Archive for the ‘planting’ Category

Peony Madness in the Garden

May 15, 2012

Cora Stubbs, a raspberry pink Japanese form peony

You say Pee OH Nee, I say PEE Uh Nee – however you say it, Peonies are an early delight for the cutting garden. says both pronunciations are correct and depend on which region you come from. “If you said pee un nee in the Southern United States you would get strange looks from the locals.” Oh – That’s why!

Scott’s favorite is Cora Stubbs. He planted six plants some years ago and we were quite smitten with them, the way they hold their color and the contrast of textures and colors. Of course, there isn’t a peony we don’t like. Bartzella is a rare yellow peony that Scott is also fond of.

The Bartzella, with lemony yellow blooms and small red flares

Peony Meadows northeast of Charlottesville in Keswick, VA has a huge peony garden, which owners Jim and Sandy graciously let you wander through. I dare you to walk through and not make plans to order some peonies in the fall! You must look at them soon though, as they are blooming right now. Last year Rachel, Scott, and I wrote down the names of the peonies we liked best (we like them all really) and in the fall Jim dug out the eyes and we picked them up. Jim doesn’t have Cora Stubbs though. Paradise Garden usually has them, but they are available in limited supply and have to be ordered early. Paradise Garden also has “Karen Gray”, which got rave reviews from guests in our tasting room this weekend.

Karen Gray, an unusual wine red Japanese flower with a creamy center

After peonies finish blooming the foliage is pretty. I cut off all blooms – either as cut flowers, when they finish blooming, or if it rains and they fall to the ground. That way, the bush keeps it shape and looks perky.


Tomato Madness!

August 4, 2011

The tomato garden on a hot & hazy day

Its our favorite time of the summer – tomato season!  How are yours doing this year?  We’re having another serious dry spell, but ours are hanging in there.  I planted them further apart this summer in case of more of the same as last year – little rain.  They probably could be even further apart and be happier yet.  I’m doing the same for the tomatoes as our vineyard consultant Lucie Morton told me to do for the grapes – keep them in their own space and respect their neighbors!  That’s pretty good advise for everyone.  I know the trend has been for intensive vegetable gardening, but I don’t buy it unless you really like to water or it rains a lot.

Here are the tomatoes that are performing pretty well so far:

Health Kick – Consistent size and quality.  Good quantity.  This tomato is a determinate type that has 50% more lycopene than other tomatoes.  It’s really good for canning, but fine fresh.  I’ll definitely grow this one next year.  It’s a good example of why hybrids make sense.  The seeds are expensive  – 30 seeds for about $4.50, but I certainly don’t need that many plants each year, so I’ll save the seeds in the refrigerator.  Also, the plants could be purchased this year at Southern States and the Crozet Farmers Market.

Ripening Health Kick Tomatoes

Two other nice qualities of Health Kick:

1.  The skins peel very easily when dipped in boiling water.  Off like a jacket!

2.  There is no waste, no hard inner core or hard top.  They can be canned whole.


Left: Principe Borghese; Right: Chocolate Cherry


Putting the Vineyard in “Stinson Vineyards”

May 12, 2011

2nd-leaf Petit Manseng vines with new vineyard in background.

Our newbie grapes arrived from California early in April, dormant and asleep.  Because a big storm was expected on April 16th, our planter Carl Tinder planned to get in as many dormant plants as possible before the rain.  But when we opened the first box of Sauvignon Blanc Musqué we had a big surprise – they were in pots!  This meant they were live plants and much fragile than the dormant ones.  They’d have to plant them right away.  We were grateful for the threat of rain or we might have left these fragile plants in the box for days, thinking they were dormant.

Musqué is a mutated variety of a regular clone that generally indicates it is highly aromatic.  We’ll be mixing the Sauvignon Blanc Musqué in with our regular Sauv Blanc grapes to make a delicious, signature blend.  And of course fermenting it in our 2700 lb baby, the Nomblot Concrete Egg.


Protecting the newbies with milk cartons; Flagging holes for vines.

The other varieties we planted are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and more Petit Manseng.  One nursery sent 50 “mystery grapes” by mistake – unlabeled and unaccounted for vines.  We planted them in pots and once we figure out what they are they’ll be available for purchase in our Tasting Room, just in case you want to give small scale viticulture a try!


Cover Crops I Can Eat or Put in a Vase

March 22, 2011

Our marigold cover crop strip from last summer

I’ve found a cover crop I can live with – catnip!  It’s cute for at least the first year, before it gets woody and hard to pull out.  It has nice foliage, pretty flower spikes, and attracts a diversity of beneficial insects and bees.  It also makes a nice tea for insomniacs, although there’s a limit to how much catnip tea a family can use.  The seeds sprout like crazy, but the plant doesn’t spread invasively from underground roots as some of it’s other family members do, like spearmint.  Where I didn’t want it, it was easy to hoe out.

Before we moved to White Hall, we had no experience with cover crops.  Gardening in Bethesda, Maryland I was very familiar with weeds.  In suburban Bethesda, I felt I was pulling up every weed known to mankind, including the alien vetch (pea family) that was particularly hard to eradicate.  So when I read that vetches and various peas are desirable cover crops, I really didn’t want to seed those things in White Hall without knowing more about them.

Last years rapeseed on the future vineyard site

Our first cover crop was rapeseed, from the cruciferae family of mustards, cabbages, radishes, arugula cauliflower, brussell sprouts, etc, all delicious!  Lucie Morton, our vineyard consultant, recommended the rapeseed because of it’s nematocidal qualities.  It’s in my favorite family of plants anyway because I love all those crucifers (also called the brassicareae family).  None of them – not any part – are toxic to us.  This makes it easy to forage for wild varieties.  We had fields of rapeseed with huge flower buds that looked a lot like broccoli.  The young leaves looked a lot like kale.  They were delicious when steamed like broccoli with a little butter on top.  There many are other mustard family cover crops to experiment with.  Oil radish has a big long white radish root that would be good for cooking with.


A Good Year at Stinson Vineyards

January 5, 2011

The Winery: barrel racks and our tiny press, aka “R2D2”

Happy New Years from Stinson Vineyards!  We’re looking back on 2010 and have to admit – its been a pretty good year for us.  Between planting our first grapes and surviving our first harvest we’re starting to see everything take shape.  With the wines beginning to stabilize, we’re focusing on the next phase of our project: bottling and labeling the wines, planting 2200 vines in the spring, and of course opening the Tasting Room in June!

In the meantime, heres a look back at 2010:

Before pictures: the original garage structure

We never get tired of looking at the before pictures of our Garage Winery! Here’s a few from when it was still more “garage” than “winery”.  Its hard to imagine that these were taken just a few months before grapes started to arrive – the new floor is poured and the trench drain is in, but that’s about it.