Vines = grapes, right?

We inherited some grapes, of unknown colour and variety, which were planted in our vegetable patch. But they weren’t doing so well. In fact, despite all our efforts, very few of the vines actually produced grapes at all. So we decided to relocate them to a totally different area on Homeland, not only to improve their fate, but to remove them from vegetables that they don’t seem to like either. But this project was not without trials and tribulations either, and of course, in the process we learnt some really good lessons too.

The grapes we had found growing in our vegetable patch were grown as very low bushes, next to a low 1.2m fence in the middle of nowhere along which they could spread themselves out in summer. Some of the vines – notably those furthest away from the eucalyptus trees at the back of the property – grew quite long new shoots in summer, way above the low little fence. We were really excited to have grapes, and after a bad first summer, we gave them a lot of attention. We improved the irrigation, tried to improve the soil with biodynamic preparations, even spoke to them, repeatedly, and pruned them as best we could figure out. My wife even took two stings from a bull ant on her hand in her endeavours to bravely safe the grapes from tall grass shoots threatening to take over! I remember that day because she had let out such a scream that her dad (her parents were visiting at the time) came running from the house to safe her from some terrible imagined fate! I was in trouble because I did not turn up as speedily, because as I was quite sure it was just another unfortunate spider crossing paths with her… However, none of this made much of an impact and they still didn’t bear well the next summer. At about that time, as I mentioned in the post on Elephants and Bull Ants, we also learnt that grapes and some vegetables, especially the cabbage family and radishes, are not good bedfellows.

So in the spring, the big decision was made that the grapes should move. We had a nice space next to our driveway parking area where they would get full day sun, and where a cool breeze often blew through in the summer evenings. At this same time the guys from DMS landscapes were busy finishing off a big project in the back yard. One of the guys, Gus – a really nice and helpful guy – grew up on a wine farm. In fact, his father is still on the wine farm to this day. So Gus changed overnight from a hard-working landscaper and all-round doer of everything to a specialist vine consultant. He gave us good advice, and helped us put the trellises in place for the new “vineyard”. According to our organic principles, he planted untreated cedar wood posts, and once those were settled in, he strung and tightened the wires between them.

Next we did the soil preparation. We dug about 2ft deep holes, lined them with straw, put in blood and bone and a relatively small amount of compost so as not to burn the grapes’ roots. Then came the big transplant. We tried uprooting the grapes as best we could from the vegetable patch, but they had quite thick, long and strong roots, so they got damaged a bit and lost a lot of the soil around their roots. Nevertheless, we transplanted them into their new holes with tender care, watered them well and got them to settle down. The new trellis had more space than the old little fence, and we only transplanted the strongest vines.  Most of these vines we positioned at the back where the trellis was even higher. Surely, as these vines had 3-4 years “growth” under their belts already, they would shoot up higher and stronger. In the front row, we planted a mixture of new muscat, American black, sultana and chardonnay grapes – two of each. Job done, we couldn’t wait for summer to see them grow and bear tons of grapes. We were already thinking fresh grapes, grape jellies and maybe even grape juice.

However, it didn’t take the dogs long to sniff out the blood and bone, so they promptly dug all around the grapes – irrespective new or old – to try and get to that tempting smell, dislodging the plants and exposing their roots. Of course, once they got to “the smell”, all they found was wet powder mixed with dirt and compost, which they couldn’t do much with,  so they promptly moved on to the next one and the next one… And of course they knew they were being “bad dogs”, so they would assume a guilty pose as soon as my car appeared in the drive way as I arrived home from work in the evenings, and would run off and go and hide somewhere.

 

The upshot of it was, I had to rush to our local hardware warehouse and spend more money than we did on the new vines, and put up a neat little fence around the vines. I still remember being so proud, it was the first project that involved wire that I had ever done that looked reasonably neat and straight.

 

Grape vine starting out

Trelis, fence and vines ready to go

 

That is, until the dogs chasing a rabbit ran into one part of it and Patricia on another time “lightly displaced” a part of it with her car, and so by now it looks like any old fence on any old farm…

With some advice from my friend and old surfing buddy, Johan of Reyneke Organic Wines (organic wine maker of exceptional reputation) I mulched the areas between the grapes that first year, in order to avoid the cracking dry soil in summer that could damage the hair roots. It seems to have worked.

 

 

Grapes 1 year later

Vines one year later

So that first summer we saw good growth on the new vines, and I could start training them into growing into a T-shape on the lowest wire, as Gus taught us. However, the old vines made some leaves, but showed no growth at all. The second summer that pattern continued. The young grapes that were T-trained the previous year actually made strong vertical shoots and started bearing some grapes.

Grapes 1 year later 1

Young grapes forming (before the blackbirds knew of them)

We had our eyes on the first bunches of ripe grapes, planned to pick them on a particular day, but between the school drop-off and coming home, a flock of black birds got in there and devoured all the ripe ones. We then netted the rest and got a few handfuls of good grapes from the new vines.

 

Grapes harvest

First grape harvest

 

This next season, we’re going to try and improve the “vineyard” with some companion planting. So watch this space for developments.

However, to this day, some of the old transplanted vines have not yet even reached the bottom wire… So the jury is still out on those old transplanted vines of unknown colour and variety… or maybe it is just about time to remove them and replace them with some known varieties with delicious flavours!

Lessons learnt

  • It definitely paid off to relocate the grapes to a better area, where they got more sun, and where we could prepare the ground to their needs and also irrigate them weekly, rather than daily with the rest of the vegetable garden.
  • We would have had twice as many grapes already had we started over fresh with new vines in both rows, and to top it off, we would have known what grapes they were as well.

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