June 12, 2005

Deer Fence Is Done!!!!!!!!!!!!

The deer fence is done. Finished. Completed.

You know at times over the past few months I never thought I'd get to say that. What a ridiculous endeavor. I definitely underestimated the level of effort required to tackle such a project.

For anyone considering getting into the vineyard business on a small-scale like us, allow me to offer this advice. Pay someone to build you a deer fence. Don't try it. If you don't have the money but want to plant this year - don't. Wait a year and save more money. Sell your car and buy a skateboard - whatever it takes.

That said, there is a certain consolation (and definite sense of fulfillment) that comes from knowing you went completely overboard and built something you had no business attempting. It will be a little while before I can tally up the total, but I will post the complete materials list with costs - recall the purpose of this blog is to contribute to the knowledge base of the Virginia wine industry (it's not just a forum for my whining).

So here's a few more pictures from the final installation day:

Rolling out the second-to-last section
Hammering in the VERY LAST STAKE!!!

Once the last stake was in all I had to was cut the excess netting and that was that. And I know you dig my Mexican Straw Hat (mad in China no less...) Thanks for following along on this saga. I'm sure there will be some more deer fence blog entries in the future as the little bastards try to get in - probably need a few repairs here and there - but the worst is over. Thanks again to everyone who helped out with post delivery and installation. That was such a HUGE help - you guys kicked ass and we are very thankful.

Now we can focus on our vines, the real reason we got into this mess in the first place!

To Shannon - Happy Anniversary Baby! A whole year passed by in the blink of an eye. Looking back through this blog just makes my head spin thinking about all we've accomplished this year. And looking ahead I just can't wait to snuggle our little boy - just a few more weeks! Thank you for all your love and support during the past few months. We sacrificed a lot of weekends together to build this dream, but it is really happening, and I'm so proud of everything we've done. I love you.


One year ago - lighting the unity candle

Posted by Stephen at 9:33 PM

June 11, 2005

Rounding Third

So today is the big day - a baby shower! This afternoon we have a shower over at my brother's place - my sister-in-law Shayna and my seester Lupe (Rebecca) are throwing Shannon a shower. So I had to get an early start today (oh there's a novel idea...) in order to complete the deer fence section along Sagle Road, which would only leave me about 400' to finish tomorrow (which incidentally I don't want to work all day because tomorrow is our 1-year wedding anniversary!)

So I was banging away by 7:30 AM. As with all construction projects, I'm getting really good at this now that I'm almost done. I've figured out many new techniques since I began stringing impact wires how many weeks ago. Probably the most useful trick involved the "pre-tightening" of the impact wires prior to securing the crimp. The goal here is to get the wire as tight as possible, thus allowing the tighteners to really stretch the wire and get a nice tight support. So I rigged up a wire gripper (a funky wedge-inside-a-ring device used in fencing installations) to a ratchet strap, then cranked down on the ratchet to hold the wire tight - have a look.

Thus when you begin tightening the wire you already have a head start, which basically means you don't have to wind as much wire up on the spool. After checking the picture, you know what I meant in a previous entry about what would happen if your hands slip off that tightener - POW there go the teeth...

So la de da the day wore on and I got to the final corner. Now tomorrow all I have to do is reach the gate and I'm done! Time to head over to the shower and help Shannon open some presents - good times!

Posted by Stephen at 9:17 PM

June 4, 2005

Still Keeping At It...

I worked on the deer fence today. Again. It sucked. My hands hurt. My back, arms, shoulders, legs and head hurt.

BUT when I finished tonight I realized that no matter what, next weekend would see the completion of the project. I just have two more sections to go - one per day and that's it. So even though I feel terrible physically it has been a productive few days and mentally I'm starting to feel an impending sense of accomplishment. Almost there.

Posted by Stephen at 9:49 PM

June 3, 2005

Keeping At It...

Another day hacking away at the deer fence. It rained most of the day, but that was OK cuz it's better than 95 degrees and scorching sun. Also proved to be cool for some picture taking - since the fence is made of the "invisible" nylon netting it doesn't really show up well in photos. Unless it's got water droplets on it and then it becomes a huge spider web. Here's a few pics:

Big spider web
Corner structure
Netting overlap (the joint where two rolls come together)

Here's a few more shots of a couple structural elements:

Hog ring holding the netting to the impact wire
Ground stakes which secure the netting to the ground and prevent the deer from squeezing underneath

Are we done yet?

Posted by Stephen at 9:06 PM

June 1, 2005

Another Career Change

So today was my last day at comScore Networks. AOL contacted me out of the blue back in April. I had placed a resume on the TimeWarner career site in January and apparently had not disabled it so it was still active in their system. A recruiter found it in a search and gave me a call. At first I was hesitant to explore the opportunity, but figured it couldn't hurt to at least read the job description (below). So I had her send it over and that was that - it is the perfect job for me, combining my love/fascination with digital media and my experience with product management. So after six interviews (2 phone and 4 onsite) they offered me the job, and I handed in my notice to comScore. So since today was my last day I bailed out early to go work on the deer fence. Actually I went in late cuz I had to go by DeerBusters to pick up a new hog ring tool. In fact I think I was only there for about 20 minutes... :)

So I made it out to the vineyard around 2 and got right to work on the netting. Amazing what a difference the new hog ring tool made (since it actually worked...) Now I was on a roll. Got two lengths (165') of netting installed and ran another section of impact wires. So figure since I have tomorrow, Friday, and Saturday to work on this fence I ought to be able to make a lot of progress!

