Thursday, December 27, 2007

Vineyard Insect Pests

We don’t see a lot of insect pests in the vineyard. During the season there is some evidence of caterpillars but usually not enough to warrant spraying. A quick squeeze between the fingers during other vineyard operations eg. shoot positioning, is all that is needed.
From our experience there are three potential problems.
One of these is the caterpillar of the vine hawk moth (Hippotion celerio). They are a grey green colour with a spine on the upper rear end of the body and grow to about 6cm. They can cause rapid defoliation.
Because of their colour they are hard to spot but during routine inspections of the vines a trained eye can see activity on the leaves.
The grapevine moth caterpillar (Phalaenoides glycine) grows to about 5cm and is black with transverse white markings and several red spots. It is easier to notice. These can also quickly defoliate vines if not controlled.

By not spraying for insect pests on a regular basis we have allowed a population of natural predators to build up in the vineyard. These include shield bugs, lacewings, ladybirds, wasps and spiders.
If we needed to spray we would always select the biological control Bacillus thuringiensis (BT) eg. Dipel, as it selectively kills caterpillars and does not harm their predators.
Chemical sprays such as carbamates and organophosphates would soon wipe out any populations of natural enemies.
Another potential pest is the blister mite (Colomerus vitis). They are about 0.2mm long and cannot be seen with the naked eye. They live on the underside of the leaves and produce blister like galls which bulge from the upper surface.

Luckily the application of wettable sulphur for powdery mildew also controls the mite.
Even if it didn’t, there are predatory mites which build up in an insecticide free vineyard who take care of the problem eg. Typhlodromus doreenae.
Leaf galling can have a detrimental affect on the growth of young vines but is little consequence on mature vines.
The sight of leaf galls could frighten the inexperienced grape grower who might think this is a sign of grape phylloxera (Daktulosphaira vitifolii) which is regarded as the world’s worst grape pest.
This aphid like insect is a native of North America that lives in and feeds on the roots of native American grapes of which there are about 20 species. These eg. Vitis riparia, V.rupestris, V.labrusca, V.berlandiera have become resistant to the insect over thousands of years.
Unfortunately the European grape (Vitis vinifera) is not resistant and the importation of the pest into Europe in the mid 1800’s all but wiped out the wine industry in the Old World at that time.
It came to Australia too but has been confined to certain areas of the country eg. Rutherglen, King Valley, Goulburn Valley, Corowa and the Sydney basin.
We are just south of Sydney and our wine growing region has been inspected many times by the Department of Agriculture over the last few years and we have basically been given the all clear and are designated a phylloxera free zone.

Phylloxera can reduce productivity and eventually kill a vineyard in a very short time. Nymphs feed on the roots which form fleshy yellow galls. These cut off the nutrient flow to the vine. Unlike its native host, leaf galls seldom form on the European grape so root inspection to a depth of 0.5m is required in suspect areas mainly from November to March.
There is no known economic cure.
Vineyards in infested areas survive by grafting Vitis vinifera scions onto American grape rootstock.
There is a concerted effort Australia wide to prevent the pest from spreading, so far, successful. Although it will only spread naturally to around 2km, man’s activity is the main danger with it being spread by the illegal transfer of plant material, on fruit, on machinery, on harvest equipment and even tourists’ shoes and cars.
Quarantine and disinfection rules apply to infested areas and there is a constant vigil by growers outside these areas to put in place procedures that minimise the threat.
In this area many vineyards have set up exclusion zones with signs up asking people not to walk among the vines and the reason why. There seems to be almost 100% acceptance of this “rule”.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Some Grapevine Diseases

With all the rain we have been having lately, our thoughts turn to disease prevention.
There are a large number of fungal, bacterial and viral diseases which can attack grapevines.
We have to deal with three of the most common fungal diseases here.
Downy Mildew (Plasmopara viticola) is the most prevalent and is spread by rainfall.
It attacks leaves, shoots and berries and will quickly defoliate a vine leading to entire crop losses.
Primary infection takes place after 10:10:24 conditions occur ie. at least 10mm of rain at a temperature 10C or more, over 24 hours.
The fungus survives as spores for 3 to 5 years in old infected leaf material in the soil and, with rain, are splashed onto the foliage. If the spores remain wet long enough the disease begins to develope.
This shows up as "oil spots" on leaves (see top picture)

Spores form under the oil spot and show up as a "white down" (lower picture). If conditions are right, secondary infection occurs from these spores and the spread of the disease becomes quite rapid.
Downy mildew can be controlled by the spray application of various chemicals either pre infection or post infection. In a damp maritime climate like ours, we prefer the pre infection strategy. This involves spraying at least every two weeks from when the shoots are 10cm long or at shorter intervals if rain conditions prevail.
There are two groups of spray chemicals, those with single site activity which act on only one site within the fungus organism or those with multi site activity which act on more than one site within the fungus. Overuse of the former group can lead to small mutational changes in the fungus which in turn can lead to the fungus being resistant to that particular chemical.
We use the relatively safe and multi site copper oxychloride as our main preventative for downy.
In the unlikely event that infection does occur we use phosphorous acid, which is also multi site, as a curative.
Powdery mildew (Uncinula necator) is also common and attacks leaves, shoots and bunches. It is evidenced by an ash grey to white powdery growth on both the upper and lower surfaces of the leaves which eventually distort and shrivel.

