The hard work commenced after we completed the purchase in February 2010. I had a good excuse to buy some ‘boys toys’ – starting with a brand new chain saw. The 20ft high windblown privet hedge along the boundary was the first victim for a serious haircut. I tamed it to a more manageable 2 metres, finishing by 1st April when the birdnesting season starts. My regular boys’ reward was the constant fun of bonfires.
Plumpton Agricultural College put me in touch with a viticulture expert, Duncan McNeil. Duncan’s advise was invaluable. He took and analysed soil samples and produced a report and fertility plan to reduce the high ph of the flinty loam over chalk.
It was too late to order vines for planting in 2010 and in any event the land needed first to be cleaned of brambles, nettles and perrenial weeds. He recommended row spacing and planting distances along with root stocks and vine varieties suitable for the terrain for ordering later. I could now plan the layout. Rabbit proof boundary fencing was erected and rural hedging whips planted to fill the gaps and provide an essential windbreak.
The spring gave me time to learn the basics of bee keeping and I established my first colony in May. In an effort to interest my wife Pat, I purchased “his & hers” bee keeping suits. I soon learnt that a large white floppy hat with a veil, baggy white trousers and an extra large jacket were not “de rigueur” in my wife’s social circle. Still I guess after 47 years of marriage that’s what happens.
In early summer I spread a quarter of a tonne of fertilizer by hand, prior to chisel ploughing which was recommended. The answer? Chris Wadman, a good family friend with a huge tractor and deep culitivator attached, and a twilight trip along the access adjacent to the 7th fairway of the golf course! Two hours later ‘job done’ and my supply of muscle rub was cancelled.
All the rubbish, metal scraps, old roots, golf balls and flints were hand picked over the summer period, and a second dose of weedkiller was applied. My activities had become a focus of interest and I was hugely encouraged by the dog walkers, stray golfers or just the inquisitive, all of whom would stop for a chat and offer words of encouragement.