Grapes send up buds soon after breaking dormancy. After growing only a few inches, new shoots carry the beginnings of clusters of buds that will later bloom and set fruit.
The flower buds are tiny and because of their narrow petals, almost look fuzzy when they open into flowers. Late frosts can injure the buds and flowers at this early stage and can burn or even destroy the grape crop. Moist air and too much rain can encourage fungal problems as buds and flowers swell with fruit. If your fruit is prone to developing a dull white sheen (most common in European grape varieties), this is mildew — a problem best treated early by dusting the young fruits with sulfur dust soon after plants have finished flowering.
Small fruits form like clusters of tiny pearls and grow rapidly. Tiny grapes swell and will mature depending on weather and variety. Harvest grapes when they are sweet. Most grape varieties will hold their fruit well on the vines for weeks. But beware vanishing fruit since wildlife – especially squirrels and birds – will love dining on your grapes.
If left to dry on the vines, grapes will dry into raisins, but varieties that are not bred specifically for raisins are likely to produce very small or unimpressively flavored dried fruit. They are all still edible.
Both grapes and raisins are toxic to dogs.
Grape vines are both decorative and useful additions to the garden. They provide a way to green up fences and walls that would otherwise look dreary. They can pour over archways or patio covers adding a Mediterranean design to the landscape. They also offer tasty fruits that are good for you and handy to eat since they come in bite-sized packages. For people who love their wines, there are many different wine grapes to feed the hobby of wine making.
There are also so many different varieties of grapes that most areas of the country can find a good selection to match almost any climate. But one thing that can take the fun out of growing grapes is discovering that your rich, green leaves or swelling fruit is covered with a white or gray powdery blush. This is mold or mildew, a fungus that grows on grapevines. It will not hurt you to eat grapes with mildew, but the fruit isn’t very pretty and the flavor can be affected. Severe attacks of mold can damage the health of vines.
Although you can spray your vines with fungicides, there are two better, organic ways to stop mildew or mold on grape plants.
The easiest way to avoid the problem is to plant American varieties. It is the European grapes that are most prone to developing mildew problems. Even in hot, dry areas, mold can still be a problem. If you can find varieties that will suit your taste, opt for naturally resistant plants like most of the American grapes.
The second way to stop fungus problems is something I learned while in England many years ago. Sulphur dust is a low cost treatment that is perfectly safe to use. It can be applied as a dry powder or mixed with water and sprayed. Do not apply it when temperatures rise over eighty five degrees Fahrenheit. And make sure you wear gloves, eye protection and even a mask. The dust is an irritant. My eyes burnt badly for a whole day when I decided to just add a little more to one missed spot and didn’t bother putting on glasses. Don’t do it!
Sulphur dust is best applied right after flowering as the tiny fruits begin to swell. Cover leaves and fruits lightly. Sulphur is said to be a good way to combat mites and other garden insect pests, too. It does stop mold and mildew on grapes. And it is organic.
Of all the fruits I grow in my garden I think the grape vines are the most reliable and versatile. Being vines they are perfect to block views I don’t want, decorate arbors and cover plain fences. In the summer they become laden with heavy clusters of tasty round fruits that are juicy and refreshing in the heat of summer. This is one plant that seems to produce enough food for my needs, the wildlife and even all the neighbors.
In fact, most years I end up piling them up on neighbor’s doorsteps, ringing the bell and running away since I have so many. Another good home for excess crops is the food bank. A drop off at the senior center always brings smiles, too.
Although I am fortunate to live in Southern California where I have a wide range of excellent grape varieties to grow for eating or for making wine, there are varieties that are adapted to climates of all different types. So you can probably enjoy growing these useful and beautiful vines in your garden, too, no matter where you live.
There are elaborate pruning techniques that are important for commercially grown plants or vines that need to be properly trained. Good pruning in the winter will assure healthier, better producing and attractive vines. But grapes are quite forgiving and you can have lovely, productive plants without fussing too much. I find you can get away with simply pruning back severely at the end of the autumn even if you don’t carefully count the nodes. Even unpruned vines often produce well enough, although the size of the grape and some of the quality may be lost over time. Growing grapes for the home garden need not be an exact science to enjoy a fine harvest.
I don’t know about you, but I love growing – and eating – grapes. Mine are clean and organic, and they are tastier, healthier and much cheaper than the ones I can buy at the supermarket. So off I go again today to fill my bags with more goodies from the garden to eat and to share. Grapes are fun.
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