The disease also attacks the bunches with the same ash grey/white powder showing up on the berries and stalks.
Crop losses can occur but more importantly, bunches with as little as 5% disease may be rejected by wineries as the disease causes off flavours in wine.

Powdery mildew spores hide in the buds of dormant vines. Mild cloudy weather and low light in the canopy encourage development of this disease. It does not need a lot of rain to spread.
There are no approved post infection sprays so a two weekly application of a protective spray from budburst is necessary. Again there is a multiple choice of chemicals from the two groups. We use the relatively safe and multi site active wettable sulphur.
Botrytis or grey mould (Botrytis cinerea) is a common bunch rot in regions with warm, wet conditions but it can also attack shoots and leaves.
Large crop losses can occur and infected grapes will cause off flavours in wine.
It should be mentioned here that not all botrytis infection is bad. Under some conditions, the fungus takes hold and dehydrates the bunches increasing the sugar content without causing rot. This enables very sweet dessert wines with their traditional marmalade favour caused by fungus enzymes to be made eg. Sauterne in France or in Australia, Noble One et al. The disease is then known as noble rot. Conditions on the south coast hardly ever allow for this and it is too much of a risk to hold off spraying just in case they might.

The disease hides in decaying plant debris such as dead canes and mummified fruit. Spores are spread by wind and find a place in the developing bunch flowers. Once the bunch has "closed" and wet weather and high humidity occurs the disease spreads rapidly. There are virtually no curative sprays and it is essential that a protective spray be applied at very definite times of bunch development ie. 80% capfall (towards the end of flowering) and again just before bunch closure (just before the berries have stopped growing and become 'squished' together in the bunch). We use chlorothalonil for this purpose, again, multi site active but a bit "nasty".
This chemical is also a protectant against downy mildew so we can replace the copper with it at these two spray times.
All the chemicals we use are compatible so it is possible to mix them in the one spray application.
Lucklily we dont see other diseases like Phomopsis or Black Spot in the area.
But the three we have are quite enough.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

A Busy Month

The vines have been jumping out of the ground due to the amount of rain we have been getting. This has meant lots of spraying, green pruning, shoot positioning and interrow mowing. At the same time I have been videoing all the activities for my upcoming classic. I had never before realised how time consuming all the viticultural activities are. And videoing yourself doing them can be a logistical nightmare. With most the vitcultural activites "in the can" and the winemaking ones to go early next year I think the video will be a two bags of popcorn and potty break epic. It's already 18 minutes. There has been a suggestion I make two versions, one for those with passing interest and one for those with more. I think all DVD players have fast forward buttons so it will be a warts and all production although I agree there is room for some tighter editing.
So all you out there be ready for "From Vine to Wine" due for release mid 2008 but maybe earlier if I decide to exclude pruning.

The election is over. Australia has a new government. The conservatives were given a huge whopping with the prime minister of 11 years (and a political career of 30) losing his seat. Hopefully now we can return to being a society as well as an economy.
The publicity campaign for the wine show has been going well. So well in fact that I have been asked to do a similar job for the Shoalhaven Coast Wine Festival which takes place on the Queen's Birthday long weekend in June 2008. Eleven wineries offer tastings, culinary events, music and other entertainment over the 3 days. This year's festival was a success despite atrocious weather so they are hoping for a huge turnout next year. It will be my job to be in touch with the print and electronic media to make sure it is. You can follow progress on
Meanwhile the traveller has returned from 3 weeks in the USA and preparations for Christmas have begun. It will be a quiet one for us. My daughter and her partner are heading for the UK so there will be just we two indulging in an early morning swim at the beach on Christmas morning followed by oysters, prawns, Balmain bugs and maybe a lobster for lunch. And of course plum pudding for the traditionalist. And there might be a bottle or two of Sancerre plus Noble One hidden away somewhere to help wash it all down.
So for all you who have been complaining about the lack of activity on this blog, there is your update!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

