Answers to your gardening questions
effective Deer Fence!
Welcome through Fred's Garden Gate! Some friends of ours in Windsor, Maine, purchased a Fredonia grape vine a few years back, and seeing it prosper helps me appreciate that grapes are really the perfect candidate for small New England gardens.
When my family and I lived in North Searsport, Maine, we had some very nice white Concords on a trellis at the top end of our vegetable garden. They were wonderful! But they rarely fully ripened. And thats one of the big problems with grapes in our neck of the woods. The growing (and, therefore, ripening) season is a month or so too short for most of the really nice varieties. But they sure put on a marvelous display!
Grapes can be used to great advantage in most gardens. There is, of course, the pleasure derived from pointing to a bowl or basket of grapes and saying, "Oh those? We grew them in our back yard," assuming, or course, you have the right variety. More on that later.
Grape vines make a very effective privacy screen. Thats how we used them in North Searsport: they screened our vegetable growing area from the remainder of the gardens. All it took were three stout poles or posts six feet high set in a straight line about 30 feet long, and four strong wires about 18 inches apart. It all looked like a giant four-wire fence in winter, but from late spring to mid-fall it was a solid wall of quite attractive foliage.
Im a great fan of pleasant and private little shady nooks where I can hide during the heat of July and August; someplace to just sit and soak in the sounds of birds and crickets (and yes, the whine of an occasional mosquito), read a chapter in a good book, eat my lunch or just daydream. Picture a basic arbor just tall enough to stand under and large enough to accommodate one of those fairly inexpensive wood-and-iron park benches. Then cover it all with cooling foliage of grapes, and it becomes your little secret garden hideaway.
Most importantly, grapes prefer full, bright sun with thorough air drainage or circulation. If wedged-in too tightly with other dense plants, or in a spot where they dont get much air, theyll quickly mildew and look awful.
Soil depth is crucial to success, too. Grapes will send their roots down three feet or more, and you know what that means: deep soil preparation with plenty of organic matter and some coarse sand for drainage.
You must commit yourself to a faithful spraying program to control a number of insect pests and diseases. Three times during the season should do it. (Safers natural sprays have the necessary products in their line.) You must also prepare for very necessary annual pruning. Most people cringe when they see how much of the past seasons growth is cut away, but it is an absolute must. Otherwise, the thing will ramble all over the yard, up into trees and out onto the highway (well, almost).
Pruning is best done very early in the spring, usually before any sign of bud-swelling. If you wait too long, every little cut will "bleed" incessantly and, while some experts claim such loss of sap wont seriously harm the plant, Id prefer the poor thing to utilize all available resources instead of pouring them out onto the ground. Having said that a little "bleeding" wont kill the vine. But, all the same, Id still prefer to prune while the plant is in full dormancy.
Almost all of last-years canes are cut back to within about 2 to 3 inches of the mature (larger) stems, allowing no more than 3 or 4 leaf-axil buds to remain. Of course, some of the longer, strongest canes are allowed to remain for training along a trellis or wire but everything else is reduced to little more than stubs. If youre new to grape-pruning, Id recommend visiting a vineyard during pruning season to watch a "pro" work. Now, thats an eye-opener!
Pay attention to the direction that the bud closest to the pruning cut is heading. It is possible to "train" virtually any prunable shrub or vine to grow toward (or lean toward) any direction you choose. You wouldnt, for example, cut to a but that would force growth toward a wall or toward the ground. I always cut to an outward- and upward-facing bud.
If you have an early-ripening variety and you like jam, raisins and homemade wine, you will almost certainly find yourself contending with flocks of birds and yellow jackets as harvest approaches. And believe me, the competition will be fierce! Fine-mesh netting will take care of the birds, but Im afraid youll just have to put up with the bees and yellow jackets.
Finally, the least-considered requirement of all: patience. Itll take about four years to train and develop grapes to support fruit.
Of all the dozens of varieties of grapes available today, there are just three that I know of with a short-enough season to ripen: "Fredonia", "Seedless" and "Delaware." Fredonia, I believe, is the logical choice. You may prefer one of the others, but remember that even the shortest-season types take upwards of 140 days to fully ripen. If youre only interested in foliage, then virtually any hardy variety will do just fine.
Finally, your State's Cooperative Extension Service will be able to help you with variety descriptions and complete pruning instructions. Give em a call. Helping folks like us is what they do best.
Heres a little tidbit gleaned from a recent University of Maine (Orono) Agricultural publication: "Question: This fall, my grapes were all covered with mold. What caused it, and how can I prevent it from happening again next year? Answer: The mold that appears on grapes in the fall generally results from either a fungus or an insect problem. The fungus usually starts early in the season and affects the leaves and stems first. It only affects the fruit in severe cases. However, the mild wet weather we had this fall was a fine medium for fungus. The grape mealybug feeds on the buds and shoots in the spring and early summer. When it matures, it starts a second brood which feeds on the grape clusters. The mealybug secretes a sweetish, honeydew fluid on which a sooty mold develops. The warm fall this year would have been ideal for a second generation of mealybugs. For a small home planting of grapes, a combination fruit and orchard spray should be effective. Spray as the buds begin to swell in the spring and every 10-14 days for three or four weeks."
I hasten to add that I personally consider the application of any chemical to anything intended for human consumption to be grossly unwise. We grow our own food for its high nutritional content and freedom from toxic contamination. Why on earth would anyone want to slather poisons on their food .it just plain doesnt make sense!
Check out this site for more information (it doesn't get much better'n this!): http://www.muextension.missouri.edu/xplor/agguides/hort/g06085.htm
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