Debbie's Blog

Van Till Family Farm Winery

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Reminded me of the fictional antagonist in the movie The Wizard of Oz, the Wicked Witch of the West…

Tackling the thorny trees that were growing in a neglected fence line along the pasture at the winery, made me think of the Wicked Witch of the West from the movie, “The Wizard of Oz.” We have had some warm days for winter, in the 50’s these last few weeks, so I spent some time enjoying the outdoors with my battery powered chainsaw and I cut them down.

As you can see in this picture, they are most wicked with 2-3″ thorns that cut through even insulated pants, but not

through the welding gloves I wear!

The fence row is clean now, but the thorny trees lay in the pasture waiting for me

to send them through the chipper on the tractor, which is in the first picture, and it does a fine job of turning these wicked branches into harmless wood!

So, as I chipped and the pile spread out on the ground and the pile of branches got smaller, it was then that I imagined the similarity between the small wet pile of clothes that was left of the Wicked Witch of the West after Dorothy threw the water on her, and my

sprawling pile of chipped thorny branches near the fence. Such a great sense of satisfaction! Unlike Dorothy, I didn’t regret turning the stack of branches into a harmless pile. I intentionally aimed to make the pile near the fence, because I don’t use these for making compost

for the garden and vineyard. Let them turn into organic matter for the pasture.

Here is a pile of good woody chips made from a diverse collection of trees and saplings that we have been collecting from the farm this fall and winter.

These will be left here to age over the winter and early spring and when we start

making compost, we will add green material and nitrogen so the piles will go through a

thermophilic process and produce a lot of heat and become BioComplete Compost with lots of microbes!

Here is some compost made last summer. It has a nice deep chocolate brown color and is full of microbes.

This will be used to make compost extract for the vineyard and gardens.

Harvesting the grapes, the fruit of the vine!

The wine, from the fruit of the vine, and the active microbes! Cheers!


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The Pawpaws are ready to pick!

Though we are really busy in the middle of grape harvest and have tanks of wine, at different stages of production, that have to be monitored and grapes ripening in the vineyard, we make time to keep an eye on the fruit trees in our gardens.

The pears are ripening and will soon be turned into Pear Dessert Wine (port).  But, there is one kind of fruit tree that I think I will use for cooking and not for wine.

There are two Pawpaw trees in our Wine Barn Garden and the fruit is ready to pick!

Pawpaw Tree in Wine Barn Garden

Pawpaw Tree in the Wine Barn Garden. This tree is 10 years old and about 12 feet tall.


The race is on to get the fruit when it just ripens, but,  before the raccoons or the opossum.

More Pawpaw Fruit Ready to Pick

Pawpaws ready to Pick.


Pawpaw trees (Asimina triloba) are native to North America, growing wild in much of the eastern and Midwest portions of the United States.

The fruit tastes similar to a banana, and can be used in recipes similar to how one would

use a banana.

This month Chef Matthew is making a special dessert with the ripe pawpaws.  He’s

made a wonderful Pawpaw Cake and Pawpaw pudding topping to accompany the cake.

This will be on the menu and served in the Wine Garden this weekend. Should be very tasty.

Now, which wine will we pair with that?



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Dynamic Accoumulators

Comfrey plant before leaves are cut off for compost around this young espalier tree.

Comfrey as a Dynamic Accumulator

In this second picture, I have chopped down this comfrey plant, (Russian Comfrey),  for the 3rd time this year and laid the leaves down around the small fruit trees that we have started in the Secret Garden.  This plant was put into the garden as a Dynamic Accumulator, to bring nutrients, especially calcium,  (which is vital for good, sweet fruit),  from deep in the soil into the leaves.  The plant had grown  very lush  with leaves and flowers, and then I cut it back  to the ground, as you can see in the picture, and spread the leaves around the root zone of these small fruit trees.  This doesn’t hurt the plant at all, in fact,  I will be cutting it back again a few more times this summer and into the fall.  The best way to tell if it is really  accumulating calcium is to take a soil test.  I will wait until next year or the year after to do that.  Building the soil without purchasing ” off-farm” inputs does take patience,  and is an ideal way to build soil in a urban garden, too.

Since there is always something exciting happening in the garden, I am willing to wait a year or so to tell if my soil building on these trees is effective.  In the meantime, I am training the fruit trees in the Secret Garden using two techniques developed in Europe called Espalier and The Lorette System.   These trees will be trained and  pruned during the summer months using methods that allow for lots of fruit in a small space.   Building a wall for the garden is in the August plans just before grape harvest  so, when we begin construction, I will post on that progress.  Too much to do outside to spend too much time on the computer.  Enjoying the season, Deb