A Little Bit About Some Things

The country is having a federal election on 24th November and the campaign is in full swing. Money is being thrown at the voters with gay abandon by both parties. After 11 years of conservative rule, the feeling is there might be a change. But Australian voters are notorious for succumbing to the "political" bribe and in the past have been willing to ignore many social aspects of the life we should be leading in this country in favour of a fatter wallet.
One interesting fact to come out of the information overload that is an election is the demographic of where we live on the south coast.
Our electorate, Gilmore, is described as covering 5,529 on the NSW south coast. Based in the agricultural Shoalhaven River Valley, its main population centres are Nowra-Bomaderry, Kiama, Milton-Ulladulla and Batemans Bay. The small coastal communities that dot the electorate are popular destinations for retirees, and holiday makers after a cheap secluded holiday.
And another fact that surprised me was that according to the 2006 census, 21.6% of the population of Gilmore is aged 65 and over, the highest proportion in the country, and the median age of 45 is also the highest in the country.
It certainly doesn't feel like "coffin dodger" territory to me.
Two good web sites to check out the South Coast are:
The South Coast Wine Show is coming up in January. I am on the organising committee which is a subsiduary of the Milton Rural Show. There is a bit of resistance to enter the electronic age in order to publicize the two events but we are slowly getting there. We will be registering domain names for future use as a start. In the meantime we have established a blog to give the wine show some image. Check it out.
We have had plenty of rain over the last week. The vines will appreciate this and the growth spurt is very noticable. Luckily I keep an eye on the long range weather forecast and was able to spray in time. The crop load at this early stage looks good. If we can get a good fruit set and keep the fungus out as well as get good ripening conditions in the new year it may be a bumper vintage. Not much to ask really.
Flushed with the success of my first DVD, I have begun another project. I will be documenting the entire growing season in the vineyard from budburst through harvest to wine in the bottle.
It has been fun so far.
Hopefully it will remain so.

Monday, October 22, 2007


Finding a good cup of coffee can become an obsession, especially cappuccino. As you travel around, you experience lots of bad, some good and very few "wow" cups, the latter in the most unexpected places. Around us, Pilgrims at Milton fall into this "wow" category as do a little sandwich shop in the local arcade in town and a deli in Berry.
It becomes a challenge to match these at home.
The components of a good cappo are the quality and volume of the expresso shot, the volume and temperature of the milk and the consistency and volume of the foam.
The first step is to find a decent expresso machine. These range from relatively cheap manual machines to extremely expensive fully automatic models.
To make an expresso, hot water has to be forced through ground coffee at a pressure of around 900 kPa (9 Bar). The perfect expresso results in a 30mL shot from 10g of coffee in 25 seconds.
Yes, this is all documented. I kid you not!
The expresso needs to show good crema ie. a red/brown foam which sits on the surface and is a mixture of vegetable oils, proteins and sugars. Not enough or light coloured crema means under extraction and a weak brew, too much dark brown crema means over extraction and bitterness.

So with a little research, we decided on a semi automatic Sunbeam coffee machine which is barista designed but with only a few bells and whistles.
He who cannot program a mobile phone cannot in all likelihood program a coffee machine!
A barista is a professional coffee maker. Our local technical college runs a barista course as part of its catering and hospitality certificate. They actually got a government subsidy to run the program!
It was not long out of the box when we realised that a well calibrated coffee machine is not the only key to success. To produce the "ultimate" expresso, the grind of coffee as well as the pressure of tamping ie. how hard the coffee is squished into the filter basket, is also a key factor.
Of course the former needed a Sunbeam coffee grinder with multiple settings (sound of cash register ringing…..again) as every type of coffee grinds differently.

Correct tamping is only achieved by trial and error and eventual reproducability by the operator.
Next is the coffee itself. We were always partial to the Caribou expresso blend which we brought home with us from the mid west of the USA but as this ran out quite quickly (despite the quantity imported sometimes raising eyebrows at customs…. "opening a grocery store are we, sir?") we were forced to find a locally available favourite. After numerous test tastings of local and imported brands, we eventually settled on Lavazza Qualita Oro from Italy.
The basis of most coffee drinks is the expresso shot. Lattes, mochas, flat whites etc. are all a matter of adding milk, which has been heated in some way, in a certain proportion.
A cappuccino is made up of one third expresso, one third steamed milk at a temperature of 75° C and one third microfoam ie. the consistency of whipped cream
A big no no is scalded or burnt milk as well as foam with large bubbles. The foam is created on the surface of the milk while passing steam through it to heat it up. The milk jug needs to be held on a 35° angle and turned in a way so the milk spins. A barista will know when the right consistency and temperature is achieved by the change of the sound of the steam passing through the milk and how hot the jug feels (again, I kid you not). Those temperature gauges you see clipped to the sides of the jugs at Starbucks et al are for amateurs.
Last but not least are the cups. They have to be the right size, have the right lip feel and have comfortable handles.
And don’t forget the chocolate sprinkled on the top.
Yes, I know. Quite a production for a humble cappo……but in the end, worth it!

