Today everyone is looking for ways of growing things closer to home. This reduces the carbon footprint of product production and increases food security. But many may believe that some items cannot be grown close to home. The reasons vary for this belief include space, climate and even lack of skill. But before you throw in your garden spade consider growing the simple grape.
Hyper-local grapes are easy to produce if you follow some simple guidelines. First, only grow grapes that are hardy to your local area. To find out what grows in your local area requires getting to know the USDA Plant Hardiness Map. This map can tell you what zone you live in. As a rule of thumb, once you know your zone you can plant anything that number or bigger. If you have a grape variety that grows in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 6a-8, then it would be fine to plant in an area that is zone 6a.
Once you have found the variety of grapes you would like to grow, begin the process of planning out your backyard vineyard. It is recommended for small backyard vineyards, that the plants and rows be spaced 3 feet apart. Next, draw out your vineyard plan so that it has a southeast direction. Once the design is pleasing, figure how many plants will be needed and decide where you will purchase them.
After the plan is completed, a soil test will need to be conducted. This is a simple procedure and the information on how to do it can be found at your local extension office. Once the results of the soil test are back, address any nutrient deficiencies. Grapes require a pH of 7. If the pH is higher than 7, the soil is too alkaline and will need sulfur, woodchips or peat moss added to it. If the pH is lower than 7, the soil is too acidic and lime will need to be added.
Beginning the process of creating your backyard vineyard requires one to get their hands dirty and use a little elbow grease. The first step in this process is to break up the soil before the fall and winter rains. If creating a very small vineyard, dig down 3 feet and loosen the soil. Once this is done, line the first few feet of the soil with small stones. This will aid in the drainage of the soil.
If you loosened the soil in the summer, plant a cover crop such as clover, rye, or barley. This cover will protect the soil from soil erosion while fixing nitrogen into the soil. The flowers of the cover crop will also attract beneficial insects, which are very important for pest management.
Come spring, after the soil has warmed, purchase your plants and your trellising material. Grapes have to be grown vertically and the trellis must be very substantial. On average, each grape vine produces 5 pounds of grapes so do not skimp of on the trellis material. The trellis can be consists of wires strung between posts, fencing, woven PVC pipe and an arbor if the vineyard is very small. Regardless of the type of support you choose, remember to set it up prior to planting the grapevines.
Grapevines can be purchased as cuttings, bare-rooted or potted. Regardless of how they come, the first step is to examine the roots. If the roots appear damaged, remove only the damaged material. Then, soak the roots for several hours. While the roots are soaking, begin digging the holes for the vines. Each hole will need to be twice the size of the root mass. Once the holes are dug, it is time to plant the vines. Before placing the vine in its hole, sprinkle the roots with mycorrhizae fungus. This fungus helps the baby vines take up nutrients and can be found at farm supply stores. Once this is done, the vine will need to be planted so that the root mass is covered but not any deeper. Fill in each hole with compost and gently push down on the soil with your foot. Continue this process until all plants are planted.
After the vines have been planted, an irrigation system will have to be created. The simplest irrigation system for the backyard vineyard is a watering hose or a watering furrow. If using the watering hose method, apply 1-inch of water per week to each plant. If using the furrow method, dig a furrow along the row of grapevines. Fill the furrow with water every few weeks during the growing season.
Once everything is done as far as the construction of your backyard vineyard, it is time to bring an old-world look to your vineyard. Many of the best vineyards in the world place small, light-colored stones underneath their vines. The belief is that the light color of the stones reflects light back onto the plants and keeps them warm during the night. While there is no scientific proof that this works, I feel it is worth the effort to create that old-world look.
After the vineyard is completed, outline it in marigolds to protect the young plants from nematode damage and to release an assortment of beneficial insects.
Both of these organic gardening techniques will help prevent many pest problems before they start.
Pruning begins the second year with the creation of the “T.” Selecting the best stem and removing all the other vegetation creates this “T.” At this point, the “T” forms a main trunk and the top of this trunk is pinched off. Secure the trunk piece to the trellis with garden twine.
At the end of the second year, a horizontal branch will be selected from the top of the “T.” This will form the “T” shape. Remove all other vegetation from the trunk.
There after, remove all the vegetation from the trunk that forms and only permit 10 to 12 buds on each arm of the “T.” These buds will form fruit in the future and should always be limited to 10 to 12 bud every year.
Eating grapes grown from your very own hyper-local vineyard is a treat in itself but do not stop there. If space allows why not try your hand at making your own wine from your hyper-local grapes. If this is something you would like to try, you will need to plan on planting at least 20 vines. These plants will produce enough grapes to make one five-gallon batch of your own specialty wine.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mindy McIntosh-Shetter has been an Agricultural Science educator, and is a horticulture and/or environmental blogger who earned a degree from Purdue University in Agriculture Education with a minor in biology, and natural resources. Presently she is finishing up her Masters in Environmental Education and Urban Planning for the University of Louisville while working on her own agriculture/environmental blog.