted do not like the soil, so I thought to plant Hydrangeas, a big boosomy queenly flower, but they will not be coming from this garden centre.

I came away with a bird box. the softie in me loves the wild birds in the garden, from the smallest to the largest, yes, the owls are calling already.  As guests will remember Jenny is intrigued by the pair of blue tits that nest in the cherry tree by the main terrace, and their nest is in a particularly vulnerable place, so having spied a bird nesting box, I just had to have it.  I hope that a pair of birds use it to make their home there instead of the kamikaze cherry tree, or if not another pair make use of it.  There is already a pair of blue tits nesting in the beam above the entrance to one of the Suites, I see them darting out from under the eaves, joy to early spring days.

Next stop the huge pet store for dog food, then a small store for Alec food, and back up the hill to Bellaugello.  Ambling along I noticed the farmers out pruning their olive trees and also their vines.  Near Perugia they are in the Tiber valley and they are lower in altitude than we are here in Valdichiascio, so maybe they start the vines earlier.  I have already been pruning olive trees, discovering new ones in the jungle and hedgerows, the mild weather meant that I could prune with impunity…  like those words together!  but I have not got into the vineyard.  I decided to return to the olive trees, a bit hesitantly as there might again be frost again tonight.  I have a couple of large limbs that I want to take down with the chainsaw, I thought best not to, as the frost if it happens will not help the plants, so instead just a gentle prune of small branches and deadwood and I am wishing for no frost tonight.

Jenny kept me company in the Apetto, she has become a real farm dog.  Every time she sees the tools heading Apetto way she is there and first into the cab.  I am still mildly surprised that my day involves decisions on pruning grape vines or olive trees.  Several years ago in Scotland if somebody had bet me that I would have such decisions to make I would have had them certified.  However I am glad I do, being so close to the land here is a very important part of my life and running Bellaugello.