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

And Now for Something Completely Different

We decided it was a good idea to use the video facility in my Canon G6 digital camera to take a few clips of the area we live in, put them on a CD, and send them to family members who couldn't ever get to come down this way to see us.
Granted the quality of these would not be great in comparison to a proper video camera but viewed via Windows Media Player (or the Mac equivalent) on a computer they should be good enough.
So we have had a lot of fun deciding on what clips to take on the farm and the surrounding area and actually getting them done. We took turns at shooting and/or narrating and reckon we have collected a pretty good overview of where we live.

The camera has a basic editing function so we have been able to eliminate most of the bloopers.
Then it is just a matter of downloading the clips from the camera to the computer and then transferring them to a CD.
The only disadvantage was the fact that the presentation would be made up of whole lot of single clips.
The other night I was trolling through the programs on my relatively new computer looking for something when............. BINGO!
I found Windows Movie Maker is on there!!!!!!!!
Not only can you combine all the clips into one but you can edit, add transitions, titles, credits, all sorts of visual affects and even music.
We have had a lot of fun doing this.
Due to this discovery, our little collection of clips has now turned into a 15 minute epic!
Cecil B. deMille eat your heart out.
We are in post production right now and expect distribution early next week.
And now because the file is so large we will have to burn DVD's.
I know you can hardly suppress your excitement in South Dakota.....but try!

Monday, September 03, 2007

Cattle are Sometimes a Problem

I ended up breeding two bulls into my small herd. One was a very nice Murray Grey who had become quite friendly, the other a throw back to the Angus. His mother died soon after birth so we hand reared him to the point of safe weaning. He was quite a handful even in his younger days.
The two formed a sort of an alliance and as they grew older their thoughts turned to other things, and when the cows next door came into season no four strand barbed wire fence was ever going to keep them in. Another problem was they always took the rest of the herd with them. This lead to one nasty incident when they were very close to being on the highway.
Our solution was to bring the neighbour's cows into my paddocks (the lady wanted calves anyway). So they made themselves at home and were soon looking after their new offspring. The increased family responsibilities made the bulls a little more protective and a little more aggressive. I never turned my back on them.
Milton, the Angus (Named after the Milton Meat Works, the local abattoir) was always a wanderer. He could negotiate a 4000V electric fence without blinking an eye.
Unfortunately one of my other neighbours (the tourist cabin ones) were not very tolerant of his visits and their young son took a stock whip to Milton one day, driving him back through the barbed wire fence and scaring him so much that he was permanently afraid of human contact.
We decided that it was time to get rid of the terrible twosome. It is a legal requirements that any cattle sent to sale or moved must be electronically identified for tracking purposes. This means inserting an electronic tag in one of their ears.

We got Milton into the race and into the crush to do this and before we had time to get the head bale on him he went beserk. He charged the bale head so hard he sprung the gate open. This is a very well built structure and I have never had a problem with any previous cattle.
He then escaped the yards not by jumping the fence but running straight through it. A friend helping and I were very lucky not to be hurt! Milton was even further traumatised!

While we were contemplating Plan B, devised by Neighbour Bob (now known by request as Winning Trainer Bob) who is an experienced cattle man, we were subjected to some wild and windy weather. A big tree came down over my fence line, flattening many metres and my herd plus the visitors ended up back in my friendly neighbour's yard. This covered the problem of getting her cattle back to her. But we still had Milton and Bully to contend with.
She had a friend, an old cattle man, who said he would come down to have a look at the terrible two and maybe buy them from me.
He thought they were a bit wild for his purposes and really didn't want them but said he could offer us Plan C and get them to market for me by just backing up a cattle trailer to my neighbour's yards and enticing them in with hay. He had friends at the sale yard who would put the electronic tags in in proper bull handling facilities when they arrived.
I had my doubts that this would work!
His plan was for the lady neighbour to hand feed them for a couple of weeks to calm them down and get used to people around them again.
I transported hay over and she fed them all on a daily basis. She told us that she could pat both bulls after two weeks.
The day duly arrived for the pick up. Old Don backed up the trailer, threw in some hay and quietly coaxed the two bulls along a rather flimsy race and up into the trailer.
We all looked in amazement. There was a quiet celebration as they disappeared down the track in a cloud of dust. Anita, the bull whisperer (as she is now known) was particularly happy as I had indicated that Plan D might have to be the infamous "lead pill".
Next morning we headed for the sale. They were both sold as breeders, not to butchers, so they now have a new home, some new lady friends and are someone else's problem.
Even better, I am now $900 richer.
Now all we have to do is get my girls and their children back. I am feeding them on a daily basis over my boundary fence. This weekend Anita will yard her four, I will call mine down to feed, cut the fence and entice them through. Then after a quick repair job, all will be well again.
Sunday 9th Setember
The transfer operation went well. All six are now at home in their old home.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Lunar Eclipse

The 28th August was the warmest winter's day in 10 years with the temperature reaching 26C. It was also the day of a full lunar eclipse. So we headed down to Bawley Point just before sunset.

