Apr 6, 2008

It's A Mistake!

It's gotta be. There's no two ways around it. Somehow I've managed to grow grapes.

The internets can be damned helpful, and damned annoying at times. I've searched for about half an hour now for information specific to growing Thompson Seedless, which is what this plant is. Specifically, how to keep the right combination of leaves, canes and clusters.

Okay. Let's back up.

Three years ago I was in Lowe's and saw grape seedlings for sale. I remembered my father growing Concorde grapes when I was a kid, and how incredibly sweet and good they were, so I got a wild hair. I bought four different types, got home and now I realise I got lucky in finding some good, clear information on how to build arbors for grapes on the internet, which I've long since lost. I built the arbors and settled back to wait.

You see, the trick with grapes is that they're SLOW. They're the bonsai of gardening, involving a lot of careful pruning, shaping and training. Everything I read says not to expect any fruit until the fourth year, at which time you'll have trained up a single central cane with four runners: two to a side, two about two feet off the ground and two about five feet off the ground. That's where the similarities stop, though. Everyone else seems to start branching off at this point (hah! pun!) and going in many different directions. One site tells you to do this, one site says never to do that, do THIS instead. Still another wants to tell you about his massive, sprawling, wildly successful grape farm in South Africa and sets you up to buy his book on How To Grow Your Own Ginormous Grapes In South Africa! Worse, my carefully-saved printout on how to build arbors and train grapes, I noticed last year says way at the bottom "Caution: this doesn't apply to Thompson Seedless grape vines after the first two years." And then goes on to NOT tell me how to find information on how to grow them, here at Year Three, when I'm showing grapes a whole year early.


I seem to be a year ahead of schedule, and one cane shy. My plant refused to grow a good cane on the lower right side, so I've got three canes and a five-inch long growth spurt on that side that I'm hoping I can train into a nice cane. Last week I glanced over at the little hillside that the Irrelephant Vineyard is growing on (I lost one the first year so it's three vines now, of three different varietals) and saw nothing but dark brown canes. This morning I've got a Thompson Seedless that has taken matters into it's own canes and is covered in huge green leaves, new canes everywhere, and clusters of grapes so tiny they look like fat green angels dancing on the points of pencils.

And I don't know what to do!

Do I need to carefully count the clusters and pull off anything over X number? Do I need to stop trimming canes? Start trimming more? Do I need to sing to it? Fertilize it? NOT fertilize it? Maddening! I'm so cornfused.

I think I might just do what my father did--let it grow however the hell it wants to. When my brother finally got into the remains of my father's garden to clean it up years after the Alzheimer's had rendered him incapable, my brother found Concorde grape vines with trunks like small oak trees and vines that carefully wended and wormed their way some twenty five or so feet in all directions. The roots, I'm sure, reached all the way down into Hell and were stealing water from the sinner's mouths. He said everywhere you looked there were thick clusters of lush purple-black fruit hanging down, like a vintner's wet dream. He then pulled, dug, and burned them all down, turning the plot into a place to put his mobile home while he built his house.

I'm safe, though. There's no room to park a trailer on the little hillock that is Irrelephant Vineyards.


Gordo said...

Our house came with mature grapevines. 15-year-old grapevines. Unfortunately, the people who built the place and planted the vines were Portuguese and literally could not explain the varieties to me other than "red" and "white". The main trunks are large enough that if I grasp it with my hand, my thumb and middle finger barely touch.

I, too, read like mad. I called a gardening phone-in on the nearby CBC affiliate. I joined mailing lists. I bought one book. Buy this book. It's great. Detailed and thoughtful and thorough.

The pruning rule of thumb that I was given on the phone-in and has served me well for five years is this: before Spring thaw (sorry), cut back 75% of the previous year's new growth. It's a helluva a haircut, but it stimulates the vines like you wouldn't believe. I have one vine that will run 15 feet in one year and I don't have the growing season that you do.

Good luck. :-)

Irrelephant said...

Good lord, man! *lol* How excellent! And thank you for the book tip. Will have to see about procuring it, definitely.

The thing about pruning sounds like my roses. I prune them every November and it's like killing my children, but each spring they grow back thick and full. Everything I read about the grapes though says that I have to maintain those four canes on the trellis and prune extra stuff off, the point being that if the plant isn't working hard to grow long vines then it can work on growing a few very nice, very ripe clusters of grapes.

I'm so envious. *s*

Gordo said...

These things are massive, Irr: three vines, trained up on to a trellis (built out of electrcial conduit, of all things) provides the majority of the summer shade in our back yard. Damn, I wish I could figure out what they are.

Keep in mind that that pruning advice is for well-established vines. You do need to maintain the base, definitely. The better established the roots are, the better they can withstand the vagaries of weather and rain.

The first time I pruned them, I couldn't do it. I started out well, then started to get nervous and chickened out. They still grew all right. The next year, I did as I had been told and was certain that I had destroyed them. Nope. LOL

So far, I've managed to get a couple of decent harvests out of them. One year, the concords (the ones I can identify) and the seedless table-grapes got slaughtered by old man winter. The concords are back, now. Tree years later. Two years ago, just as I was getting ready for harvest, we had a terrible wind storm that stripped the vines bare. I was just shy of crying.

Mona Buonanotte said...

Oh gawd, now you have me in the WayBack machine! My dad grew (and still grows) half a dozen varieties of grapes, originally for wine, and now mostly to feed the birds. Concord and Niagara and godknowswhatelse. You haven't lived until you've picked a bunch, warm and soft, off the vine, and stood under a bright sunny sky and chewed them all with a big gushy smile, spitting seeds at the grasshoppers under your feet.

Told you I was in the WayBack.

Good luck with your grapes...uh...do you need some hot internet chick to stomp on them for wine? ;-)

Clowncar said...

Well, that's all pretty much Greek to me - I know nothing about grapes, or gardening in general (though I do have a little game when it comes to corn). I did enjoy the sentence "The roots, I'm sure, reached all the way down into Hell and were stealing water from the sinner's mouths." Which made it all worthwhile.

Irrelephant said...

Gordo, I can only imagine the difficulties you're having with that sort of cold, but the fact that they're hanging in there, that can't be beat!

Mona, one of my great joys when I worked at The Tinderbox selling pipes was people who would tell me that the smell of pipe tobacco brought back childhood memories of some favourite person who smoked. That ALWAYS, without fail, made me smile. I'm very, VERY glad I could bring back those memories for you. I too remember picking smoky purple Concorde grapes off my father's vines, bursting them with my teeth and tasting that warm, sweet rush, and being allowed to spit! the seeds away.

Grape pressing, eh? Send me a picture of your feet. In high heels. Heh!

CC, I'm learning all this too, don't forget. The gardening drive I inherited but the learning, that's had to be earned via internet and extension service and hanging around the co-op and listening to the old men talk. *s* Every little bit.