One foot over the pond

Trent will be off in 6 weeks. It’s a sod but even my tedious powers of persuasion have failed. I’d hoped to bore him into submission*…making his life a misery with endless reminders of exciting things happening over the next year, the dullness awaiting him him in the States…I even started a search for some loose women to try and convince him to stay but all I got was interest from the Village People (check the comments). All efforts were unsuccessful.

I think he may have wavered when we were in Malvern – the show was huge fun but it may have been the daily cooked breakfasts that caused a few moments of doubt. I even got my 5 year old daughter to lay it on thick…but that Trent has a heart of stone: he’s bought his plane ticket.

Six weeks is a long time though and we have much to do. Starting with the planting of an orchard of Japanese plums, which I’m very excited about. More about them next time (if I remember). And planting out the polytunnel forest garden with the more tender things (like this orange) that are getting tired of their life in a pot.

Next week, probably on Monday, we’ll be picking the first grapes. Those of you paying attention may remember that a month or two ago I was trying to find a way of having this year’s first, small grape harvest turned into wine without it being mixed with somebody else’s grapes. It’s no problem to have it made into wine but the harvest is too small for most wineries to want to make into its own separate batch.

I asked small wineries near here and one I know in Hampshire but no joy. A very fine man suggested I try a small, young winery near him, in Sussex.

I rang. No way, quarter of a ton? Forget it. I’d love to, but no…needs to be 2 tonnes at least…shame though, it would be fun.

We chatted some more, mostly about the varieties I was growing and where he’d learnt to do what he does. He liked the mix of fairly reliable grapes (Seyval blanc) with more adventurous ones (Sauvignon blanc, Pinot Noir and Gew├╝rztraminer). I smelt a change in the air…we kept talking. He, Ulrich, started talking about maybe there is a small tank he could borrow…

So a deal has been done, a pricey deal, but for that I get wine made only from grapes grown here at Otter Farm and Ulrich gets what’s fair for the mess about of dealing with such a small quantity. It has it’s compromise – 350 miles added to the carbon footprint of the wine isn’t ideal but on the upside that will be spread between (hopefully) 200 bottles.

We now have to watch the grapes very closely. The balance between development of the sugars and the onset and spread of rot is critical. The warm wet patch last week kicked off a little light rot but the cold wind is keeping it from spreading too quickly. Monday looks like the day.

Trent and I will be up at dawn’s crack to pick as quickly as we can – crating up the bunches and driving away from home up to Hayward’s Heath immediately to deliver the grapes to Ulrich. It had to be the same day, so after a few hours dawn picking Trent and I will be in for that 350 mile round trip. Then a long wait….the grapes will be crushed immediately but, as we’re making sparkling wine, it’ll be over a year until we might even think about tasting it.

So that’ll leave 5 Trent weeks. Five part-time weeks to plant a couple of hundred plants into an extended forest garden as well as a couple of small orchards of plumcots and Szechuan peppers.

The forest garden expansion means these dark evenings are bein spent planning very quickly so that we can get planting as soon as possible, so that the plants get as many days of warm soil and root growth before the winter as possible. There are hundreds of plants to consider – the product of overambitious purchasing last winter (and the winter before to be fair). We also have to pick the rest of the apples, the medlars and all the autumn olive, which is looking fabulous.

And I have to keep Trent’s mind away from being on the other side of the Atlantic for a short while yet. It may not be easy. The Elaeagnus ebbingei is in flower and the scent is incredible. Five or six feet tall, right at the edge of the forest garden by the pig pen, the Elaeagnus lets out invisible clouds of fragrance that’s not a million miles away from the scent of broad bean flowers – which may well be my most happy-making smell.

I told Trent about it, urging him to have a smell. He pushed his face in smiling, like a man having a waterfall shower. He couldn’t place the smell at first. Like Robert Duvall in Apocalypse Now, he felt for it ‘It smells like….like…Hawaii’.

* I used to be good at this. In the first house I lived in when I left home, I would have a winning strategy if no-one wanted to come down the pub. I’d stand on the stairs outside my best friend’s room with my chin on the landing level of his door. He knew I was there and couldn’t concentrate on a thing. He try and ignore me but he couldn’t. I knew I was winning if the stereo volume went up – he was trying to drown out the voice in his head that was compelling him to open the door to see if I was there. I’d stay there as long as it took. I knew, in time, I’d break his resolve and that pint would be mine. I’m not a nice man.

  • What great news, so your very own sparkling wine after all? How v lovely. Love the sound of your polytunnel forest garden too. Only very slightly jealous.
    Smelt an impatiens at a garden the other day that smelt exactly like playdough. Not quite Hawaii, but pretty good.

  • Oh yes, play dough is one of the great smells…like Quink, cherryade and shoe polish. What's an impatiens? I hope its not rude.

  • Sorry. It's a posh busy Lizzie. Still none the wiser? It's a flowering plant that you can't eat.

  • Blimey…we're picking tomorrow now – there's a little rot and with the cold weather and the leaves going we don't think there'll be any more going on with the sugars before Monday, but we might lose a little to rot…so, early kicck off it is (and the pigs who were off tomorrow morning, get an extra week's snuffling about)

  • You are going to have your own grapes in your own wine? I think I might die of envy. I wonder what would happen to a vine up here? The field is gently sloping and south facing (let us just ignore the height and the wind for the moment). Get thee behind me. The secret of happiness is to want what you have. But then where is ambition?

  • I'm glad you have found a way of maaking your own wine but sad that you couldnt convince Trent to stay. He did make me laugh at Malvern, such a dry sense of humour

  • I'm chuffed *blushes*. Have never been called a "a very fine" anything before.

    BTW did I mention commission ?

  • I'm so envious of your climate, flowering Elaeagnus, now. i might be a bit of an over optimistic grower here in the south of Sweden, but even I have, since a couple of weeks, a nice little ebbingei-bush on my allotment. how far north have you seen it? Is it planted all the way up on the north part of the isles?
    On the allotment it sits next to zanthoxylum simulans bushes, wich might be a more secure bet(?) atleast I've found them fruting outdoors here in Sweden. Good luck with the wine! here most grapes has been picked since a few weeks after a pretty cold autumn.

  • Sorry to hear Trent is still intent on returning to the US.

    Cool about the wine.

    The scent of broad bean flowers – one of the best in the world, I have never noticed that Elaeagnus smells similar – must go and find one

  • you never know a stint in the us may send Trent headlong back to you making him realise how godawful it is across the pond…could be a good thing…change hurts but sometimes it works out better than anyone expected!

    just a thought

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