Here's the job description:

AOL has embarked on a business strategy to be the #1 provider of premium services to the Internet at large. This initiative is the growth engine of the company and our portfolio of media services will be leading this growth. The Digital Media Services (DMS) group is responsible for premium music, video and photo services. The Media Service Program Director will be responsible for implementing all DMS services in a 2’ experience on a PC. 2’ stands for the distance someone interacts with the service, so it is a euphemism for the user interface on the PC. There are other Program Directors that manage implementations for mobile and living room implementations, 1’ and 10’ respectively. Specifically, this person will be responsible for determining the appropriate features, design, and content programming for these 2’ service experiences. This person will then plan a process for evaluating internal and external options for implementing the 2’ service experiences and manage the implementations working in concert with other AOL support and stakeholder teams. This person will work closely with the business owners of the DMS services on all business and product strategy and develop service and implementation roadmaps. This person will manage internal and external partner relationships for these service implementations. This person will manage a team of Program Managers to execute these implementations. The ideal candidate will have 8+ years experience in the media and Internet industries. A firm feel for business and product strategy coupled with a pragmatic approach to execute initiatives will be required. Experience managing 3rd party partnerships is desired. An MBA is a plus but not required.

America Online is an equal opportunity employer and does not discriminate on the basis of age, color, disability, marital status, national origin, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, veteran status or any other classification prescribed by applicable law

Posted by Stephen at 8:02 PM

May 22, 2005

Gate Complete!

Happy birthday to me... happy birthday to me...

Up early again today - awoke with happy thoughts of finally putting up some deer netting. Got out to the vineyard and grabbed two rolls of netting from the shack. Unrolled the first and stood it up against the impact wires. Obviously it has a tendency to just flop over, so you have to get the first end nailed to a post, then the other end (which is still partially wrapped around a tube) gets attached to two ratchet straps. Then the ratchet straps go around another post and are tightened so that the netting becomes taut and assumes a somewhat vertical shape resting against the impact wires. Check out how tall the fence is.

Since the vineyard has lots of hills and dips, it took a couple tries to get the netting to line up properly with the wires and posts, but once I got it aligned, the next step is to secure it to the impact wires with hog rings. And here is where the train ran off the tracks...

The hog ring tool that I bought was made of plastic, and in my experience any tool made of plastic is by definition "consumer grade" which means it has no business in my ummm, "delicate" hands. I believe the quality of a tool is directly proportional to its weight. So I load this piece of shit with the hog rings, then squeeze the handle and install the first ring. Then on the second attempt the tool jams. ?????? Irritating. So I have to dig out the staple from the tool, then try again. It jams. !!!!! Very irritating. Mind you I've estimated I'll have to install somewhere between 5,000 and 6,000 hog rings on this fence. So I continue this saga of install/jam/jam/install/jam/jam for about 20 minutes during which time I get about 8' of fence installed. Very very very irritated now.

So I remove the staples just to see if maybe there is something causing this piece of shit to jam up, but everything appears functional. So one more try and JAM. So now I'm pissed and squeeze the handle really hard and wouldn't you know it the plastic handle just breaks off. That's it - caveman time. Returning to the ways of my neanderthal ancestors, I take the tool and throw it against a post where it explodes into a dozen pieces. Then I pick up the hammer and continue to bash each piece to dust. Then I threw the hammer against the bushhog where it then ricocheted into the tall grass to disappear.

Luckily the company that I bought the tool from was closed so I wasn't able to drive up there to discuss my displeasure. So I went over to Tractor Supply in Leesburg - no hog ringer. Then to Home Depot - "you need a what???" Nevermind. OK so no more netting is getting installed today. Time to head to the shack for a nap.

So after a two-hour nap to mitigate my disposition, I resolved to regroup and make something productive happen. Thus I decided to finish the installation of the gate. This went really well, and after about 2 1/2 hours I had the gate complete.

Gate complete!

And it even works!

Posted by Stephen at 10:23 PM

May 21, 2005


So today is the day - the last of the deer fence post construction! No more hole digging or chain sawing for a while...

The day started off early - I was out in the vineyard by 7:15 AM after a quick stop to chat with the neighbors. First order of business was to insert the twitch sticks in the bracing wire that I had done last weekend (but didn't have the lumber for the twitch sticks.) Got those done (three corners) then it was time to pull more bracing wire. I had been fortunate for the first few corner assemblies in that I was using scrap wire from last year's research vineyard, but since I ran out of that I had to use the big roll of high-tensile wire for the remaining braces. So this roll of wire comes in lengths of 4,000' and until you've actually picked one up you can't imagine how heavy it is! Fortunately it's possible to roll them from one place to the next. Even more fun is pulling the wire. The rolls come wound very tightly and secured with 5 metal bands. The trick is to place the roll on an apparatus called a "spinning jenny" which prevents the roll from unwinding rather violently (and tearing your face off in the process...) So I got the spinning jenny assembled and the wire in place, then measured out the correct length and started pulling/cutting wire. But hold on a second - something is different here??? Apparently the wire I bought last year was the softer kind, and this new roll is much tougher to cut (and much harder on tools...)

Anyway, after a few hours I got the last corners complete, then it was time to begin the gate posts and bracing. So I figured it would be a good idea to assemble the gate frame just so I could get some exact measurements on where to place the final post. So I put the outer frame together, and since it was just temporary I decided to just hold things in place with duct tape until I got everything in place. Took the last measurements and dug the final hole. Once the post was in place and tamped, I completed the last set of braces and the posts were done!!! Just as I was finishing up Shannon came by to check it out - it was nice having here there when I finished that part, since it's been such a huge headache (literally) I was glad she got to share in the milestone. So we hung out for a little while, sitting in the sun just enjoying a peaceful moment.