It was a magical evening. Hardly a breath of wind, a smooth sea and a slight swell.

As the sun set in the west, the full moon rose out of the sea to the east.
We watched it for a while then headed home for dinner.

Around 7pm the eclipse started. The earth's shadow gradually crept over the moon's surface.

An hour later it was completely covered

It was difficult to get a good picture with my small digital camera and standard lens as the two pictures above demonstrate. So I have 'borrowed' a picture from the local paper to show how the moon turned a brilliant red at the moment of the full eclipse.
Truly a great sight in the clear country sky.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

100th Post!

It's taken a few years but I have made it.
For those that post every day I guess this is not such a milestone.
I have had fun writing about my travels and my work on the farm as well as life and the natural environment on the south coast in general.
I know from that I don't have a lot of readers but at least those who do bother to take the time to log on keep coming back.
Hopefully there will more than a few more hundred posts to come.
There are many more exciting places to visit!
For those demanding a picture I submit the one below.

And that's all you are getting for the time being!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Nasties at the Beach

Due to unprecedented requests, I am continuing with my story on local "nasties", this time at the beach.
We must have our fair share of sharks in the ocean around here. But I have to say I have never seen one. In fact over 40 years of surfing the east coast of Australia I have only seen three up close and personal. That is three too many but they say it’s the one you don’t see that gets you.
From reports of local fishermen and abalone as well as recreational divers we know we have the white pointer, the bronze whaler, the hammerhead, bullshark, and tiger shark as well as the grey nurse in our waters.

Generally sharks stay well off shore but they do come in with the warmer currents and when bait fish are on the run. Common sense tells us not to swim early in the morning or late in the evening. Swimming near or in river mouths and estuaries is also a 'no no' but you see hundreds of people doing this during the holiday season.
In Sydney I have seen sharks 50km up the St.Georges River at the Liverpool weir in what is basically fresh water. So you know it's really never safe to go back in the water!
We do not have saltwater crocodiles, thank goodness. These live in tropical waters up north and are the ones Steve Irwin used to "play" with.
We do have stingrays. Steve played with one too many of these. They can live close to shore and we see them often especially around rocky headlands. Some can be nearly 2m across. They do not attack but it is just as well to keep clear of them as they keep a nasty barb on their tail and this can do some damage. Sometimes smaller ones bury themselves in the sand on the water’s edge and can easily be stepped on.

I have had manta rays swim under me while on my board. These are huge, up to 4m across but are not considered dangerous.
Another nasty to keep clear of is the bluebottle or Portuguese man of war. These get blown into shore usually with strong nor’ easters and can be in plague proportions. Stings from them are
very painful.

Less painful are stings from the jelly blubber, a blue jelly fish, which can suddenly appear in thick swarms if the tides and wind is right.
Luckily we are too far south for the box jelly fish or sea wasp which is a killer.
But we have a killer in the rock pools on the many headlands of the area. This is the blue ringed octopus. This creature is only around 12cm long and weighs less than 90g

When threatened flourescent blue spots appear on its body. The beak can inject enough venom to paralyse 10 adult males and an untreated bite can be fatal. So it's one to keep an eye out for and be especially concerned about when children are exploring rock pools at low tide.
There are supposed to be 20 species of sea snakes in Australian waters. I think we maybe too far south to be concerned with them which is good because I think we have enough to deal with.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The Satin Bower Bird

There is a considerable amount of birdlife in the area. Most are native species such as kookaburras, currawongs, finches, honeyeaters and numerous species of parrots. We do get various migratory birds during the year.
One permanent resident is the satin bowerbird.
Bower birds are the scourge of any gardener and especially grapegrowers as they have a love of green vegetables and fruit and can strip a crop bare in a few days.
But we have overcome this by netting.
A male satin bowerbird has taken up residence under our huge bottlebrush (callistemon sp.) tree in the back yard. He has been there many years now.
He is a striking dark blue color.
The immature males and females look very much alike and are a grey green color.

The male builds a bower from twigs and grass and covers the surrounds in all sorts of blue objects like bottle tops, pegs and pieces of plastic.

Here he courts and mates with the female. During courting the male prances and struts around his bower offering the female items from his collection of blue objects, while making a series of hissing, chattering and scolding noises. Mating takes place in the avenue of the bower and the male may mate with several females in a single season.
Only the female builds a nest. This is a shallow, saucer-shaped construction of twigs and dry leaves above the ground in the upright outer branches of a tree. The nest is lined with fine dry leaves. The female lays one to three eggs, which she incubates.
She then raises the young on her own.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

The Wattle

There are nearly 1000 species of wattle (Acacia) in Australia. In fact one, the Golden Wattle (Acacia pycnantha), is Australia's national flower. They grow in almost all regions of the continent and come in many forms, from ground cover to shrubs to large trees.
In our area, wattles come into bloom during winter and continue throughout spring into summer.
There is a wattle blooming somewhere in Australia every month of the year.
Foliage is varied both in shape and color from long deep green leathery leaves to fine ferny purple fronds.

