Disaster: Nematodes

Because we had started so late in the winter, the vines were already in bud-break when they went into the ground and it was thrilling to see the fresh light-green, almost yellow leaves bursting out. I was already making a lot of mistakes, and so was Hennie, but I was operating on instinct only. Unlike Pete who had grown up on a wine farm, I had no idea what I was doing and it wasn’t long before the first disaster struck.

Every evening when we got back from work, Jo and I would stroll through the vineyard with a glass of wine and try to imagine how it would look when the vines were big, thick and strong, and we would be sipping our own wine! On one of these walks I noticed that a vine that the previous day had been sporting several green leaves had now been stripped back to the stalk. No caterpillars were in sight but something clearly had eaten the new juicy leaves! We examined other vines and found widespread damage of the same sort. The light was fading so we took the dogs home for supper but later I took a torch and went back out to see if I could find the culprits and indeed, there they were, hard at work.

Nematodes are sometimes called cutworms – they are brown or greenish and the live in soil at the base of the vine and come out at night to feed on new growth. On almost every vine there were a couple of the blighters, eating voraciously. For the next few days we fought these worms in every spare moment. In the daylight hours we dug up the soil at the base of each vine, sifting through it to find the worms and squashing them between our fingers. At night we’d pick them off the plants and do the same. Gradually we got their numbers down and as the vines gathered momentum, the higher leaves moved beyond their range.