Once Shannon left, I still had a few hours of daylight left so I decided to get started on installing the monofilament line (also know as impact wire) which gets attached to the posts, and which holds the netting in place. The process basically involves measuring each fence post and putting marks at 0" - 2'6" - 5'0" - 7'6". Then beginning at one end, the impact wire (8-gauge black nylon monofilament line) is wrapped around the post and crimped. Once that is secured, I took the spool of line and walked down to the next corner, cut the line to length (plus extra) and tied it off. Repeat x 3. After all 4 lines were run, the next step is walking from post to post and stapling (using the big galvanized staples) the four wires at the correct height. A key thing here is to ensure that the staples are not hammered completely down on the line, as the line must be allowed to move freely through the staple to allow for tensioning. Once each post has had the 4 lines nailed in place, the slack is pulled out and the other end is crimped. Next the tensioners get installed. This is an annoying process, whereby these goofy black plastic spools are slid over the line, then turned over and over to roll the line and take up any slack. The worst part is using the tightener tool. Reason is because as you take up more and more slack the line gets really tight and the tool is trying to unwind itself. One slip and that thing would spin itself right into orbit (after bouncing off my front teeth, scattering them about the field...) In fact, that thing made me so nervous I put on my face mask just to use it! La de da I got the four tensioners installed and decided to call it a day (mostly because the sun was setting...)

If you've been following along, you'll notice we've turned our comment feature back on. The way this will work is that comments will be open for an entry for a day or two, then disabled. Hopefully this will prevent scumbag spammers from trying to advertise Viagra or porn on our blog comments...

Posted by Stephen at 9:58 PM | Comments ( 1 )

May 15, 2005

Corners Continued...

Today's focus is on the rest of the corner braces. REALLY feeling tired today - this is the fourth day in a row out here (plus an overnight trip to PA for the funeral) so I felt wiped out even before I got started this morning. Progress was good though, but I ran out of bracing wire so the last three corner assemblies will get their wire next weekend. Shannon stopped by with my mom to check on progress. Of course it always seems that when she pulls up I'm doing something stupid. In this case I had just climbed into the bucket of the tractor and was standing up drilling holes in the top of the posts. I figured that was easier than moving a ladder around everywhere - the bucket works out nicely cuz you can walk sideways in it to get from one end of the brace post to the other. :)

But I have to say - by the end of the day I was so exhausted I could hardly lift up the bracing posts to install them on the pins. Think I'm going to sleep pretty well tonight! So next weekend should see the end of the post/bracing construction. I just have to put in the bracing wire on the three corners, brace the gate posts, then assemble the gate and it will be time to start putting up the netting!

Posted by Stephen at 9:42 PM

May 14, 2005

Mowing / Fence Corners

Well the vines are really growing - and so is the grass! Had to spend about 3 hours today mowing. Did the perimeter of the deer fence (two passes inside and out) then between each of the rows, as well as the outside of the rows over to the deer fence. Just left the back half of the vineyard alone - figured there's no sense in mowing that until fall. It sure looked great though, as this was the first look at the completed rows with nice manicured cover crop between. And with the addition of the soil amendments in the fall, all the grass now is a rich, deep green.

Once that was done, it was time to start on the deer fence corner bracing. This has to be done because at each corner, the impact wires (4)- 8 gauge monifilament, which supports the deer fence will be attached and tensioned. Thus the tension of the wires and the fence would pull the corners inward if they weren't properly braced.

I designed the brace as essentially two trellis row end braces, one on top of the other. Thus there is a seamless transfer of the tension from the top of the post down to it's base, creating a very sturdy structure.

Pictures coming tonight!

As in all new projects, it took a while to figure out the best process for maximizing construction efficiency, but after I got the first one done, the second was much easier. I finished two today, and have 7 more to go!

Posted by Stephen at 9:06 PM

May 13, 2005

Deer Fence Posts Done!!!

Wow - I can't believe it! Put in the last deer fence post this afternoon. What a huge relief. Feels great to stand in the middle of the vineyard and just look the whole way around, seeing all those posts. Still a ton of work to do - will start on the corner bracing this weekend, which has to be completed before stringing the nylon netting. Then I have to install the gate, but as soon as that's done I can begin the final phase. Meanwhile the vines are growing - it's a race to the finish - will the vines emerge from the tubes before the fence is done??? The deer are licking their chops - stay tuned...

Posted by Stephen at 9:03 PM

May 12, 2005

Deer Fence Posts (Continued Again)

Had the day off today/tomorrow for bereavement leave. Have to head up to Pennsylvania for Gram's viewing and funeral. Times like these I find it helpful to focus on work, so since we're not leaving until 1 PM I figured I could keep my mind off of it by heading out to the vineyard to continue installing posts. Put in about 3 hours this morning - looks like I'll finish up tomorrow afternoon.

Posted by Stephen at 11:59 AM

May 8, 2005

Done With Jack

Today's activities were overshadowed by the loss of my dear Grandmother, Mary Lightner, who passed away yesterday afternoon. We shall put her rocking chair in the loft of our tasting room, with photos of her as well as our other grandparents. We know they'll watch over us, and we'll burn a candle for them at every family gathering to represent the light they always shone on us. I miss you Gram.

Finished up the last of the holes requiring the jackhammer today. I'm trying to be encouraged by the progress, but I'm unbelievably physically sore, and miserably depressed about Gram.

Sorry, I just don't feel like writing right now.

Posted by Stephen at 10:11 PM

May 7, 2005

Jack the Hammer

Well today is the day. I've been putting this task off for quite a few weeks, but now it's time to step up to the plate. Or should I say step up to the hole...

If you've been following along, you may recall the difficulty I had augering about 15 holes along the rear of the vineyard - read about it here - due to a layer of shale about 8 inches below the surface. No way the auger was going through that rock - just wearing down the cutting teeth.

