This weekend's long awaited thaw has presented us with a golden opportunity for horticultural pursuits. It seems like months since we spent any quality time in the garden, and the little Winter jobs appear to have grown into much larger ones through neglect.
First up was the annual hack-and slash of the grapevines. This is a serious, and immensely satisfying bit of garden 'housework'. From tangled mess to neat order in less than an hour, with the added bonus of a stack of cuttings to propagate from. The idea is to restrict this years fruiting potential by removing almost all of the dormant buds on last years growth. In this way we hope to achieve a modest fully ripened crop, rather than a huge quantity of small grapes which may never achieve full ripeness.
In practice this means cutting all but two shoots right down to the permanent 'stock', trimming these back to 5 or 6 buds each, then bending them down onto the bottom wire of our rudimentary trellis system. There's not a lot of growth left by the time we've finished, but grape vines are incredibly vigorous so long as the root system and 'stock' are healthy and happy. As the season progresses, the wall will once again be covered with new fruiting growth, so much so that we'll have to prune back occasionally to keep the vines in check.
You may notice that initially I left four rather than two shoots for bending down onto the trellis. This is an insurance policy which allows for potential breakages during the delicate bending down procedure. For this system of training it's useful to 'stress' the vine by introducing a right-angle bend in the shoot close to the 'stock'. This 'stressing' of the shoot helps to encourage stronger fruiting in the vine, but carries the risk that should it break we could end up losing half of this seasons fruiting potential. In practice, so long as the bend is introduced at the mid-point between buds, there's little chance the shoot will break. They may look dry and brittle on the outside, and creak and crackle to an alarming degree during the actual bending, but the heart of the shoot should be green and flexible.
Another job I'd been putting off until warmer weather was the potting-on of the four Dabinett cider apple trees I grafted over last year. Two are destined for pastures new and will be delivered to their new home next week, whilst the other two are awaiting a suitable site for Espalier training in our own garden. I'd made the mistake of planting the four trees all together in a single pot, and whilst the healthy top growth suggested that all was well, things 'down below' told a different story. Unfortunately, the very healthy root growth had become very tangled in the pot. I've managed to separate the trees, but at what cost to the roots only time will tell. I'm reassured by the fact that the trees should be fully dormant at this time of year, and I've seen the way bare-root trees are handled from the Nursery, which is anything but delicately!