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.


Leigh said...

Excellent post. I'm hoping to plant muscadines on a pergola to shade the west facing windows (one of these days). I do agree purple grapes make the superior jelly. It's my favorite!

Providence Acres Farm said...

Hi Leigh! Good to hear from you! Grape jelly is my favourite too.

Clayton said...

Well you are very busy!
I have a grape vine but I don't give it the care you are talking about! I better get with the program. Mine are the dark blue Concord type and they are really not vine hardy here so I lay them down on a stucco wire mesh for winter. They are doing very well but the berries will be small since I have not pruned. Could still do that. Finished picking Edible Blue Honeysuckle today although after we took the netting down I noticed a lot of berries ion the outside so may just go clean up!

Providence Acres Farm said...

Hi Clayton! Sounds like you are very busy too!

Clayton said...

Hi Sheryl!
Well we drove through your area in October but silly me forgot to make contact and so missed the opportunity to meet you! We did the drive all the way down to Osoyoos and stayed overnight. Very interesting to us to stop here and there at some of the wineries and see how each one is different. So many to choose from but a good reason along with family to visit in Vernon. Wondering how good your grape crop was as my sister and her husband went to help an acquaintance over in Naramata and he had just a super crop! Facebook has become one of my main modes of contact these days as well as for pictures so not much happens on my blogs any more. Wishing you a Blessed Christmas!

Providence Acres Farm said...

Hi Clayton, too bad we missed you! A visit would have been nice!

We had a bumper crop of everything this year. I cut down and am clearing out some of the grape vines, the less vigorous and healthy ones. Our grapes line the park edge and start at the entrance gate, so I'd like to replace some of them with beans, peas, cukes, small melons etc that will also grow on that fence.

We want a "Garden of Eden" for our guests next summer!

Most of our grapes are seedless green ones and delicious! I'm keeping all of those ;-)