Monday, March 26, 2007


It looked like we were growing giant tube worms. Our idyllic vineyard, sloping up the hill, now looked like a large field of worms, or some kind of odd cemetery.

In establishing a first-year vineyard, it is customary to use grow tubes to help spur growth and protect the vines. They come in different heights and colors, but essentially they are large, cylindrical tubes one places at the base of a plant that go up almost 36". The plastic of the tubes was opaque, but let through copious amounts of light. They protected the plants from deer, raccoons, and mice, and created a terrarium-like atmosphere to help the plant grow up straighter and better.

Placing these on the vines is back-breaking work. Ours were the color of a very clean band-aid. I had seen blue- and light-green-hued tubes, but ours were a bland cream-colored hue—about the color of uncooked pasta. It was an unexciting color, to say the least.
The ones we purchased from our farm supply resource were like rolled-up sheets of corrugated plastic. You had to pry one of them apart, and try to wrap it around the uncooperative vine.
First, the tube was hard to handle. It was formed much like a mechanical spring. Any time you lost your grip, it would snap or roll up right back into a narrow little tube. And vines, partially grown, were spreading out in various directions. They looked like giant, sprawling green spiders, with limbs going out every which way.

First, you had to have your tube cocked, and then you had to wrestle the vine, collecting all its limbs, and then you had to coerce, cajole, wrestle, and stuff the wily, slippery, bull-headed, stubborn vine into the mousetrap-like device. If you did it correctly, you could close the tube at the base of the vine, and with a turn or two, the tube would snap shut around the vine.
More often than not, especially with the faster growing vines, this took two or three attempts. In our inexperience, we had probably let them go on too long before attempting to harness them.
Once the tube was on, it had to be set. You also had to make sure you were including the bamboo stake that had been driven into the ground. A series of holes were slotted into both ends of the tube. Slot A fit into slot B. By attacking it in this way, you unwound the tube a bit to give extra growing room inside the tube. Unfortunately, the tube or the plant might again not cooperate, and the whole thing might come undone. So you’d have to go back and do this all over again.

Once that was accomplished, we put rubber bands and tape on our tubes to make sure they would not come undone. While we applied the tubes, Dylan and Dawson were ferrying tubes to each of us. They fought over who would push the wheelbarrow up and down the fields. It tipped over more than once. They used tubes tightly wound up like swords to hit each other. Both Dom and I had to adjudicate more than several bouts.

As I said before, this is back-breaking work—especially for me. The plants are in the ground, and the tubes have to be put on around them. It’s a lot of work on your knees and bent over. Luckily for me, Dominique was excellent at it. I had helped on the first batch, but just as in the kitchen, she would come by tubes I had done, like I was some little kid whose mother was checking his hastily prepared homework, and re-do the ones I had done.
At one point, she told me not to bother. To run to the store and buy more tape and more industrial-sized, thick rubber bands. I went to the truck with pain in my lower back and drove to the nearby Wal-Mart.

However, by the time I tried to get out of the truck, the mud of the fields dry on my boots and hands, I had some real difficulty. Much like Felix in The Odd Couple, I could not straighten up. I walked around the Wal-Mart, going up and down the aisles, holding on to the shopping cart for dear life, leaning on it, relying on it like my 90+ year-old grandmother relies on her walker.
Eventually, after taking fifteen minutes to crawl into the truck, I drove back to the vineyard, where the boys took the rubber bands and began rubber banding numerous tubes.
By Dominique’s edict, I too was relegated only to this task, as I was not an approved tube applier. I cannot lie, my feelings were hurt but my back was thrilled.
In the end, it didn't quite look like an idyllic vineyard, but it was the proper next step in our fledgling enterprise. Many neighbors wondered what we had done. What were those things? Where were the grape vines? We were asking the same thing.


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