It has come to my attention that in recent days a particular website has begun linking to this blog. That site, which I will not name and to which I will not provide a link, specializes in providing seeds and supplies for growing a particular kind of “grass” which we do not cultivate on this farm and have never cultivated elsewhere. I have asked for that site’s link to be removed, but I’m not sure how long it will take. And in the meantime, that link may still be generating traffic and readership.

So, let me clarify and emphasize an important core philosophy of The Yeoman Farmer: if you don’t like the rules in your state or your country, advocate for and work to change them — but don’t flaunt and break them unless you’re being asked to do something immoral or unconscionable. As one of William Golding’s characters put it, “We’ve got to have rules and obey them. After all, we’re not savages.”

This blog discusses grape cultivation and home winemaking, but will not tell you how to brew a batch of moonshine or build a backyard still. I discuss firearms and support responsible gun ownership, but would not explain (even if I had the knowledge, which I don’t) how to build a silencer for your pistol or convert your rifle to fully-automatic fire. Our family strongly opposes the NAIS, but will (reluctantly) register our livestock with it if we are eventually required by law to do so.

Longtime readers may have observed that the War on Drugs has never before been the subject of a post on this blog. The reason for that is simple: it’s not a subject that interests me much, and I don’t have strong opinions about it one way or the other. Neither Mrs Yeoman Farmer nor I have consumed marijuana (or any other illegal controlled substance) in any form, and have no desire to do so, even if we were visiting a place where it was legal. That said, I am not unsympathetic to those who would like to change some of the drug laws in this country. But if you’re looking for advice on cultivating a crop that isn’t currently legal, you won’t find it on this blog. We do hope you stick around and enjoy the commentary about everything else related to farming, family, faith, and citizenship — and work to change the law rather than break it.

Wine underway

Today, I finally got around to crushing the grapes I picked at a neighbor’s place on Friday. I also finally got around to picking my own grapes, into a separate bucket.

First, I must say that de-stemming and crushing a bucket of grapes is an absolutely wonderful experience. I sat outside on a stump, pulling clusters from one bucket and plucking them into a second bucket, one after another, just enjoying the solitude and allowing myself to get lost in thought. As I began crushing handfuls of grapes, making sure none of them eluded my fingers, I imagined these grapes as being my own sacrifice offered to God. All my work, all my difficulties, all my life…broken open and poured out, so the Winemaker could use the juice to make something far greater.

Anyway, as I suspected, the neighbor’s grapes had a very low sugar content: the initial Brix reading on the refractometer, once they were all crushed together, was just 11. That’s only half the sugar needed for a complete ferment. My own grapes, however, had a brix of 24 — absolutely outstanding. (And given how many grapes I lost to sparrows and other birds, further evidence that I should’ve harvested them a week ago.) Unfortunately, I had 19.5 pounds of grapes from the neighbor…and only 3.5 pounds from my own vineyard. Extremely lame. I’ll be fortunate to get even a gallon of wine altogether.

As 3.5# is far too little to ferment by itself, I crushed those grapes and added them to the ones from Ed’s farm. I added some sulfites to stun the wild yeasts, and am allowing the bucket to stand overnight. Once the sugar leaches out, and the sulfites run their course, I’ll take a final sugar reading for the entire must. Then I’ll add the appropriate amount of sugar to get to 22 Brix, and also add the yeast. And then, hopefully, the ferment will begin.

The best part about winemaking? The smell of grape juice on my hands that will not go away, no matter how many times I wash them. And, of course, enjoying the finished wine. But you knew that already.

Gift Horse

I got a call the other day from an elderly farmer who lives around the corner from us. Ed is a widower, well into his 80s, whose health has not been good in recent years. He can hardly walk, and usually leans on a walker when he does so. But he can still drive his pickup truck, and uses a riding lawn mower to get around his property. Come harvest time, he will be out in the fields driving a combine. Yes, he’ll need help climbing up into the cockpit. But once he’s there, look out. The corn is coming in.

The wonderful thing about neighbors like Ed is that they can tell stories about what the area used to be like. As a boy (before the area was electrified), he used to milk several cows each morning by hand, before school. He helped build one of the outbuildings on our farm.

Ed’s farm has all kinds of fruit trees, planted decades ago, which produce much more fruit than he can use. In fact, we first met him a few years back, when he pulled into our driveway in his pickup truck and growled at my wife, “You want any cherries?”

Surprised, Mrs. Yeoman Farmer asked, “Did you bring them? Or do we need to pick them?”

Ed replied with something along the lines of, “H—, no I didn’t bring them! Come on over and pick them off the trees!” After several afternoons spent picking cherries and other fruits at Ed’s farm, we discovered that under the gruff exterior the guy has a heart of pure gold. He loves kicking back in his riding mower and watching as Mrs. Yeoman Farmer and our kids climb ladders and fill buckets with fruit. He also enjoys our eggs, and bringing over loads of windfall apples to throw down to our chickens.

Anyway, back to the most recent call. He told me that the wine grapes were ripe, and that some of them were even drying up into raisins, so I’d better get over there and get them if I want them. So, I found my clippers, a couple of five gallon buckets, and dusted off my refractometer. The refractometer is a wonderful instrument which measures the Brix (sugar content) of any liquid. Just smear some juice on it, look through the eyepiece while sun shines on the juice, and you’ll be able to read the Brix.

It took Ed some time to climb down the steps to his riding mower, but he refused to let me help in any way other than holding the front door open. Then he put the mower in gear, and led the way to the grape arbor. I didn’t want to come across too much like I was looking a gift horse in the mouth, but I did need to know the Brix of the grapes before I could make wine. As Ed began picking grape clusters (still sitting on his riding mower), I tested individual grapes from several different vines. Unfortunately, the Brix was only about half (12) of the ideal (22) sugar content for making wine. Glancing around, I immediately understood why: the vines had been planted so long ago, a stand of pine trees had grown all around it and was now blocking the sunlight. There simply wasn’t enough sun getting through to get the grapes as ripe as they should be. Again, not wanting to trash the gift horse, I simply said, “The sugar’s a little low, but I can fix that by adding some at the start of the ferment. These sure are delicious, aren’t they?” (Indeed, the sugar content wasn’t bad for an eating/table grape.)

I put the refractometer away, and we went to work. It only took about a half hour, and I only got about five gallons of grapes, but what I enjoyed the most was talking with Ed. As usual, he opined on just about everything — and, as usual, we agreed about nearly everything. This is the most Republican county in the state, and Ed is about as conservative as they come.

Once home , I took the refractometer out to my own vineyard and tested a few of my own grapes. The Brix was very close to ideal, but it doesn’t look like I’ll bet getting much of a harvest this year. Because I’m not sure how well those grapes from Ed’s arbor will turn out for winemaking, I hesitate to combine his grapes with mine. What I’ll probably do is pick and crush mine into a separate bucket, crush his, and see how much must we’re looking at (and just how my total sugar content compares to his). At that point, I’ll make a decision about combining them. But given the small amounts, it doesn’t make much sense to do separate ferments.

Neighbors like these are a big part of what makes country life so rich and enjoyable. I think I’m going to put Artistic Girl on the back of our tandem bike, ride over there, and give Ed a dozen eggs. He’ll probably try to pay me for them, but I’m not going to let him.