Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Building a Dog Fence (with the help of the Skidril)

Since Ruger needs a lot of space to run, we decided to tear out the decorative picket fence and replace it with a "dog fence".  We mapped out a larger perimeter fence for our backyard, dug corner post and gate post holes, and used concrete to set the 4" x 4" wooden posts.  We then measured where each metal post needed to be set, and marked the spots with orange paint.  Today,  Lars used the Skidril to drive all the posts (about 40) in less than an hour.  We helped by holding the post - and using a level to keep it straight. Here is a link to a short video of the first post we set.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

The Value Added Producer Grant!

It seems like a very long time ago (in July) that we submitted a grant application to the US Department of Agriculture for a "Value Added Producer Grant".  We never really thought that we would actually have a chance of getting this grant, but we found out in late October, that we were one of the award recipients.   We are so excited and thankful for this opportunity.  It will definitely speed up the process of getting a winery off the ground.

This grant is meant to help small farms add value to their raw product/commodity, as in grapes to wine, milk to cheese, fruit to jam etc.  The grant funds can be used for packaging (as in bottles, corks and labels), marketing and wine-making  ingredients and disposable supplies- as long as it is not capital equipment.

The grant announcement has been picked up in several local and national publications, such as the Cumberland Valley Business Journal  and the Wines&Vines trade publication.  Stay tuned for updates!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Ruger - the Dog - Update

Sammy's dog Ruger is now known most often as Lars's dog.  He still sleeps in a crate in Lars's bedroom and spends his indoor time on the tiled floor of the living room or kitchen.  He is getting so big so fast.  He knows his name, and listens to all the basic commands - and he listens well!  Lars takes him for runs most days through the vineyard and around the blackberries. All the grandchildren play with Ruger and he loves the attention.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Tasting Room Staircase Access and Floor

We finally "broke ground"  (in this case "broke ceiling") on the future tasting room access from the downstairs production area of the barn and put in a staircase.  That was step 1 of our November remodeling project.

The more important - and more tricky - part was a complete overhaul of the floor, of what will be the tasting room.

All the floor board were torn out, and engineered structural beams were inserted between the original hand-hewn beams. Then everything was leveled with strips of wood.  It took a lot longer than anticipated, but it was definitely worth it.

The beams were covered with a layer of plywood, then a layer of thick insulation (from recycled entry door segments), followed by a second layer of plywood.  The floor is super sturdy, no longer creaks, and it is perfectly level!!  This space is roughly 20 ft by 40 ft.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Grape Harvest Sequence

Yesterday we picked the last of our grape variety, the Vidal Blanc.  We should have harvested them 4 days earlier, because the birds got the majority of the grapes in just the last few days :(

Here is this year's chronological grape harvest:

  1. Concord 
  2. Chardonnel, at 21° Brix and a pH of 3.06
  3. Corot Noir
  4. Chambourcin harvest part 1, for making Rosè, at 19.9° brix and a pH of 3.31
  5. Chambourcin harvest part 2, for red wine, 22° Brix, and pH of 3.47
  6. Vidal Blanc, 20.6° Brix and pH of 3.33

Saturday, September 10, 2016

1st Corot-Noir Harvest

Our first Corot Noit harvst turned out to be rather sparse.  Not only was it the first year that the vines were producing, but we had pruned a lot of clusters off to ensure the vines stayed healthy through the dry summer conditions.  But on top of all that, we had major bird damage - the story of our 2016 harvest season.

For these grapevines, we had used black netting, since it is a lot more aesthetic to look at - sadly, the black netting was completely useless.

We picked just enough grapes to end up with 2.5 gallons of must (we had been hoping for ten times that much).  Since we had so few grapes, we destemmed them manually, and then crushed them by hand.

We let fermentation run its course, punched down the cap every day, and ended up with 1.5 gallons of wine.  We'll see how it turns out in about a year.  For 2017 we are hoping for a full barrel!

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Elena's First Birthday

We celebrated Elena's first birthday today at the farm...the first of several celebrations, and we had a blast...and cake, balloons and a doll!!

Saturday, August 20, 2016

We Got a DOG!

Sammy came home with the cutest puppy ever - a two month old Border Collie, who she named Ruger.  Lars is already in love with the dog, who currently lives in our kitchen.  We build dog gates to keep it contained to the tile floor.  At night time, he sleeps in a large dog cage in Lars's bedroom.

I think Ruger may just be the smartest dog ever.  We have had him for over two weeks now, and he only had one accident - and that was just because he did not know how to let us know that he need to go outside.