So I got a catalog from Rentals Unlimited and spent some time debating which tool to rent to break through this layer of rock - recall that each line post has to be 2 1/2 feet deep, and the corners have to be 4 1/2 feet deep. So in order to save a few bucks, I decided not to get the mini-excavator with a breaker bar, but rather a towable air compressor with a jackhammer. Figured the jackhammer would be able to reach deep enough in the hole to get to 2 1/2'. And I was right, but what I didn't anticipate was how bad that thing was going to rattle the living shit out of me. I've used jackhammers before, but never digging down a hole that deep - typically they are used to break up top layers of concrete - and lifting a 90-pound jackhammer out of a hole 100 times gets a little old.

So the day went like this - turn on compressor, drop jackhammer in hole, break up rock layer (about 4" - 6" at a time) - take jackhammer out of hole, remove rock and dirt with post hole digger (manual one, not the auger) - repeat until hole is 2 1/2' deep. This fun stuff took on average about 45 minutes per hole.

Shannon brought lunch by around 1PM, and she got sad to see the shape I was in (pretty miserable at this point.) I realized there was no way I would finish all the holes today, so now it hit me I was gonna get stuck with another day's rental charges for the equipment. Lovely.

So I dragged myself back out to the vineyard after lunch to continue banging away. I do recall at one point in the afternoon I was getting frustrated and really leaned into the jackhammer. Once you straighten your arms though (which act like a kind of shock absorber... -ish.) all that rattling goes right to the rest of your body, including the head. More on that later...

Have a look at the process.

On the bright side of life, Donny's crew finished the trellis post pounding today, so that is a nice milestone. So all I have to do is construct the 48 end braces, and run all the cordon wire. Question is do I begin that before I finish the deer fence? Right now I think those tasks can wait, because this fence has to be done before the vines reach the top of the grow tubes!

Sometime around 4PM my hands and arms finally gave out on me, and I couldn't physically get the jackhammer lifted out of hole. So I just left the pig in there and decided to head over to Hibb's place to help assemble his daughter's new swing set.

Safety note - I felt very strange the rest of the afternoon (dizzy, disoriented) and woke up around 3AM with intense nausea. I was afraid to move because I thought I was going to hurl if I moved an inch, so I lay there staring at the ceiling. I'm pretty sure the day full of banging gave me a slight concussion - thinking back on the afternoon I almost felt I was going to black out at one point when I was leaning on the jackhammer and it wasn't eating through the rock. So keep those arms bent!

Posted by Stephen at 9:46 PM

April 10, 2005

Deer Fence Continued...

Started the day by finishing up the herbicide spraying. Only had 10 rows to do so that didn't take long at all. Then it was time to continue drilling holes for the deer fence. I'd finished all I could around the sides and back (still need a breaker to get through some rock in the back...) so I just had to do the side along Sagle Road. Getting the fence line marked was a little challenging because the crest in the hill prevents you from seeing corner to corner, so you have to place median markers to help line everything up. This is the same hill that proved difficult when we first marked out the vineyard. So it took a little back and forth but finally got a line I was happy with. Of course once I had the final fence line marked I realized I didn't clear enough of the brush on the hillside next to the road, thus I wouldn't be able to get the tractor/bush hawg around it to keep the fence line cleared. So once I get the posts installed I can cut out the last small bit of hill to create a nice, safe, level road to keep things tidy.

Once everything was marked, I installed some new cutting teeth on the auger and started drilling holes. Being so close to the brush line there was quite a few tree roots to drill through but that didn't prove too problematic. Only one hole really sucked, requiring extensive ass-kickery with a digging bar, but tenacity prevailed and I got through. Having completed that I decided to work on the corner post that we set last weekend. We couldn't get the hole dug deep enough so the corner was actually a foot high, and looking at it today really bugged me, so I took a tow chain, wrapped it around the post and pulled it out with the tractor loader. Feeling all confident since I just successfully used the digging bar on the previous problem hole, I figured I could get down another foot. Of course I first had to remove all the gravel we poured down the hole last week. Sigh...

So I commence to banging down this hole, which is of course filled with mud and water. As the hole gets deeper you are getting closer and closer to the ground as you peer in the hole until SPLASH! a big blob of mud comes right out and whacks you in the face. Ah, the romance of the wine industry!

About this time Shannon comes by and we run down to the Blimpie for a sub. The afternoon is gorgeous and we hang out for a bit, then she's off to the house and I decide enough of this digging nonsense. I have a few piles of debris to move out of the vineyard (left over from the bob war fence removal odyssey) so I had to make a few trips moving junk over to one of the horrid outbuildings that defaces the edge of our property. The hope here is that when we go to build a proper residence some huge machine of crushing destruction will take the building and all the junk inside and just make it disappear. In reality I'll probably end up tossing it one piece at a time into a dumpster but it's nice to daydream...

I finished the day's chores by setting the two posts that will hold the entrance gate to the vineyard from Sagle Road. I've added some rocks along the gravel to make a nice border, and the two posts lend a sense of "proper entryway" which I think will look quite nice. The day done, it was time to lock up the shack and head home, where Shannon was waiting with a bottle of wine (for me) and pink lemonade (for her) to enjoy on the front porch. With the dawgs of course, and Seamus peeking out the window! Family foto...

We relaxed and watched the sunset - she aglow with her pregnancy, and I simmering in my filth - sensing the milestone that will come to pass next Saturday as our first two acres are planted. Soon it will be real - our vineyard, our dream, our future.

Notaviva Vineyards
Wine - Music - America

Posted by Stephen at 11:18 PM

April 7, 2005

Deer Fence Post Installation

Special thanks to our great friends and family for today's amazing accomplishments!

