Permaculturing in Portugal

One family's attempts to live in a more planet-friendly way

Pruning vines

With all the time lost in December and january to the torrential rains and getting our basic living accommodation in a habitable state, I’ve been keen to get on with pruning the large number of vines on the quinta. Last year we were only here for 2 weeks in January and I was only able to spur prune a handful of vines without really much of a clue as to what I was doing. I didn’t kill them though, so armed with that knowledge and a few techniques learned at a recent garden open-day in Barril de Alva, we’ve set about tackling the vines in earnest before the warming weather starts the sap rising.

With so many vines to do, it’s not really been possible to adhere to the bio-dynamic calendar, so we have just been proceeding on a daily basis for the last week. In any case, I’m not sure what days vine pruning should be done on. Most people say fruit days, but to my way of thinking, you’d want the vine’s energy concentrated in its roots if you’re going to be hacking large chunks off it above ground, so I’d be inclined to prune on a root day.

Double Guyot vine pruning

Double Guyot vine pruning

We’ve been using a fairly pragmatic version of the French Double Guyot pruning method – cutting each vine back to 2 main growing shoots of 7 nodes with a side spur of 3 – to bring the vines back under some semblance of structure and control, tying them back in to the 3-wire trellis that supports them. Many don’t show much evidence of having been pruned in a few years and growth has become chaotic, strangling nearby fruit trees or pushing out through terrace walls at root level. Some vines have vigour and strength enough to carry more than 2 main growing shoots. Some are weak and have been pruned back to a single shoot. In many cases, we’ve had to take them back to the 2 year-old wood to remove excess growth, but will sacrifice a heavy crop this year for a bit more order and core strength in the vines. Good wine vintages are produced in solar maximum years – the years of greatest sunspot activity – and since 2011 is projected to be the next solar maximum, it seems a good idea to prepare for that this year. Not that we have any pretences in respect of producing quality wine …

To tie the vines in to the supporting wires, we’ve used the traditional method from this area, rather than modern plastic ties. Many people in the area grow and pollard willow for this purpose, but our willow tree has not been pollarded and shoots of a suitable size are in short supply. However we have found lots of dogwood growing, and have used this instead as the shoots have flexibility equal to willow.

Dogwood shoot vine ties

Dogwood shoot vine ties

We are now about half way through the vine pruning, with only the entire periphery of the bottom terrace and vineyard left to do.

Pruned vines

Pruned vines

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  1. daryl February 15, 2010

    Hi – we’ve had a few frosts lately too so maybe we will get away with it.

    What’s the thinking behind pruning only on the waning moon? I guess the next one is three weeks away and as we were hoping to be in next week that means waiting another fortnight….

    Also I was interested in your plan to plant Black Locust as we have a couple of areas of pinewood that I want to restock. Have you found a local supplier for the trees and understory you were thinking of?

    Thanks again for any advice.

  2. Quinta do Vale February 15, 2010

    Waxing moons pull sap upwards through the plant which is not what you want when you’re pruning. Waning moons have the opposite effect. Probably OK right now. No sign of sap rising on our vines yet. But everyone locally grows according to the moon calendar. Try this site for guidance, or buy the Borda d’Água at market and you can practice your Portuguese at the same time.

    I have seed for Black Locust. Planning on taking cuttings from wild stock for the indigenous understorey. The rest, seed again, or cuttings from friends hereabouts.

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