Individual flowers are arranged in inflorescences that are either globular heads or cylindrical spikes. Each inflorescence may comprise as few as three individual flowers or as many as one hundred and thirty or more.

Flowers can vary in colour through cream, pale yellow to gold. One species has purple flowers whilst another has red. The flowers of many species are delicately perfumed and they are said to cause all sorts of hay fever symptoms during the flowering season.
Acacias are also found in Africa, Madagascar, throughout the Asia - Pacific region and in the Americas.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Pruning Grapevines

The most important job in the vineyard during winter is pruning. This is done after leaf fall but before budburst when the vines are dormant and there is virtually no sugar transfer from shoots to roots.
One of the reasons for pruning is that grape bunches only grow on new shoots and it is necessary to get rid of most of the old growth from the previous season. But there is more to it than that. The vine has to be maintained in a workable shape that will facilitate vineyard management practices such as spraying and harvesting. Pruning also achieves a balance between vegetative and fruit growth which basically means there should be enough leaves to ripen the fruit produced in a canopy that provides an ultimate microclimate ie. not too much shade, not too much sunshine.
This is done by regulating the number of buds left on the mature one year old shoots (now called canes) during the pruning process and the spacing of those canes. The new shoots and their bunches, usually two, come from these buds.
There are three basic categories of pruning: hand, mechanical and minimal.
We will concentrate on the first one here.
The two most common forms of hand pruning are spur and cane.
We spur prune on cordons in our vineyard.

Cordon with Last Season's Canes
A cordon is a permanent vine arm either bi or unilaterally formed off the trunk during the original training process early in the vineyard’s development. On this arm, spaced about a hand’s span apart, are short permanent fruiting units that have been built up over the years by cutting back the canes that form on them, usually two.

Close up of Last Season's Canes
During the pruning process the highest cane of the two is completely removed and the lowest one reduced to two buds or a spur. All other extraneous canes shooting from the arms and trunk are also removed although in some cases the former are used to start new spurs when old ones are not positioned correctly, are too high on the cordon or have become damaged.

Highest Cane Removed
Spur pruning is easy, quick and economical and caters to the growth characteristics of most varieties except those whose basal buds exhibit low fruitfulness.

Lowest Cane Spurred to Two Buds

Completed Spur Pruned Vine
My friend’s vineyard just up the road is cane pruned.
This is a traditional pruning method of Old World vineyards.

Cane Trained Vine Before Pruning
The vines have no permanent cordons, only one (unilateral) or two (bilateral) one year old canes laid along the fruiting wire from the head of the vine which forms on top of the trunk. From these canes, new shoots with fruit emerge during the growing season.

Last Season's Fruiting Cane Removed
At pruning these now two year old canes and its canes are completely removed. A new cane formed from a two bud replacement spur left on the head during the previous year’s pruning is laid down on the wire and cut back to the required number of buds, usually 8-15, depending on the vigour of the vine. The lower cane on this spur is reduced to two buds ready to form a cane and another spur for the following year. All others canes that have formed around the head and trunk are removed.

Next Season's Fruiting Canes Laid
Down with Two Replacement Spurs
Sounds complicated and it can be. Certainly it takes much longer to prune grapevines in this way.
Again most varieties respond well to this form of pruning although those will strong apical dominance (where buds low on the cane tend not to shoot as well as those on the end) can cause problems. This can be overcome by arching the cane when laying it down or spraying with hydrogen cyanamide to promote even budburst.
All the cuttings are collected and piled up for burning later on in the year once they have dried out a little.
I am doing a few thousand cane pruned vines in the other vineyard as well as my own this year and expect to be finished sometime in August.
With climate change well and truly with us, bud burst for the early varieties could expected later that month.
For some updated pruning information (August 2014) click here.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Wollemi Pine

In 1994, a NSW National Parks and Wildlife ranger walking in a remote region of the 500,000ha Wollemi National Park in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney came across an unusual stand of trees deep in a sandstone gorge.
Previously only known as a fossil some 90 million years old, he had discovered around 100 mature trees that were to become known as the Wollemi Pine (Wollemia nobilis). One of the world's oldest and rarest trees, the Wollemi pine belongs to the 200 million year old Araucariaceae family which contains the Kauri, Norfolk Island, Hoop, Bunya and Monkey Puzzle pines.