Mickey Mackey (mom)
Jeff Smith (and pickup!)
Ken Wright
Gerhard "Grunyard" Krohn

I got up early today to head over to Tractor Supply. Needed to pick up 40 x 4"x8' posts to be used for corner bracing. I couldn't just get them at Kencove yesterday because I was already over the truck's load limit. So I was there as the doors opened at 9:00 AM and was loaded up and on the road by about 9:45. Meanwhile Jeff was over at Meadow's Farms getting a scoop of gravel to put down the holes for setting the posts. We all convened at the vineyard and got to work.

The basic process was transferring gravel out of the bed of the pickup into the loader of the tractor, then moving over to the holes. We painted a reference mark on a 2"x4" (toobuhfer) so we could quickly gauge how much gravel we needed to the bottom of the hole to bring the post up to the right height. The first several holes went about as smoothly as a goat rodeo, but then we settled into a process and really started making progress. Check it out. Basically Grunyard/Jeff would be one hole ahead measuring/prepping/filling the hole while Ken/Hibb/I were filling/leveling/tamping a post. Some back and forth between tasks but it mostly worked out great just like that. Obviously it was a soggy mess because of all the rain but the gravel in the holes made setting the posts possible.

In fact we made such great progress that Jeff decided to skip lunch and head back to Meadows for another scoop of gravel. The rest of us headed up to the house where Shannon and mom had fixed lunch. Just as we finished lunch Jeff got back with more gravel and we continued around the vineyard. I called it a day around 4 PM because we still needed time to clean up, plus Shannon and I had to run the flatbed back up to Frederick, MD. The day was a huge success, as you can see! We probably placed about 70 posts (out of 110) which leaves me with a very manageable task ahead.

So we all headed home, and I got a quick shower, then Shannon followed me up to Rentals Unlimited in Frederick, MD. We dropped off the truck and headed out for some dinner. What a weekend, but man is it really starting to take shape!

Posted by Stephen at 9:58 PM

April 2, 2005

Fence Post Delivery

Special thanks to our great friends and family for today's amazing accomplishments!

Mickey Mackey (mom)
Beck Mackey (dad)
Rebecca Mackey (and pickup!)
Jeff Smith (and pickup!)
Ken Wright
Pat Cross
Tiago Stock
Ron Read - check out Ron's Racing Team
Randy Badura

Check out the crew!

The morning dawned bright and early. I awoke in the cab of the truck in the lumber yard of Kencove in Blairsville, PA about 6 am and there was no way I was getting back to sleep. Since there was no one else on the lot jockeying for position, I got myself together then went and filled up the truck with diesel and grabbed a sausage McStomachache. Back to the lumber yard to await the crew, who showed up about 7:45 with the rain. So I went in to the office and settled the invoice while Bill started putting bundles of 10' posts on the truck. 30 posts to a bundle, 4 bundles. 18' flatbed so I was hanging off a bit but not to worry. Then he dropped the bundle of 10 x 12' on top and I started strapping everything down, which takes a while when you're at the truck's load limit and need to be extra careful. Hit the road about 9:30, stopped a few times to check the load and down to VA I went. Got to the vineyard about 1:45 pm just as the volunteers started to show.

It was immediately apparent that the previous day/night of rain would prevent taking the flatbed into the vineyard, which was a waterlogged, soggy mess. Fortunately two of my volunteers had 4x4 pickups, so we decided it was best to transfer posts from the flatbed into the pickups then drive them around the perimeter of the vineyard and drop them next to the holes. We took turns getting on the flatbed, on the ground, and in the pickups loading them up. Once we started driving around it also became immediately apparent that all the holes were filled to the top with water!!!

It took until 5:30 pm to get the posts distributed (taking time out for a nice break in the hospitality tent setup by Shannon and my mom.) Of course each pickup got stuck once and had to be pushed out, but that was to be expected given the sorry state of the soil. Then the debate began as to whether or not work could continue on Sunday due to the fact that the holes were filled with water. Once most of the people left, I decided to drop two posts in the holes just to see how bad it would actually be.

So I put the posts in and took some height measurements (the deer fence is 7'6" high so the posts need to settle at 7'7"-7'9") They were too deep so I pulled them out and added some soil back in the hole. But once the posts were put back in place the muddy soil just squished out around the post and it settled right back down where it was. So Jeff and I conferred and decided it would be fine to pack the bottom of the hole with gravel to bring the post up to the proper height, then pack gravel around the bottom foot of the post to hold it level, then fill the remaining hole with soil.

So tomorrow's tasks would start off with me at Tractor Supply picking up the lumber for the endpost h-braces (36 - 4"x8' posts) and Jeff heading over to Meadows Farms to get a truckload of gravel. But boy did I feel bad calling Ken tonight (he was already settled into his recliner with his rum-n-cokes cuz he thought he got the day off...) and tell him that we figured out a way to work tomorrow. He took it in stride - foolish man will think twice about picking up the phone on a Saturday night when my number shows up on caller id!

Posted by Stephen at 9:45 PM

April 1, 2005

Just Like The Roadie Days...

Oh yeah there's nothing like sleeping in the cab of a truck in a parking lot. Here's how today went...

Five weeks ago I ordered the lumber for the deer fence. The company I ordered the lumber from, Kencove in Blairsville, PA, doesn't own their own trucks so they contract out shipping to freight companies. And as I've come to find out, the size of my order (a paltry 130 posts) is quite small compared to some of the large farms getting posts. Thus the small shipping orders always get bumped for the larger ones. So we waited and waited and finally I got pissed off enough to rent my own truck and drive up and get the lumber myself.

