"Good intentions will always be pleaded for every assumption of authority ... the Constitution was made to guard against the dangers of good intentions. There are men in all ages who mean to govern well, but they mean to govern. They promise to be good masters, but they mean to be masters." - Noah Webster

"There is no worse tyranny than forcing a man to pay for what he does not want just because you think it would be good for him."
-- Robert A. Heinlein

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Growing Grapes

Here at the Ben-David farm, we are trying to grow as much variety as we can.  We have added grapes to our collection of plants.  I was at the local feed store and they had two little vines in one gallon pots that barely had buds on the stems.  One was a Concord and the other a Fredonia.  The Fredonia, since many have probably not heard of it, is also a "red" variety.

Concord Grape Vine

You may not know this, but prior to Prohibition (the banning of all beverage alcohol in the United States during the 1920s) there was a large and thriving grape growing industry in the State of Georgia.  Grapes don't need really rich soil, but they hate having their feet wet and so the clay and sandy soils just need some minimum amendment for grapes to grow well.  Planting on the easily found slopes in Northern Georgia also insures that needed drainage.  As with any plant or animal that gets overly cultivated for certain qualities, susceptibility for some diseases can creep in over time.  While I've seen wild Muscadine grapes growing up pine and tulip poplar trees in the Piedmont area, the other varieties would never tolerate such conditions.

Grapes seem to have been created by God to teach us that desirable fruit requires regular care and attention.  At least more so than many other plants.  Gardens that are unattended teach us that what God said in Genesis proves to be true over and over again.  Probably the hardest thing for novice gardeners to get used to is how much pruning is necessary for good results.  Most people look at a two or three year old grapevine that hasn't been pruned yet, and think that all of that tangled web of vines splaying out in all directions simply means more fruit to come, yet nothing could be further from the truth.  Watching a vine dresser prune back a grapevine in early spring would have most people thinking, "Holy cow! He's practically chopping it all down!"

Tiny Concorde grapes on my new vine

Millennia of experience in cultivating grapes has proven which techniques work and which don't and the things that worked from before the Messiah was walking the earth still hold true today.  Pruning is absolutely necessary to get the best production of grapes.  This is because many plants propagate in two ways.  They either propagate sexually by producing seed that can then be scattered away from the mother plant, or they propagate asexually by putting out runners or rhizomes to sprout elsewhere.  Strawberries, potatoes, and asparagus are  good examples of this.

To some gardeners, grapes are far easier to start by rooting a cutting from a vine than trying to grow from seed.  In order to grow from seed, you would have to keep the seeds in some slightly moist, but not wet potting soil, then keep them in the fridge for about three months.  Grape seeds need a period of cold, but not freezing in order to germinate.  It's like the opposite problem of trying to germinate peppers.  I don't care how green of a thumb you have, if you don't have a way to keep pepper seeds in potting soil at above 70° F for a couple of weeks, you are not going to sprout any peppers.
A stock photo of  grapes

Back to the pruning thing.  There are some really bad videos on how to prune grapes and there are some really good ones.  If you are really interested, you can find them on the web.  The important thing is detail.  It's the guy who tells you what the terms are.  Knowing the difference between the vine and the canes and the suckers.  How do you recognize powdery mildew?  Can you tell the difference between one and two year old canes?

Example of a higher support system
One of the things I will have to do in the coming year is build a support system for my grapes.  The vines need to be supported up well above ground because grapes are very susceptible to fungus infections if they don't get adequate air circulation.  You want all that luscious fruit to be able to hang down.  Speaking of which, I never recalled seeing any kind of flowers, but I already have tiny grapes on the Concord vine, as you can see in the second pic above.

We have a neighbor across the street with a rather large and lengthy grapevine.  Last year, she got several gallons of grapes off of it.  She doesn't do anything with the vine otherwise.  It doesn't get a lot of sun, given its location with all the trees around.  The ground it shares with lots of other vegetation and weeds.  Yet it produces that quantity of grapes.  Makes me think of the potential of my two little vines if I'm willing to put some effort into it; and I intend to.  I think I would like my vines to be trained up so that the grapes will hang at about five feet above the ground.  As my vines grow, they will form a beautiful natural border between the front yard/garden and the driveway.  I'll keep experimenting to find out which plants can grow beneath them and compliment them.  Some plants actually are beneficial to other plants when grown side by side.  Such is called "companion gardening."  Another cool thing about grapes is that the leaves are edible.  At the end of the harvest time, you can pick the best grape leaves and can them or stuff them by rolling stuff into them like a burrito.  You might also like to search the internet for information on the benefits of grape seed extract.

Before I build the support system, I will have to decide if I want to keep it natural or make it easy; the choice being all wood, or steel post and wire.  I'm leaning toward the natural, even though it means replacing parts as they rot away.  I know it means some more work, but some things are worth the effort.

It's the third day of Pesach (Passover).  We had another storm last night and since I ripped up the carpet in the hall and hall bathroom and installed a new vinyl tile floor, Twyla decided she wanted the hallway painted to change the look.  I got all the walls primed white yesterday, so today I will be getting the finish coat of paint on the wall.  The Artist known as Twyla will have a fresh canvas to ponder for a while.


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