Norfolk Island Pine in our back garden
The Wollemi Pine can grow up to 40 m in the wild with a trunk diameter reaching up to one meter. The bark of the tree is bubbly in appearance and chocolate brown in colour. Each plant has both male and female sexual reproductive cones. These cones appear at the end of branches, the female cone always growing above a male. The Wollemi Pine has two types of branches, one that grows upright looking like a trunk arising in most cases from the base of the tree, and another that grows laterally and bears sessile leaves. One amazing characteristic of the Wollemi Pine is that of every plant growing in the wild has the exact same DNA, making the species even more special.

Our Wollemi pine
The Wollemi pine has been propagated commercially and is now available for general garden and landscaping use.
I was lucky enough to receive one as a present last weekend.
We will keep it as a potted plant for the time being until we decide what pride of place it will take in our garden.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Even More Wild Weather

A third low pressure system developed over the Tasman Sea between us and New Zealand and the weather bureau was warning that this could be the worst winter storm yet. It is highly unusual to have three of these systems form within 2 weeks of our winter and although we are not in a cyclone zone this storm had the intensity of a category 2.
People all along the coast from Naroooma to Newcastle were battening down.
We waited.....and waited
Lots of rain and a little wind but nothing much else.
Apparently a band of cold air came over the Great Dividing Range and the high winds were pushed upwards.
A classical example of inversion.

The cold layer dumped snow on the mountains and there were blizzards in the Snowys so they are going to have a great ski season in the resorts there.
Today it is bright and sunny.
The surf is huge with waves up to and sometimes over 10m. People living on the foreshores are in danger of having their houses washed away.
At home, the paddocks are saturated, the creek is in flood and the road in is a bog.
But we are not complaining. I think the drought on the south east coastal region of New South Wales is officially over.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Wild Winter Weather

The drought has lasted more than 5 years now with most of Australia affected. At one stage New South Wales was 98% drought declared. This means a lot of agricultural businesses are doing it tough. Lots of cattle and sheep, good breeding stock, have had to be sold and broad acre crops have either failed or not been planted for some years. Farmers are trying to sell up or just walking off their properties. Clearance sale advertisements fill up rural newspapers.
Rivers are drying up with our main irrigation area, the Murray-Darling basin, having water allocations withdrawn. But it’s not only a problem in the country. Capital city dams are the lowest on record. Sydney’s dam for instance is at about 30% capacity. Everyone is under very strict water usage restrictions ie. no watering the garden, no washing the car etc. A desalination plant is planned for the city as an emergency measure. The rainfall on the farm is running at about 50% average for the last 6 years. I have dry dams that have never been that way since I moved in 16 years ago and I can’t remember the last time my creek ran. Last week, a severe low pressure system developed off the coast around the Sydney/Newcastle area and we had our first winter storm considered to be the worst in 30 years. They had torrential rain, up to 250mm in 24 hours, and high winds 80-120km/hr. Flooding and wind damage has been widespread and nine people lost their lives. We got the tail end of the storm with some good falls but no damage.

A 40,000 tonne bulk carrier has been driven ashore in 18m seas onto a city beach in Newcastle which is a major coal loading port. It is still stuck there with a huge salvage operation in progress. But another low has formed off the south coast and is heading north so they are expecting more bad weather with big seas. They will need to get the ship refloated as soon as possible if they don't want it in the car park.

The second low has dumped a large amount of rain on us and it has snowed only a few kilometers away. So winter has well and truly arrived. All my new tanks are full, the dams are filling and the creek is starting to flow again. It was so great to see the weather radar looking like this.

Monday, May 28, 2007


Australia has many species of venomous critters, both on land and in the sea.
These include 38 land snakes and 23 sea snakes, 22 spiders, 4 ants, the honey bee, 3 wasps, 2 beetles, 6 scorpions, 2 caterpillars, centipedes, millipedes, mosquitoes, sandflies, thrips and other insects.
The platypus and echidna also have a venomous defence system.
Coastal waters are frequented by 2 blue-ringed octopuses, 7 jellyfish, cone shells, 2 stonefish, 21 other fishes including the flathead, the Port Jackson shark, 11 rays, starfish including the crown of thorns, corals, anemones, urchins, stinging sponges, marine worms, leeches, frogs and toads.
Australia is home to the ten most lethal snakes in the world. Of the world's top 25 venomous snakes, Australia has 21. After considering venom toxicity, average yield, and aggressiveness, the North American diamond-backed rattlesnake is ranked number 25 in the world, with the Indian cobra and African black mamba 12th and 13th respectively!
And we haven’t even mentioned the animals and fish that want to eat you eg. crocodiles and sharks
Much is made of this on nature programs seen overseas and I have often been asked how we manage to live in such a dangerous environment.
I don’t think Australia is any more dangerous than a lot of other places around the globe. It is all a matter of what you are used too. At least we don’t have any land animals that want to do you harm like bears. And rabies is a disease that has been kept out of the country by very strict quarantine laws.
We have a range of ‘nasties’ that live around the farm that we can come across on a regular basis depending on the season.
The red bellied black snake is the most predominant snake in this area. The upper surface of this snake is glossy black while the belly is light pink to brilliant red.

