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The Growing of Grapes by Bob Tanem 'America's Happy Gardener'

       When choosing varieties of grapes, there are several things to consider. The most important choice for you to make is what you wish the vines to do. Do you want them for shade? Do you want them for fruit? Are you thinking of becoming a wine maker? Do you want them to cover a fence? All of these questions will revolve around the proper selection. You must also consider temperature in your area.
       Many grape vines need a lot of heat
to mature the fruit properly. Some grapes love cooler climates. Here are some suggestions for your garden.

       ‘Candice’ is an early ripening seedless red fruit of medium size. It is an excellent choice for arbors where foliage is as important as the fruit. ‘Golden Muscat’ is a cousin of the regular Muscat and performs very well as a vine and fruit. It ripens later than ‘Candice’ so it is a good
selection to extend the time of ripening.
It has seeds. ‘Flame’ is another worthy choice for seedless fruit and is a mid season variety. Vine should be kept on the dry side to encourage ripening. ‘Thompson Seedless’ is one of the more well known varieties of grapes. It will ripen in July to August. This vigorous vine will cover a trellis in its second year.

       The choice you make here will make a difference as to what you wish to do with the fruit. Some of the varieties do not make wine, while other varieties will lend themselves to eating as well as wine making. You will have to choose varieties for one or the other unless you can drink sweet wine. For making wine the best varieties for the Bay Area are: ‘Chardonnay’: a very vigorous seeded variety for making wine. It can also be eaten, but the abundance of seeds needs to be recognized. The skin also is tough to swallow. ‘Merlot’: an excellent variety for cooler weather. It will tolerate some heat, but is best for growing in the fog belt.
       The first year of a grape vine is the most important. Determine whether the vine is to be grown on a fence or if it is to be grown on an over head cover. If it
is to be grown on a fence or lateral support you train a single stem up to the top of the trellis or support. When it reaches the top of the support you cut the tip off and allow the side shoots to grow the first summer. Depending on the height of the fence or trellis you cut off shoots or sprouts that do not fit the trellis. In the vineyards they train only two or three tiers to match the framework. On a chain fence or other non patterned support you should train only two to three laterals. When these reach the desired length prune them. You will start getting other growth that can be removed as desired for the pattern you wish to achieve. If the vine is very vigorous, don’t be afraid to prune off some of the new growth to match your pattern. If you wish to have the vine cover an overhead support you should train two or three of the upward growth shoots until the vine reaches the top. This can usually be achieved in the first year. Once you reach the desired height you remove all side shoots from the base to the top of the vine as they grow. As shoots grow at the top of the vine, spread them out in order to let them grow to cover the overhead support.  

You can support this growth by nailing a wire nail to the top of the structure and tying the vine with stretching plastic tape. Do not, and I repeat, do not nail down the vine. If you do it will constrict the growth of the vine and eventually kill the growth at that point. Once you have reached the desired pattern you need to prune the previous summer’s growth annually. This is done during the dormant season. This accomplishes a couple of important needs of the vine. The first is to limit the production and the second is to guarantee the quality of the fruit. I usually ignore discussions of spurs that professional grape growers talk about because it can cloud the issue of pruning. If you look at the
previous season’s growth you will notice that it has not developed any bark. This is new growth and all you have to do is count to three buds along the seasonal growth and eliminate all of the rest. If you find shoots that are unwanted, these can be eliminated to the base of the new growth. This can also be done during the growth cycle.

       Most people water the vines too much. Depending on the variety and local weather conditions they require watering only twice a week the first year and once a week thereafter. I’m not sure if you remember Italian Swiss Colony in Mendocino County that only received water in the first year and no water at all for the rest of their lives. Not watering intensified the sugar, but limited production. My recommendation is that you water when they need it, and they will let you know rather quickly when they haven’t received adequate water.  There are a couple methods of fertilizing the vines. There is the school of thought that foliar feeding is one of the best bets because it makes the plant so healthy that it resists diseases and insects that cause problems. I have seen this work and it is worth a try. For this purpose I highly recommend VF11. (No, I don’t own the company.) This must be done weekly and reports tell me that the grapes are larger and sweeter. The second method of feeding grapes is to add AlfaGrow to the mix in January and add organic all purpose fertilizer during the growing season. I
also recommend mulching around the plants. The use of mustard is one method of protecting the ground against erosion. Other mulches, even shredded newspaper, can be used.

                       PESTS AND DISEASES:
     Powdery mildew is one of the most persistent problems for European type grapes. American grapes and their hybrids seem to have less of a problem. The reports I have on the use of VF 11 as a foliar spray seems to prevent the problem. The vineyards use sulfur compounds. I would rather they use horticultural oil. The use of the
oil prevents the grape mite that is responsible for the mummification of the fruit. When purchasing vines make sure to ask about their resistance to Pierces Disease. Home owners are usually not bothered with this disease that is transferred by leaf hoppers. Because there are other insects that can attack grapes, it is a good idea to put out the yellow sticky cards as the clusters of
blooms appear. A bi-monthly check of the cards will alert you to any insect problem. The professional vineyards use roses along the edges to alert them to any insect problems. In choosing a grape that you would wish to grow, it is a good idea to ask at the farmer’s markets for the names of grapes that they are selling. They certainly will give you what they are selling and some helpful hints on growing them organically
and successfully.

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