So Shannon and I got up early today and drove up to Rentals Unlimited in Frederick, MD to rent an 18' flatbed. We dropped the truck off at the house, showered and went to our day jobs. After work I headed home and loaded up the truck with some clothes, pillows, and a blanket. And my Glock. Hit the road about 7:30 pm and arrived in Blairsville about 11:20 pm. Found the lumber yard, then decided to have a late night snack (Big Mac) and picked up a few red flags for the lumber from Wal-Mart. And two bibs. Hey I was lonely and thinking about baby! :)

Then back over to the lumber yard, parked the truck right next to the piles of posts. Wanted to make sure I was first in line Saturday morning, but oddly enough I didn't see any other dipshits lining their trucks up in the lot...? Hmmm, must've scared 'em off with my big flatbed...

So I set the alarm and got to sleep around 12:30 am. Then the wind and rain began around 2:30 am and that was kinda freaky. Pretty violent storm actually, but I got back to sleep anyway until about 6 am.

The whole night brought back a lot of memories from my days as an audio engineer. I've spent quite a few nights sleeping in Penske 24' trucks, because many festival rock shows require you to load-in prior to opening the gates in the morning. So you would do a show Friday night, load-out, then hit the road at midnight. Drive 4-6 hours to the site of the next show, pull up to the loading dock and sleep a few hours in the cab, get up at 7 am and start load-in. So the whole silly experience kind of gets ingrained in your psyche, and although you feel like shit after sleeping on a seat belt buckle all night, there is a certain sense of adventure associated with the whole thing.

"It's better to burn out than to fade away..."

Next entry please...

Posted by Stephen at 11:53 PM

March 27, 2005

Weekend Warrior

The following is the brutal depiction of how someone with more brains than money squeezes vineyard chores and social events into a single weekend. OK, make that someone with more tenacity than money and no brains at all...

6:00 am - alarm goes off, get up eat breakfast, brush teeth
6:30 am - depart for Tractor Supply
7:00 am - shop for parts
7:30 am - Leesburg Starbucks, brief happy time
8:00 am - arrive at vineyard, get changed into coveralls/boots
8:05 am - fix auger
8:15 am - dig first hole. rock. $*%&%&$&*
8:20 am - dig next hole - success!!!!!
8:25 am - continue along in rapid succession with no trauma
9:45 am - quit while ahead, go home
10:00 am - grab clothes for trip
11:00 am - head to Harper's Ferry to buy gift
12:00 pm - depart for Long Island (driving)
1:00 pm - call mom and ditch Easter dinner tomorrow (Shannon will attend so it's OK) - very sad to miss dinner
3:00 pm - switch drivers (take nap)
5:45 pm - arrive party house (Lexi's parents)
7:45 pm - Lexi arrives - party ensues
12:00 am - head to Lexi's place to sleep
12:30 am - lights out
6:30 am - wake up
6:45 am - Lexi hops in bed with Shannon to feel baby kicking - girly chat, brief happy time
7:30 am - depart for VA (driving)
11:30 am - switch drivers (take nap)
1:00 pm - arrive home, depart for vineyard
1:15 pm - continue digging, finish section
2:45 pm - realize all holes from yesterday are crooked and need re-dug to straighten
3:30 pm - finish the adjustments
3:35 pm - rain commences
3:45 pm - continue down rear left side - 5 more holes can't be dug due to rocks
4:45 pm - really raining hard, can't see
5:00 pm - reach rear part of vineyard, go 0-for-4 against the rocks and realize that I've done as much as possible with our equipment - will rent bobcat or call a pro to finish
5:30 pm - head back to house - need to fix toilet supply line so guests will have facility next weekend (supply line froze and burst in winter)
6:00 pm - solder new toilet supply line in place, turn on water and flood house (sink supply lines also burst)
6:15 pm - cut out sink supply lines and solder caps on, turn on water and flood house again (shower supply lines also burst)
6:30 pm - cut out shower supply lines, solder in hot line
6:45 pm - unable to solder in cold line as water is accumulating in the pipe preventing proper heating - bend pipe down to let water flow out and break next joint
7:00 pm - give up (no potty next weekend - tough shit...)
7:15 pm - arrive home - shower
7:30 pm - whine to wife
10:30 pm - get in bed - alarm is set for 4:30 am (have a 7:05 am flight to Toronto for business trip)

Posted by Stephen at 9:09 PM

March 25, 2005

Good Friday (Not)

Well it started off as Good Friday but ended up as post-hole-misery-day. We got an unexpected email from the CEO saying the office was closing at 3pm for the Easter weekend. Cool! Next Saturday I'm going to PA to pick up our deer fence posts, and we have a whole gang of people coming out to the vineyard to help unload and start installing posts. So my fear was that I didn't have enough holes augered and that we would have a bunch of people come out and distribute posts and end up finishing early because I didn't have enough work to do. In all reality there is plenty to do, but in my typical "self-induced-anxiety-attack" way I wanted to make sure that if people were kind enough to come out to the vineyard that we had plenty of hard labor for everyone to do. Hmm... that sounds kinda awful when you write it down but hopefully you know what I'm trying to say?

In the midst of our vineyard founding we are still trying to have a social life, and tomorrow we are heading up to Long Island for our matron of honor Lexi's surprise 30th birthday party. So I was worried that I wouldn't have enough time to drill holes this weekend because of the trip. How happy I was to get turned loose from work early so I can get out to the vineyard and really drill some holes!

Arriving at the vineyard around 3:45 I recall that 1) the tractor is low on fuel and 2) the bush hawg is on the back (not the auger.) Great - now I have to grab the gas can and run down to the gas station to get diesel. Tick tock... Now I have to remove the bush hawg and carry the auger out of the house (locked up for safety) and get it on the tractor. Tick tock... These two extremely enjoyable tasks took until 5, but that's kewl because now it's time to really dig some holes! Whoo hoo! Idiot.

