Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Book Reviews / August 2014

Just This Once is another in my light reading category.
What attracted me was the Rugby theme (and, at the time, being free on Amazon).
Hannah is an American who is jaded by business and being 'a mother' to her siblings.
She needs a holiday.
She heads off to New Zealand for three weeks relaxation at the beach

She gets into trouble in the surf and is rescued by Drew who just happens to be the All Black's (NZ national rugby team) captain.
Things 'progress' from there.
Drew knows she is right for him, Hannah thinks he is right for her but they dance around one another for quite a while.
Then Hannah bites the bullet and heads for a more permanent stay in New Zealand.
Her trials and tribulations with a new culture, almost a new language and the obsessive rugby culture make entertaining reading. 
Will this relationship work out in the end? I think we all know the answer to that.
Apparently there are five subsequent titles in this "Escape to New Zealand" series and even a prequel.
A fun book.
The author has set herself a daunting task with The Untold Stories of Broadway. She is documenting a theatrical and social history of Broadway by theater via interviews with anyone who has had a connection with the precinct ie, actors, directors, writers, ushers, doormen, dressers, ticket sellers etc etc.
This is Volume 1 and covers only 8 venues of the 40 currently in existence.

There are hundreds of stories, some just a few lines long, in this book which tell of what goes on behind the scenes in professional theatre, not only on stage but in the dressing rooms, in the rehearsal halls, on the road and even in the restaurants in the surrounding area. These are interspersed with the author's own experiences as a student trying the break into the industry and working her way up to producer.
It's a intriguing tale of the changing scene of Broadway over a century with its huge successes and disastrous flops, of stars who became household names and those less famous who form the backbone of a such a creative industry.
One for the musical theatre fan.
I look forward to the next installment.
The only contact I have had with Mormons are the clean cut missionaries on the street or at the door.
Not having any religious affiliation, I usually give them a pleasant but firm brushoff.
There have been a few programs on television about them lately and of course Mitt Romney's run for the US presidency increased awareness. Most of the TV programs concentrated on the polygamy aspect of the religion but a few later ones were more into the patriarchal dominated family life which for an outsider is a bit disturbing.
So I decided to learn a bit more.

The Mormons gives a rather cynical overview of Mormonism and pulls no punches as to the life and times of the questionable Joseph Smith Jr., of the religion's foundation, of its development, its beliefs as well as the current situation in the church (or churches, given the high number of factions), not to mention its hugely successful and not always honest business arm. The book is well written and ostensibly fact driven but I am sure there is plenty in there that Mormons would either disagree or have problems with.
My take?
A religion based on fraud.
Talking of loony religions, Scientology is surely near the top of the heap. Well really I should not dignify that organization by calling it a religion when it is obviously a cult.
(let's sell these people) A Piece of Blue Sky exposes the cult's founder L. Ron Hubbard’s false claims of being a war hero, a nuclear physicist, an explorer and a protege of Eastern gurus.
It exposes the cult as a moneymaking scam posing as a religion.
It also exposes the malevolence of Scientology.
First published in 1990, the book was subject to controversy and a number of court cases. At one stage it was withdrawn from sale .
Now we have this new, unexpurgated, unabridged version.
The author joined the cult in 1974, aged 19, and left in 1983 after the new leadership of David Miscavige began taking the organization down an even more tough and ruthless route than its late founder.
He achieved a considerable high level of 'education' (OT5) within the cult so it is assumed he knows what he is talking about. Of course Scientologists debunk the whole book as lies and libel and consider it a disenchanted "divorcee" dumping on an ex partner.
But the evidence presented in the book to back up the claims is very convincing and the narrative ranges from things plain laughable to scary and concerning.
I think I know whom I believe.
While the previous book deals mainly with the founder of Scientology, Blown for Good is a more up to date tale (2009) of the organization.
Author Marc Headley presents an insider's view of life within Scientology. Brought up in a Scientology family, he began work for the cult at the age of 16. He spent 15 years at their secret Religious Technology Centre (Gold Base), a 200ha property located near Gilman Hot Springs in California. It is here that several Scientology executives, including David Miscavige, live and work. Therefore Gold Base is Scientology's international administrative headquarters.

This is a story of virtual slave labour, starvation, humiliation, physical and mental abuse, brainwashing, imprisonment and much more, all going on in a compound surrounded by razor wire and guards in the 'land of the free'.
It is a fast-paced, page-turner of a book and one which will have you shaking your head in disbelief. Just when you think things could not get worse, they do!
And as for Tom Cruise? Read the book!
Is it all true? A swathe of corroborating evidence from many other sources confirms that most of it, sadly, is.
Both the author (and his wife) eventually escape the cult but not without trauma.
By the way, the term "blown" is like the military AWOL.Once someone is 'blown', their Scientologists friends and family members are no longer allowed to communicate with them in any way.
And finally, in my research on the cult, I came across this balanced article on Scientology in Australia written by Walkley Award winner Malcolm Knox which is well worth taking the time to read.