Saturday, August 13, 2016


We got a gas powered, handheld fence post driver.  Ours is made by a company called Skidril  (which is how we refer to this tool by now).  Probably one of the best tools ever for putting in metal trellis posts.  It works so much faster than drilling holes with a tractor attachment, and then pounding in the  wooden posts with another tractor attachment.  And - with the handheld tool, we can easily replace or add posts when the grapevines or blackberry bushes are already established.

Of course it does take some stamina, and balance and in our case a crew of three people.  We marked the field where the posts had to be placed before we got started, and build a platform for the truck for one person to stand on to use the post driver. The second person held the post in place with a level to keep it straight, and the third person drove the truck.  They managed to set about 80 posts in an hour!

And, the Skidril has a jackhammer attachment, which will come in really handy once we put in expanded drainage troughs in the barn...

Friday, July 29, 2016

Beautiful Cumberland Valley

We "spent a summer day" at University Park, to check out various majors at Penn State.  On the way back from State Cellege, we stopped at the Hawk Watch, on top of North Mountain - right "behind" our farm, and looked down into the beautiful Cumberland Valley:

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Blackberry Season

We are in the middle of a drought - at least on our farm.  There have been downpours just a few miles away, several times, but our grass is brown and our garden is in a sad stage.  We've been irrigating the blackberries as much as possible, since harvest time is starting.

Nonetheless, there are berries.  In the last week, we picked over 850 lbs and about 1/3 of them are beautiful.  The others were cleaned and frozen and will be used/sold for making jams, shrubs, or wine. We will still be picking for a while - and hoping for rain!

We do have fun picking them, even in the heat...and they are delicious.

Rachel is picking in the summer heat
Elena loves her berries

We'll still be picking for a while - and hoping for rain!

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Jam Label Design

Berry season has been "in" for a while now, with strawberries starting the cycle, followed by blueberries, raspberries, gooseberries and currants - and soon our major berry crop: blackberries.

We've been using the berries for jam as they ripened and this year we splurged on the glossy round labels that "Avery" makes.  Their online design software is completely flexible and lets you design your own label from scratch, or you can modify existing templates.

We also had a lot of fun looking for fancy label ideas on Pinterest and added a new "Glammy Jam" album.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Wooden Trellis Innovation

To date, most of our vineyard is trellised with wooden posts - which has a major disadvantage when compared to metal posts:  metal posts have "build-in" brackets that make it very easy to move the catch wires to a higher level as the grape vines grow and get longer.

Jeff decided to make his own system to allow us to move the catch wires:  he cut metal strapping (the lighter weight, about 28 gauge) into short section, containing 3 holes.  He then bent this short section into a U shape.  He made a lot of them - coffee cans full of them.

To each U shape, he inserted a weather proof drywall screw and we screwed them onto the fence posts, about 6" above the fruiting wire for the first one, and the second one about 12" higher.  Two on each side of every post.   We used long, galvanized nails to closed the "bracket", to hold the catch wire in place.

It worked like a charm -  we already moved the catch wires to the second level on nearly every variety.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Another Bottling Day

We took advantage of a long weekend to do another bottling run - with just three of us we bottled our 2014 Chambourcin and 2014 Rosè.  Not counting set-up and cleaning before and after, it only took us about 4 hours to bottle. Everything together took about a day with extra helpers.  Fortunately, we had no equipment breakdown and only broke two bottles during corking (go Lars!)

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Purple Blooms Brighten Our Herb Garden

Blooming Chives

Dark purple irises edge the herb garden on the driveway side

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Celebrating a 55 Year Wedding Anniversary

Tina's parents came to the farm this weekend for a slightly belated celebration of their 55 years of marriage.  Way to go Ute and Werner!!  Although it rained both days, we still spent a bit of time outside to see the grapevines, the berries and the garden.   We had a lot of fun family time inside, and celebrated with champagne and cake:

(cake recipe courtesy of Leigh Ann and her link to  Sugarhero,com)

Sunday, May 15, 2016


One of the "must have" bramble varieties for a budding winery has to be the wineberry - Rubus phoenicolasius, also called Japanese Wineberry, or Wine Raspberry (see Wikipeadia for more info)  It is a native species in China, Japan and Korea and was introduced to North America in the late 19th century for breeding new hybrid raspberry varieties.  These berries are very tasty, with a more intense raspberry flavor than raspberries themselves.  Wineberries are sweet but also tart, and the higher level of acidity is what makes them so good for jams and for wine.