We see them from late August to March. They eat mainly frogs so you mostly see them around the dams, creeks and wetlands. They will also eat lizards, mammals, birds and occasionally fish.
During mating season they are on the move and that’s when you can see them around the house. These reptiles are a protected species so we generally leave them alone. They are quite timid unless cornered and make every attempt to get away when disturbed. However any found around the house are ‘dispatched’. A sharpened hoe is kept in a strategic place for this purpose. Most snakebites occur when people are trying to kill one so you need to be careful.
It grows to 1.5 to 2m and its bite is very dangerous and requires immediate medical attention.
Funnel-web spiders are some of the world’s most deadly spiders and are found in coastal and mountain regions of eastern and southern Australia. They are large black spiders with a shiny head/thorax. The body may range from 1.5 cm to more than 5 cm long depending on the species. Funnel-web spiders live in burrows in sheltered positions in the ground, in stumps, tree trunks or ferns above the ground. Their burrows are lined with a sock of opaque white silk and several strong strands of silk radiating from the entrance. Funnel-web spider venom is highly toxic, and all species are considered potentially dangerous.

Female funnel-web spiders are long-lived, possibly up to 20 years, but are rarely seen except during tree felling, excavation or landscaping work. They spend their entire lives inside the burrow, only venturing out momentarily to snatch passing prey, which consists of insects and small vertebrates such as lizards and frogs.
Males wander at night, especially during or after rain, and may enter houses. In the northern suburbs of Sydney it was always advisable to check in the bed before climbing in.
Bites by males of two large species, the Sydney funnel-web and northern tree funnel-web, have resulted in death. I have seen a few over the years working in the vineyard and maybe an occasional one in the vege garden. We should wear gloves but we don’t. But we always shake out our boots, if we have left them outside overnight, before putting them on.
The Redback Spider is very common in the area. The females are black with an obvious orange to red longitudinal stripe on the upper abdomen and an "hourglass" shaped red/orange spot on the underside of the abdomen. They have a body about the size of a large pea and slender legs.
The male is only about 3-4 mm long and its red markings are often less distinct. The body is light brown with white markings on the upper side of the abdomen, and a pale hourglass marking on the underside.
The notorious Black Widow Spider of the United States is a close relative of the Redback Spider, and only differs in appearance by the absence of a red dorsal stripe.

Webs consist of a tangled, funnel-like upper retreat area from which vertical, sticky catching threads run to ground attachments. The spider favours proximity to human habitation, with webs being built in dry, sheltered sites, such as among rocks, in logs, shrubs, junk-piles, sheds, or toilets. Redback bites occur frequently, particularly over the summer months but are less common in winter.
Only the female bite is dangerous. They can cause serious illness and have caused deaths. However, since Redback Spiders rarely leave their webs, humans are not likely to be bitten unless a body part such as a hand is put directly into the web, and because of their small jaws many bites are ineffective.
The main rule is never to stick your hand into or under anything outside unless you have checked first.
We have two types of ticks, the bush tick and the paralysis tick. Both are a nuisance if they attached themselves to you leaving a large itchy red lump and have the potential to pass on Lyme disease. The Australian paralysis tick is widely distributed in south eastern coastal temperate regions and secretes a neurotoxin in its saliva that causes a progressive, and occasionally fatal, paralysis.

Sometimes a severe hypersensitivity reaction can occur.
This tick is particularly severe on dogs and cats causing hundreds of deaths every year and this keeps the vets in our area particularly busy administering antivenom and supplying preventative collars, tablets and pour ons. My neighbour nearly lost a very expensive foal from a paralysis tick last year.
There are many theories on how to remove a tick safely without it injecting more toxin into you. Personally I just pull them out but prevention is better than cure and a spray on insecticide is the best protectant.
Leeches are found in damp cool areas. They live in the grass and on the leaves of bushes and shrubs and are always waiting for a host to come along to attach to. Finding a thick blood engorged slug on your person (and they get in the most awkward places!) is always not pleasant. Removal is easy by just pulling them off. This is considered dangerous because they disgorge bacteria laden liquids from their stomachs which can cause infection.

Other methods include sprinkling them with salt, applying tea tree oil or menthol or a lighted match. The latter always seems more dangerous to me. The wound can bleed for quite a long time due to the anticoagulants they have injected and the lump left can be itchy for weeks and become infected.
We usually apply a spray on insecticide before working in the bush to combat them.