You may recall the March 10 entry where I had to run out at night to fix the digger after Rebecca hit a rock and sheared off the drive bolt. (Word of the day = ROCK) So I get all pumped up and ride out to the vineyard and start to dig. First hole = rock. Jump off tractor and pound on rock with digging bar. Rock no move. Idiot. Move to next hole = rock. Jump off tractor and pound on rock with digging bar. Rock no move again. Idiot. Repeat 8 times, then pound on rock with forehead. That's right, I was 0-for-10 because the rear portion of our land is apparently the rock of Gibraltar's Virginia cousin covered by about 8 inches of topsoil.

So, utterly dejected, I resolve to dig at least one hole somewhere along this deer fence so I can go home feeling energized. So I head on over to another part of the vineyard to dig with my big hole digger.


So now the digging teeth on the auger are worn away, and it occurs to my pre-hominid brain that it might have been a good idea to get a few extra sets of teeth when I bought the auger. Did I somehow think I was going to auger 140 holes on the same teeth??? We have to depart for Long Island at 11am tomorrow, so I have to get to Tractor Supply early enough to buy some parts and get back to the vineyard and repair the auger and find somewhere on the planet where I can dig a hole.

Time to go home and whine to wife...

Posted by Stephen at 8:35 PM

March 20, 2005

Cleared At Last!

Good grief I can't believe it's finally done. I've cleared the entire perimeter around the deer fence so we can finish digging the holes and get started on the installation. The last piece involved cutting in a small pass underneath a powerline support cable. Now don't think I did everything I could to avoid having to do this, but the way this worked out is that the road bordering our property has a curve in it. So of course that is where the powerline pole would have to go so that the powerline can follow the curvature of the road. Making matters worse is the fact that the road curves away from the vineyard, so to maximize the amount of area we could plant we decided to put the deer fence right on top of where the support cable is anchored to the ground. But then the problem becomes getting the tractor safely under the cable, otherwise I wouldn't be able to mow around the deer fence (very bad.) And as I mentioned yesterday this part of the vineyard is on a slope. Long story longer - I needed to cut a level path under the support cable to be able to maintain the deer fence and not have to shift all the rows 8 feet away from the road (which of course is too damn late anyway since they are already subsoiled.)

Support cable mess before...

So it took quite a bit of digging and leveling with the tractor loader, but eventually I got it cleared and now can cruise right under with no worries. And in the summer we have a canopy that goes over the tractor rollbar for some shade, so there had to be enough room to get that under as well. So the pass is done, the last of the trees were moved to a brush pile (to be burned later) and the final bush hawging is done. Done - what a wonderful word.

Support cable mess after...

So as close as I can figure it I've put about 100 hours over the past few months into clearing out the old fence and brush in preparation for the installation of the deer fence, plus another 75 hours in prepping the vineyard for planting. But the great thing about clearing the old fence is that it never has to be done again. From now on it just needs mowed down around the perimeter 4 times a year and herbicide sprayed under the fence to keep growth from going up into the netting - uh, no I'm not using a weed trimmer on 2,500' feet of deer fence!

Safety note - I remember reading about bush hawg safety before we bought ours, and was stunned by the power these things have, specifically the minimum safe distance behind one while cutting. I feel obliged to emphasize this point after what I saw today. I took the bush hawg over a piece of tree stump, not in the ground but laying on top. I heard a bang and caught something out of the corner of my eye. I turned and saw this piece of wood - probably 12" long and 5" diameter lofting out over the vineyard. I counted the rows until it landed, and my best guess is that piece of wood flew about 60' and reached a height of at least 30' as it arched out over the rows. So when the manual says stay 200' from a moving bush hawg you better listen, cuz if a piece of wood about the size of firewood can go that far, how far do you think a small rock would fly...?

Posted by Stephen at 10:37 PM

March 19, 2005

Almost Done

I have to finish clearing the old fence this weekend, because 1) I'm sick of working on it and 2) next weekend we're out of town and the weekend after that the posts are arriving so it will be time to start installing the fence. I mean hopefully the posts are arriving (that is another fiasco that I'll rant about in another entry...)

The day started with the usual removal of the old rusted barbed wire (bob war) in the very fun manner of crawling into the sticker bushes and cutting it out. Have a look at this nonsense.

Got all the wire cut out, then started pulling posts. Got a few done and Shannon arrived with some lunch (and some baby clothes from her morning shopping trip!) Enjoyed lunch and she was missing working in the field so I asked her to put together some SnapMax vine shelters - have a look - for the research vines. It was such a beautiful day, so she enjoyed sitting in the grass putting them together while I pulled out the rest of the posts with the tractor loader. Then it was time for some more bush hawging, but then things of course got complicated. Seems I saved the worst for last, as the final section of fence needing cleared was on a hill, so getting in with the tractor can be a little wild. Not something you need to have your pregnant wife watching for sure.

So I did what I could and quit about 3pm since we have a concert to see tonight - Cherish the Ladies (the band from our wedding) - is playing with the Baltimore Symphony so we're heading up to check it out. But the remaining section of brush will be there tomorrow...

Posted by Stephen at 10:24 PM

March 12, 2005

Fence Pickup, New H Braces, Pruning, Marking

You can tell by the title it was a busy day! Got off to an early start today - had to run up to Frederick, MD to pick up the deer fence invisible net supplies from Deerbusters. You know, actors always say they know they've made the big time when they first see their name in lights. Same thing for our vineyard, if you count being scribbled on a scrap of cardboard...

So I got everything loaded up and headed back to the vineyard. Note - once the entire project is complete I'll post a blog with the final materials list.

