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  It’s a Grape Deal
  January 11th, 2008


So, Don’t Just Wine About It!
The increased popularity of wines and table grapes has led to a surge of interest in growing grapes in the home garden. Not only do they produce great tasting fruit, but they can also provide an excellent alternative to flowering vines on fences, arbors, and gazebos. If you have the room in your garden and lots of sunlight, you can even plant a mini-vineyard.

The most important factor in growing grapes is understanding the difference between table grapes and wine grapes. They are very distinct. Table grapes should be eaten fresh, while wine grapes are small berried and seedy, which don’t make for good eating. You can’t make wine from most table grapes because most don’t get high enough in sugar content and the acids are too low to balance the wine.

It also helps to understand the growing habits and ripening dates of different varieties. This leads to a better understanding of when to harvest them and how to prune them properly for maximum health and fruit production. Many homeowners harvest too early, pulling grapes off the vine when they begin to color.

This is a mistake because coloring, known as verasion, occurs weeks before the grapes are actually ripe. Grapes need to attain a good sugar content and acid balance before they can be harvested. Many people harvest their grapes before they have reached this point and are disappointed in the taste or the wine made from these grapes. It pays to sample your grapes before you harvest them. If they aren’t ripe, wait for them to develop.

For wine grapes, consider purchasing a refractometer to determine the sugar content of the berries. Wine grapes usually need a sugar content of around 22-24% sugar (or more) to be harvested and subsequently produce the right alcohol content of the wine. Unlike other fruit, grapes don’t improve after harvesting, so don’t pick them too early.

The highest maintenance part of growing grapes is the amount of pruning required. Although there is no hard and fast rule about how much to prune, cutting away more of the grapevine leads to stronger and more robust growth during the next season. On the other hand, if you are trying to shade a large arbor, you may wish to allow more growth to remain, but you will have less fruit. Here are some general pruning tips:

First, keep in mind that the current season’s growth produces fruit from last season’s wood. If you prune too heavily, the result will be an abundance of foliage–but very little fruit. Pruning too lightly results in large yields of poor quality fruit.
Basic pruning is simple. The coarser bark of old wood is easily recognizable. Follow the growing tip back to the older wood from the year before. Then come forward, leaving four to five buds, and prune the rest of the branch off. Remove all the weak, thin shoots and leave only the strongest shoots to develop. Flowers from these shoots precede the development of fruit.
Grapes will grow on the new wood that comes from these pruned shoots. Keep your vine tidy throughout the summer. Prune shoots back to the third or fourth leaf after fruiting. Remove any new growth. Also, remove all leaves around growing fruit clusters to give the fruit maximum sun.

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