Thursday, July 17, 2014

Growing Grapes


I have learned a lot in the past year about grape culture. I read everything I could get my hands on about growing grapes as soon as we came here last summer and I have learned a lot more with experience this year.



The above is a picture of what our grapes look like now. It's about 500m of wine grapes growing on a fence in a straight line, more or less. Approximately 1/4 of them are dark purple, the rest are green. These are specifically for making wine and jelly, not for eating, as they have thick skins and seeds. The dark purple ones make fantastic grape jelly!

When we arrived here last summer the grapes were one big mess! 500m of a 10' x 10' ball, all the way down with many side shoots and lateral shoots from the ground and all over the trunks. It had been ignored all season and for who knows how long.


Grapes are pruned in the winter when they are completely dormant. This past February I cut them all back to just 2-3 large trunks each. That is all that a grape root can handle. You really only need one main trunk that divides into two horizontal pieces (called cordons) tied to a wire about waist high, but because single trunks sometimes die, it's safer to keep two or even three, growing if possible.



Early Spring Growth
The winter pruning also consist of leaving just two buds at each growth spot along the cordon. These will produce the next years long stems. The long stems are tied to the high wire as they reach it and trained to grow along it, above the grapes hanging from the waist high wire where the cordons are. Only the tendrils are tied to the wire. You can choke and damage that vine if you tie the main stem. I like to use tin ties for this because I can undo them and move them around as I check the grapes. 

It's important to plant your grapes on a fence going north and south. This way you can remove leaves to give them the morning sun fully but keep the west side shaded. 

The hot afternoon/evening sun will burn the grapes making them not as good for making wine and jelly. The grapes form near the buds on the cordon so they are shaded by the top vines and leaves growing on the above wire, (see pictures).



East Side of Grape Vines
Only two clusters of grapes are allowed to remain on each stem. More than that will make smaller grapes. I continually remove any others growing higher on the vine. Once the grapes form, I remove any leaves on the east side that grow to shade the grapes. 

All green growth below the waist high wire with the cordons growing on it will get rubbed off or cut off as the season progresses. Nothing should be growing below the grapes. In the spring and early summer this is almost a daily job.


Every morning in the spring, less in late summer, I walk along the grapes, removing low sprouts, removing leaves shading the grapes on the east, arranging the grape clusters to hang freely as they grow, pulling the few weeds too close to the grape trunks to be sprayed with weed killer. The new strong vinegar weed killer works very well! As the long clusters develop I will also remove the few grapes growing at the tip. This will encourage large grapes on the cluster and ensure that they all ripen at the same time. 


I love puttering along the grapes in the early morning. It's a quiet and stress relieving activity that I look forward to.