Our Little Vineyard growing on the Northwest end of our building here at 411 South L Street, keeps me personally in touch with what's going on in the wine industry locally as a result of weather and seasonal conditions. I've learned several things about vines over the past 7 years since we planted these 12 experimental Bonsai vines. Dr. Ian Thomas and I had visions of beautiful bonsai vines with huge bunches of grapes, somewhat like this image

We planted these test vines in two areas (1) My Office (2) Our houses which are side by side off East Avenue near LLNL. 

Here's what we discovered with the office experiment: 

  • The Oak Trees nearby drop a sticky sap. It's not that noticeable except along busy city roads. The sap collects a cocktail of particles composed mainly of free carbon soot, road rubber, and oak sap (I didn't realize oaks produce sap but mine drop a sticky substance) which then sticks itself to the vines and the lower oak tree leaves in a black goo which you might also notice on the sidewalk under the oak trees. When I power-wash the sidewalk, I am amazed how stark a contrast between washed and un-washed concrete exist. 
  • We estimate through observation that the buds do not set properly with the carbon soot and rubber adhesive cocktail. Look closely at the Oak Trees next to the vines and you will find all the lower level evergreen oak tree leaves black not green. The black is from the adhering sticky-sap-soot-cocktail. While this tough oak seems to grow well enough with top most leaves clean and green and taking in sunlight as designed, the street soot seems to greatly harm the budding process of my low level vines. Our experiment at home where we planted identical plants under similar conditions without road traffic, was very successful. Here at the office the vines produce 1/100th the normal grape load for vines of this size. It's the sap and soot we concluded. We believe the plants receive adequate sun. My research on the efficiency of sunlight utilization in plant photosynthesis process, suggests to me that plants have a fairly broad range of ability to work with whatever amount of sunlight they receive and while this partially shaded corner would (and does) reduce sunlight and crop yield, the ratios of harvest lost should be lower if it was just inadequate sun light. (Atmospheric threats here)
  • However, I found on a personal Zen level of gardening, that these struggling little vines keep me in tune with what the vintners in the local area are working through. When they harvest, I harvest. When they trim, I trim. When they water, I water. It keeps me in sync with their lives and what they must be facing industry-wide each month.  A late harvest for the big vintners or changed weather on their vines, all translates through to me personally just with the simple care I try and give to these 12 little vines.These vines seem to be serving as my canaries for the mineshaft in the field of Livermore viticulture. I'm keeping these vines and will probably replace them with new vines when I can't get them to go any further. The brass plaque at the north end of these vines honors Dr. Ian Thomas a local retired LLNL Chemist and award winning winemaker who shared some of his great knowledge with me and sadly passed away two years back. I keep free handout maps of a current list of wineries in the area on the street side of my big wine barrel. My wine barrel was purchased from Wente about 6 years ago. Wente's sold off a few of these large barrels when the barrel no longer yielded the flavor demanded by Wente's high production standards.   
  • The sidewalk sundial installed on the patio in front of the wine barrel is one of the few in California. Place the green plastic pole vertically over the time-line on the chart (suggestion: allow it to hang freely between your fingers over the time-line) and the pole will cast its shadow on the correct summer time. The winter months require an hour adjustment. Children seem to find this sundial magical and dazzling. 
  • Feel free to water any of my plants with the water bucket kept full of water next to my building. Please just replace the water-filling-tube back into the water bucket when you finish playing Zen-gardener. Maybe your green thumb will work well where mine seems to fumble.
  • UPDATE JULY 5, 2017 I'm going to cut the vines down soon to about a foot tall and see if they survive. This will be the next major step in Dr. Ian Thomas's original concept to test forming a true bonsai vine. I expect some of these vines will die. I'm thinking I should do the cutting just as the vines are edging out of the depth of winter and just before a convincing spring.