Wineberries now grow wild in parts of the United States, primarily in the Appalachian Mountains - and they certainly grow around our region!  They are commonly found  along the edges of fields and roadsides, but are not widely cultivated.  Actually, wineberries are considered an invasive weed in many states, including Pennsylvania.There is a great blog post on the Cumerland County Extension website about wineberries.

What makes this type of bramble so unique is the way that the berries ripen inside a calyx – a remainder of the flower.  The calyx folds back as the fruit reaches maturity and a shiny, slightly sticky and very tasty berry emerges.

Despite the fact that these berries are not widely cultivates, we dug some out this weekend and planted them in a new row, next to a row of red raspberries.  We'll see how cultivation affects these berries.  Hoping that we can contain them in a neat row and that they bear a lot of fruit.  Can't wait to make some jam and maybe some wine as well.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

More Excavating and Barn Clean-up

This was a good weekend for spring clean-up work.  We had someone come in and remove all the accumulated metal "stuff".  All that is left to move now is the old silo.  We also took time to clean up around all the sheds and the barn and we moved more things out of the barn (like the row boat and trailer).

Over the past couple of weeks, Zach has been getting rather good at using the grader attachment for the tractor.  He graded a section of the  old "barnyard" that desperately needed cleaned up;  and he started moving piles of dirt around in what will someday be the parking lot below the barn.

While Zach was moving dirt, Tina found a spot of wineberry plants, which we dug out and moved to the garden before the tractor would destroy them.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Making Space for Niagara Grapes

A few weeks ago we "erased" the small, upper blackberry patch which we had started next to the vegetable garden a few years ago.  We never paid too much attention to this patch, and therefore it never produced many berries.  Within one afternoon, all traces of the trellis and the brambles were gone.  The old rows were plowed and disked, and orange marker paint clearly showed where the new plantings were to go.

The reason for all this destruction was a new order of Niagara grapes, an American white variety of the  Vitis labrusca species.  Similar to Concord grapes, with a typical "grapey, musky" flavor profile.  We ordered 150 plants to give these grapes a try.  We planted them the same way as the Traminettes last weekend, with cardboard and mulch, to keep the weeds at bay.  They have been growing rather vigorously and within a month, healthy, happy grape plants are visible.

Monday, April 18, 2016

The Asparagus Project and More

Last weekend we had snow, and just 7 days later we all have our first sunburn!  It was in the mid 70's all weekend and we got a LOT of our garden planted.

We started off with tackling the "1000 Asparagus Root"project (yes, Jeff, Jens and Zach decided this was a good idea and promptly ordered 1000 roots).  We planted about 1/4 of them in our garden, but the remaining 750+ roots were planted in Zach and Rachel's new Asparagus Patch.

For a break, we trimmed grape vines ... down to the last few rows of Corot Noir.  These grape vines are nearly as far along as the Concord vines, with imminent bud break.  Luckily we are pruning them last!

The garden is disked, and several rows of plastic with irrigation lines are already laid down.  Getting ready to plant!!  We did get seed potatoes, red beet, carrot, spinach and lettuce some parsley and cilantro plants for the herb garden.  Sadly we ran out of time, and the potatoes will have to wait until next weekend.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Berry Patches Revived

Despite the unseasonable cold weather (and snow), we managed to get a lot of work done on the farm this weekend.  The most important task was to plant the remaining 100  Niagara grapes - so that plot now has 150 grapes in about .5 acres.

We planted 14 new blueberry bushes, slightly enlarging the patch near the barn, and replacing some of the previously planted bushes.  We also applied aluminum sulfate to the blueberry patch, to keep soil acidity low in order for the bushes to thrive.

Our strawberries started shooting leaves over a week ago and the colder weather has not slowed them down.  We cleaned up the patch and then covered it with straw, letting only the new leaves show through.

The elderberry patch also got a good "thinning out".  They need to be pruned almost like brambles (just not as often).  Old fruiting canes need to be removed so that new canes can grow and bear fruit.  And yes, we are still cleaning up and pruning in the blackberry patch - just two more rows to go!!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Planting Traminette

We had lots of helpers this weekend to plant 200 new Traminette grape vines.  It did not take us that long at all!

Anja and Leif are planting
girls taking a snack break
We stuck to our "proven" method of planting vines, but this year, we surrounded each vine with cardboard (which we had been saving all winter), and then we covered the cardboard with mulch.  Hoping that this will keep the weeds a bay and allow the grapevines a head start.  It certainly looked pretty when we were all done.

Half the vines were grafted, using rootstock #3309, the other half was not grafted.  We'll try and document the difference in growing habits, disease resistance, winter hardiness etc.