Saturday, May 21, 2011

A day in the Vineyard

Anyone who thinks growing grapes is easy clearly hasn't tried it. I have been slowly planting vines in my yard for 2 years now. Since I have a lot of trees and shade, I can't just plant a huge area and be done with it. I'm using all the sunny spots that can't grow grass because it's too hot. Perfect for grapes. The problem with grapes is they grow on vines. Not trees or bushes. Vines need to grow on something. In the wild, grape vines grow up trees until they get to the top. Then, while stealing the tree's sunlight, they produce yummy grapes for the birds to eat and disperse their seeds. Pretty clever huh? Well, we humans want to trick the grapes into thinking they have climbed a tree and are now ready to make grapes for our wine. To do this, we build trellises that hold the vines up and allow them to spread out in the sunshine. There are all kinds of trellis designs from the simple to the complex. I have chosen to go for a very simple Top Wire Cordon (TWC) design because it looks nice in the yard, is easy to prune, relatively easy to build, and easy to train the vines. It is not the best in terms of overall performance, but it's a good compromise for me.

The vines grow up from the ground and reach a wire about 5 feet off the ground. The vine has one "arm" (cordon) that goes one way, and another that goes the other way on the wire. This "T" formation is the basis for all the other shoots that come off to produce leaves and grapes.

The problem with building a trellis is that the wire has to be held up by something. On each end of the wire is a post that goes deep into the ground so it will hold the wire securely. So far, my three "vineyards" scattered around the yard have (are you ready?) 14 posts. That doesn't sound bad...14 posts. Well, every one of them, 3.5 feet deep in the New England rocky soil was hand dug, and let me tell you, that is a lot of work. Now if I was crazy enough to do all 14 at the same time, I would rent a post-hole auger like I did when I built my deck last year and needed to produce 9 holes four feet deep for the concrete footings. But since I have been picking away at this vineyard thing, a few posts a month for 2 years, I have dug them all by hand. Ugh.

Anyway, a few weeks ago my good friend Pierre was here and he noticed that I had quite a bit of room between two of my rows and suggested squeezing another in there. I groaned at the thought of yet two more post holes, but today what do you think I did? Yeah, I got out there and started digging. Ow, my arms hurt.

I have 4 more vines coming from Northeastern Vine Supply next week to go on this trellis. But I also had a couple empty spots for vines that I have been growing in the house since March from cuttings. So I planted those today too.

Here's the thing that's cool about North American and Hybrid vines--they are immune to Phylloxera and can grow on their own roots. No grafting. So they are easy to replicate. Also, grape vines are really easy to root. If you take the cuttings from your winter pruning and just chuck them in the woods, chances are one or two will take root in the spring. So if you take the cuttings from your most productive vines and simply stick them in a pot of soil and water them, guess what happens? Roots pop out in a few weeks, buds form, leaves sprout and you have new vines to plant. This is how commercial nurseries replicate vines by the thousands.

My vines are not mature yet, so I only had a few that had much of anything to prune last winter. But I waited on those until early March to prune. I took the best cuttings into the house, potted them, put them in a nice sunny window and waited. Today, 2 months later, I planted them in the yard. I'll keep you posted on their progress.


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