G is for Grapes

When we moved into Homeland we inherited a grapevine that was slam-bang in the middle of the vegetable patch. Not only did we read that certain vegetables do not like grapes close by, but we also needed the space for more vegetables. So the vines were transplanted to the front yard… But we love our grapes. Especially a young little barefoot girl eats them non-stop when they’re in season. Not by the bucket-load really, no, more like a bubbling little stream that never stops. Anyway, so we planted a new vineyard too, literally across the front yard from the first one.

The transplanted vines have been doing pretty ordinary really. We get enough grapes that it warranted netting them, but it’s not exploding into buckets full of fruit, not even three years after the transplant.

Grapes - old yield

Grapes on the transplanted vines

But the new vineyard is amazing! At first, we were a bit dubious about its placement. There is a shed just on the other side of the fence on the Northern side, so it takes a bit of the morning sunlight off the vines. However, this new vineyard, which is now in its first year of fruit, is bearing quite profusely. The undergrowth companions – oregano and geraniums – are also growing like crazy. With the ultra-dry summer we’ve been having, and our shortage of tank water, the grapes are a bit small, but they are sweet as. The young little barefoot girl is eating them non-stop! And the chooks and ducks gobble up the too small ones like it’s a desert treat.

Grapes - fence yield

New vines fruiting well


So why is the new vineyard doing better than the transplanted one? They are both planted in the same hard clay soil – they’re only about 30m apart.

Maybe, I should have planted new vines. After all, the new vines are bearing better than the transplanted ones. But I don’t think it’s as simple as that. My friend, who grows organic grapes and makes award-winning biodynamic wines, at the time reckoned the transplant should have been ok. It was at the right time of the year, we composted the ground, we did it all by the book. They should have overcome the shock by now already.

Another difference is that we used trucked-in mass produced compost for the old vineyard. Maybe by chance I used the right compost for the new vineyard? It was our own, manufactured on site – it’s nice to think that, but in reality I don’t think that it is “that good” to make such a huge difference!

But of course, there is another clue too – the understory oregano and geraniums aren’t doing too flash in the old vineyard either, despite this vineyard getting a bit more water than the new one. (It’s on the same irrigation line as the driveway fruit trees.) So there’s another reason for planting guilds – in addition to fulfilling complimentary and supplementary functions, they can also give you a good indication as to what is going on in that specific area.

Doing a bit of on-the-fly sector analysis, my conclusion is that it’s either the soil health or the fact that it’s right next to a very dry open paddock that’s affecting the transplanted vineyard. In fact, I think it is combination of both – the dry paddock right next to the vineyard is making it harder to improve the soil health. In effect, it’s harder to create a “good” micro-climate for the grapes there. A fence may act like a brick wall for us humans, but a micro-climate doesn’t end or start because there is a flimsy fence there.

Grapes - transplanted vineyard

Transplanted vines with the dry paddock behind at sunrise – always an invigorating view to start the day

Although both vineyards are mulched quite well, the new vineyard was planted into an area that has been under thick mulch for about four years before being planted. In contrast, the old vineyard was first planted and then mulched.

I also think that the microclimate created by the shed – even though the shed is downwind from the vineyard, the wind lifts up over it, so the soil doesn’t dry out as much – plus the four years under thick mulch, have together contributed a lot to the soil health. That soil is a shade or three darker and it is much easier to dig into than in the transplanted vineyard.

Grapes - new vineyard with shed

New vineyard with the  neighbouring shed behind it

Now, doctoring the soil around the old vines isn’t so easy – it’s much easier when you start anew. But I know one thing, there is some organic matter going into that “old” vineyard so that it can decompose and rain in over winter. Previously I would have thought about Seasol, Epsom salts, and some other organic fertilisers, but now I’m thinking about recycling some nutrients locally – like using the used chook and duck bedding on the grapes after they have passed through the compost heaps. The heaps are actually en-route from the coops to the grapes, but I can’t claim that as a design feature – that’s a purely coincidental functional connection.

But anyway, some of the jigsaw puzzle pieces are slowly falling into place.

Grapes - Ricky

This has nothing to do with grapes – it just happened at the time I took the photos. Ricky, who lives in the old dry, neglected paddock, getting a treat. The transplanted vines are just behind the tree behind the shed, so it is vaguely related!

About martin@muchmoremulch.blog (207 Articles)
My name is Martin Rennhackkamp, I now live happily in Lara, Victoria, Australia with my wife, two children and two dogs. My interests, apart from the obvious Organic, Biodynamic and Permaculture Gardening and Farming, include sustainable living, surfing, horse-riding, a wide variety of music, dancing, nature, birds, reading, Christianity and a few other things which I never get to...

5 Comments on G is for Grapes

  1. How lovely to have grapevines. There is a vineyard in our village, so I have been thinking of a pergola over my back door to grow them on. Shame I had to put the pond so close to the back as well.

    Anyway, good luck with raising the quality of the soil round the transplanted vines. It does seem easier to improve soil before planting but there’s no reason why mulch wouldn’t benefit any plantings in the long run.

    • martin@muchmoremulch.blog // March 25, 2019 at 11:29 am // Reply

      Thanks Helen, it really is nice to have some grapes. If you train yours up a pergola, you wouldn’t need that much ground space at all. My parents had a massive pergola full of grapes, two vines, and the vines literally had a 1ft x 1ft hole each, that’s it. Their roots went under the paving and wherever they needed to get food and water.

      • That’s good to know. I’m hoping to use the grapevines to keep the back door cool in summer (the downstairs is generally cool anyway but last summer the door was unusable because it expanded in the heat).

  2. There are so many factors at work, and only some of them are visible to us! Are the new vines the same variety as the old? On the same rootstock? Being larger plants they may take a long time to recover from being transplanted (I’m thinking of my kiwi vine now). The shed is also mulching the soil that it sits on, so not just reducing the direct evaporation by lifting the wind, but sideways as well. If you didn’t have the two areas to compare, you wouldn’t have known that the older vines were not completely happy.

    • martin@muchmoremulch.blog // March 25, 2019 at 11:26 am // Reply

      Nancy, of course you’re right – that’s another massive difference! We have no idea what the older vines are, nor on what rootstock – we inherited them nameless. They definitely took a massive shock when transplanted – a lot of their roots broke off in the hard clay. But I would’ve thought they would recover after 3 years… Anyway, as you said, if we didn’t have the two areas to compare, we would never have known, so a great lesson learnt from that.

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