Next chore was to rebuild the h-braces at the end of row 1. Nothing major, but I discovered a better way to attach the brace wire without using crimps (found a cool how-to on the Tractor Supply Web site.) To be honest, the brace wire I had installed would have probably been fine, but I just couldn't leave it there knowing it wasn't right. So I loosened the tension by unwinding the twitch stick, then cut out the old wire. The new wire actually gets double wrapped between the end post and the brace post, then twisted around the brace pin and stapled in place - have a look. Now when I twisted the twitch stick the double wrap REALLY takes hold and puts a lot more holding power in the brace. Good times, the rework only took about an hour.

Next up was a bit of lunch - Shannon brought over some sandwiches, drinks and stuff. Nothing like having lunch with your hunny! Doug Fabbioli dropped by at 1:30 for a quick meeting. Agenda items were pruning first-year vines, trellis overview, equipment rentals, and planting timelines. He was there about and hour, and we covered everything so now we're finalizing the schedule with some other vendors. Best part was the pruning lesson - deciding how to cut back the vines to leave the healthiest buds for the upcoming season. Due to the deer pressure last fall most of the vines had to be cut back to 3 buds, but several of the vines were tall enough to leave at the cordon wire.

Here' a look at a vine before pruning that needed to be cut back:
View image

And the after-pruning photo:
View image

Here's a vine that reached the cordon wire, thus it gets cut back to leave the best three buds at the top. View image. When the buds swell later this spring all the buds down the vine will be nicked out to just leave the top three. Thus the part of the vine where the buds get nicked out become the trunk. This will be a single-trunk vine, however we are training some of the other vines in a double-trunk configuration.

So I pruned the first row, then it was time to get back to the deer fence marking. Got out the tape measure, bamboo sticks, and spray paint and worked my way from the very back of the vineyard on up to the road. During this time mom and her buddy Ron stopped in for a visit. Being from Australia, Ron is looking forward to a vineyard visit without the cold wind! Mom had to double-check the measurements to ensure I know how to install a deer fence. Funny thing is that none of us have any idea what the hell we're doing, but moms need to inspect these things anyway! :-)

So I finished up the marking just as the sun was going down - time to head home and chill for the evening!

Posted by Stephen at 9:34 PM

March 10, 2005

Midnight Maintenance

Well not really midnight, more like 9:00 pm...

Had to run out to the vineyard last night to fix the hole digger. Rebecca hit a rock or something and the shear bolt in the PTO shaft got demolished. That's OK, it's designed to do that - I'd rather replace a $0.25 bolt than a $100 gearbox. But since the weather is going to be nice today she is planning on augering some more fence post holes thus the late night maintenance visit. Fix is easy - took about 10 minutes and she's all set for today!

Regarding late night equipment fixing, I suspect this is the first of many. I've just completed Louisa Thomas Hargrave's book "The Vineyard: The Pleasures and Perils of Creating an American Winery" which recounts her family's experiences in founding the first winery on Long Island's North Fork. An enlightening (sometimes sobering) account of the pleasures and perils of founding a vineyard (including lots of late-night fixing) - I highly recommend.

Posted by Stephen at 9:40 AM

March 6, 2005

Deer Fence Construction Begins

Rebecca came out today to help out. So nice to have someone else around to chat with while Shannon is on "pregnancy leave." We finished up moving the vines from last year's research planting over to their permanent home under the newly completed row one trellis. Actually I think it will be row 37 come April but whatever...

Once we got that done we started marking the field for the installation of the deer fence. We marked off the first section together, then I trained Rebecca on proper safety and operation of the hole digger. She began digging holes while I continued around the perimeter of the vineyard marking it out. I made it about two-thirds of the way around before it was time to quit for the day, and Rebecca made great progress on the augering - check it out!

Rebecca in action
Rebecca did real nice
Attack of the prairie dogs!

Rebecca is heading out tomorrow to continue augering, and if she gets done what I've marked then she'll pull out the old trellis from last year's planting. Making great progress out here! Will be contacting the boyz soon to help install the actual deer fence - lotsa pictures when that day comes.

Posted by Stephen at 7:22 PM

February 6, 2005

Bob War

Bob War - a.k.a. "barbed wire" to city folk...

Seems like the past few months have been an exercise in trying to find the most wretched tasks I can get myself into. You may recall the CT kitchen demo (October 24th entry) which was definitely gross. Well today I began the charming task of removing the old fencing that borders Sagle road. This isn't a cosmetic initiative, I actually have to do this to prepare enough room along the road for the installation of our deer fence. So the first thing that has to come out is the bob war, because you can't have any left when you begin bushhawging. I ran over a length of bob war one time and it took about five hours to clean it out from under the bushhawg. Good times.

Of course the fence is buried in sticker bushes, so the process involves crawling into the stickers with wire cutters, cutting the wire then pulling out the sections, then pulling out the posts. If the wire weren't so rusty I could just pull it out with the tractor, but it just breaks. And of course when it breaks it often leaves pieces hidden in the bushes, to be found later with the bushhawg. Good times.

View before shot 1.

View before shot 2.

But as with all frightful, wretched chores, the level of satisfaction is high once the task is finished. View the after shot.

As soon as I saw how much nicer the land looked with all that crap mowed down, it was an instantaneous decision to not put up bob war again, but to create some kind of nice landscaped entryway heading out to the field. In the months/years to come we'll be having visitors coming out to the vineyard to see how we're doing, and first impressions count for a lot. There is NOT going to be some shitty rusty fence leading into our place, so we're conscripting Lupe Esmerelda Conchita Alonso (d.b.a. "Landscaping by Lupe") to create a landscape design for the entrance.

Here's the blank canvas.

Note - Lupe is actually the stage name of Rebecca Mackey, horticulturist extraordinaire. She did the design for our wedding - have a look. Lupe is the rightmost bridesmaid.

Posted by Stephen at 8:49 PM