Surprisingly, the process of growing grapes at home really is not much different from how they are grown in a large commercial vineyard. Space is the obvious difference, but otherwise, growing healthy grapevines involves basically the same considerations in a large vineyard or a backyard one. Either way, it comes down to caring for the vines, which includes soil preparation, water needs and drainage, sunlight levels, pruning and pest control. Most home grape growers would agree that the bulk of the work is related to pruning and pest control.
Simply put, pruning is cutting away some plant growth in order to encourage more new growth. The proper way the grapevine should be pruned depends somewhat on the type of grapes being grown. Because hybrid grape varieties, which are very common today, were engineered to be hardier during the winter months and also more resistant to pests and diseases, they produce less foliage than traditional types of grapevines. But grapes are produced only on shoots growing off of one-year-old canes, so the grapevines need to be pruned to remove the previous years’ fruiting canes or spurs. In this way, healthy, new canes will be produced by the plant every year. However, if too much of the vine is pruned back, more shoots will grow from the canes, which will tend to produce more crop as well as foliage. This is a disadvantage, actually, because increased foliage on a vine will end up providing a shade canopy, which is a poor environment in which the fruit may ripen. The home grape grower must be careful when pruning, to avoid any unnecessary injury to the grapevine. Use of a hand pruner to remove year-old shoots is the most effective procedure. The larger wood on the grapevine should be cut with either a lopper or a handsaw.
A lot of the time spent growing grapes at home is dealing with pests like insects, birds and even deer. There are many different insects, such as grape berry moths, grape leafhoppers, Japanese beetles and rose chafers that would thoroughly enjoy dining on your delicious grapevine. Although insecticides can be used to control insect infestations, grapevines really can tolerate some damage without serious setbacks. But when the insects are threatening the entire plant, or the fruit, they certainly do need to be dealt with.
Other Uninvited Guests
Birds and deer are also a common problem, and can be even more destructive than insects. A flock of birds can completely devastate an entire crop of grapes. Keep in mind however, that working in your favor, is that a flock is easier to scare away than a few individual birds. Many people tending to a home vineyard control the bird population by installing a physical barrier, such as a net, covering all the vines. If you choose this tactic, just remember to remove the netting before the winter, or ice could form on it and do damage to the vines. Other methods that home growers utilize are visual, such as aluminum pie plates, artificial owls, hawks or snakes. Audio devices that mimic the sounds of predators are also used. Lastly, odor repellents, such as human or dog hair, and soap are very effective in scaring off birds from your vineyard. These odor-based items are also common to use to ward off deer. Particularly in the spring, when the new, young shoots are growing on the vines, and natural food sources are scarce for the deer, a backyard vineyard is especially tempting for the deer. The scent of coyotes is very effective in keeping deer away, because coyotes are natural predators to deer. Your vineyard will flourish and produce if you help it avoid some of these destructive problems.
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