Monday, August 18, 2014

More Winter Vineyard Work - Pruning

After finishing up the Pinot Noir block, we turned our attention to the Tempranillo, Semillon and Cabernet Sauvignon.
All these varieties are trained to a bilateral cordon (two permanent arms) and are spur pruned (see pics below).
Spacing for the former two is 3m x 2m  (rate of 1666 vines/ha) and for the latter 2m x 2m (rate of 2500 vines/ha)
Other chores included net mending, some end post stay replacement and trellis wire tensioning.
Under vine weeds were also sprayed off.
Now all the blocks are 'sealed off ' and we await bud burst which can't be too far way now for the 'early' varieties.
Vine to be pruned with last season's leafless shoots -  now called canes
 Spur with two canes - low (nearest cordon) and high (furthest from cordon)
Step 1: High cane completely removed
Step 2: Low cane reduced to two buds
Step 3: All other unwanted canes removed
Two budded spurs along vine cordon at approx hand span distance apart
Completed spur pruned vine
Pruning finished for the year

So why prune?
Fruit is only produced on new shoots which come from buds formed on the previous season's shoots (canes).
Therefore it's necessary to reduce the number of buds producing new shoots to manage the quantity and quality of fruit ie. by reducing number and size of canes.
Not getting too technical but this relates to the balance between vegetative and fruit growth.
Pruning also maintains the form and the size of the vine. By limiting the number and position of new shoots on a vine it aids canopy management ie. how the shoots are positioned on a trellis with their limited number prevents shading of leaves and bunches allowing good access to sunshine (photosynthesis). It also promotes air movement and aids good spray penetration within the canopy as disease control measures.
However there are many more aspects to pruning and canopy management with large chapters in viticulture books devoted to it as well as stand alone publications on the subject available.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Winter Vineyard Work

After a few months off to do other farm chores, mainly fence repair/maintenance and weed spraying, August was time to prepare the vineyard blocks for the 2015 vintage.
We started according to the potential bud burst of the variety.
This means, for us, working on the Pinot Noir first followed by Tempranillo, Semillon and then the Cabernet.
Stirls was down for a few days so we got a lot of pruning done. In the Pinot block we replaced a broken end post, re tensioned the wires, raised, mended and restretched the permanent netting as well as sprayed off the just emerging under vine weeds.

Our Pinot is spaced at 2 x1m  (a rate of 5000 vines/ha) with a unilateral cordon. This is a token attempt to somewhat replicate the system used in Burgundy, the home of this grape variety. While Burgundy vine planting densities range between 8,500 and 10,000/ha, it is the vine spacing rather than the row spacing that is relevant. Restricting the growth of each vine ie. a 1m cordon is said to improve grape quality with the plant putting all its effort into increasing flavour and colour into a small amount of fruit.
Reduced row spacing better utilizes precious land the Grand Cru vineyards of France, as well as the sunlight which would fall, 'wasted', on grass rather than on vines. But both these aspects are not too much of a concern for our small operation and wider rows certainly makes vineyard maintenance easier.
But this is where the comparison ends. Our climate (warm maritime) and soil type (acid sandy loam) couldn't be more different than Burgundy.

The cordons are two bud spur pruned. Each cordon has approximately 6 spurs.
This means potentially a vine will have 12 shoots, each producing two bunches.

Surprisingly when finishing off this stage of the project I noticed that despite it only being the first week of August we already have bud swell.
This has been increasingly occurring earlier in the season with all varieties each year since I first planted the Cabernet nearly two decades ago.
Who said climate change does not exist?

One of our peach trees thinks it's spring too!!

Sunday, August 03, 2014


After years of frustration and despair our team, The Waratahs, have finally won a Super 15 Rugby Championship against The Crusaders from Christchurch, New Zealand.
In an exciting game, last night, in front of 62,000 fans the game came down to a last minute 42m penalty kick which was slotted over to the the joy of us all.
Final score 33 - 32
Click here for video highlights.

Friday, August 01, 2014


Fencing, around and within the property, needs constant attention and maintenance.
We need to keep our cattle contained, especially off the highway, and the neighbours' animals out.
Major fence damage can occur with trees and large branches coming down across the wires and when termite attack or rot affects the wooden posts and strainers.
Having cattle on the property we use barbed wire (usually four strand high tensile) rather than plain wire.
Repairing and restraining barbed wire is a prickly business and you never come away from a job without a little bloodletting.
The traditional method is the use of a chain strainer.

I don't particularly like to use these. They can be dangerous. Over straining high tensile wire past breaking point is not always a pleasant experience.
But there are other options.
I like to use Strainrite tensioners developed in New Zealand.
They are simple to install by wiring them to a strainer post and then winding the barbed wire onto the ratchet with a spanner or wrench. Any subsequent restraining is made easy by tightening the ratchet another notch or two.
I use these for the trellis wires in the vineyard as well.

There is also a innovative and cheap straining device developed by a small Australian rural engineering company, Kriesl and Co, called a TwitcherTM.

You simply fit the Twitcher (L) onto the wire around the middle of the span and use the orange applicator (R) to wind the wire around it.
Again subsequent restraining is a breeze with just an additional half or full turn.

For critical boundary fences we use an additional electric fence based on a 12V battery charged energizer feeding around a 8000 volt pulse down a wired tape.

This is a very effective deterrent for any wayward cow looking for greener pastures.
And accidentally touching the tape doesn't do 'the farmer' much good either.