By Tammy Sons
Let me offer a little insight to wonderful world of grapes. Besides being
fantastic in a fruit salad, grapes offer a variety of different uses from
jams to wine. Winter is the time to consider if you want to plant your own
vineyard. Read on and decide.
The earliest settlers in the New World found wild grapes growing along
streams and in timbered areas. Crossing them with species from Europe has
produced plants that combine the hardness of the native American grapes with
the high quality of most European types. Grapes are very sturdy plants that
can withstand drought and succeed even in rocky, infertile soils. With
decent care, the vines can remain productive for 20 to 30 years.
Because of the many cultivars, you have a choice of fruit colors, flavors,
ripening times, and culinary uses. If you can, buy only disease resistant
varieties. Choose a location to plant that is warm and sunny. An ideal site
is a gentle slope to the south with excellent drainage. Special soil
preparation may not be necessary, though the plants will appreciate a
halfway rich soil with plenty of organic matter mixed in. The best time to
plant is late winter or early spring, especially for bare root plants, so
they can be established by summer and be able to withstand the summer
Grapes respond well to shallow cultivation to get rid of weeds. Try to keep
an area of the soil under the vines at least 4 feet wide weed free. Mulch to
help with the weed problem and to retain moisture. It also looks nice. Avoid
moist, rich organic materials because they may release nitrogen into the
soil too long and contribute to uneven ripening and over-vigorous growth.
A good use for grape vines is to train them on an existing border fence or
trellis. This will set off the property boundaries, add privacy, and screen
undesirable views. The type of landscape use, amount of leisure time you
have, and desire for fruit need to be considered in determining the number
of plants you need. Weeding, tying, pruning, and spraying are necessary
cultural operations for the best production.
Vigorous year-old plants are probably best to use. Two-year old plants are
more expensive and usually don't grow any better than the one-year old ones.
Get your stock from a reputable nursery that will guarantee the plants are
high quality, true to name, and are disease-free.
To have productive grapes that will produce quality fruit, the vine must be
trained and pruned to a definite system. Unlike most other fruits,grape
plants should be pruned rather severely. When you plant your grapes, put
them at the same depth as they were in the nursery, 5 to 8 feet apart in
the row. Spread the roots so they radiate out from the stem. Cut off any
broken or damaged portions of the roots and shorten any that are excessively
long. Cover the roots with topsoil and tamp it down to eliminate air pockets
and ensure good root-soil contact. Leave a shallow basin around the plant
and fill with water. This will settle the soil around the roots as well as
supply needed moisture. Later, fill the hole to the level of the surrounding
soil. Prune each dormant plant to a single cane, then head or cut back that
cane to 2 or 3 strong buds.
Shoots will arise from these buds. Select the most vigorous 2 or 3 and tie
them loosely to a stake next to the plant. One or 2 of these will become the
Erect a permanent trellis for the vine with the top wire about 6 feet above
the ground. The first year, train the trunk shoot up to the top wire. The
following year, 2 lateral shoots or cordons, are directed along the wires.
Once the horizontal cordons are developed, fruiting spurs of 2 to 5 buds are
left along the cordon. These will produce the shoots with the grapes.
Grapes themselves don't need direct sunlight to ripen, but the amount of
light hitting the leaves is very important to the fruit quality. Leaves
manufacture the sugars that are then translocated to the fruit. Give them
full sun if at all possible for the best results.
One of the hardest things about growing grapes is getting to the ripe ones
before the birds do. You can put netting over the vines or tie brown paper
bags around the clusters of fruit, but how do you know when they are ripe?
Although color change is important in deciding when to harvest, it isn't the
only thing. Most grapes change color as they approach maturity, but most
color-up before they flavor-up. When ripe, there is a natural bloom, or
whitish coating, on the fruit. Seeds change from green to brown. Size and
firmness of the grape is another factor; most grapes become less firm when
ripe. The best sign of ripeness is the sweetness of the grape. Go ahead and
test them! Unlike most fruits, once grapes are cut from the vine, they will
not ripen any further.
Once you have harvested your grapes, you can store them up to 8 weeks with
ideal conditions. Store at 32 degrees with 85% humidity. If you have too
many to eat, make jelly, jam, juice them, or maybe make some wine!
Buy wild grape vines at our wholesale Garden Nursery.