Of Grapes and Gripes

I live on the coastal fringe of the Hunter region of Australia,  which is well known for its fine wines.  So you would think any grape vines in my backyard would grow well.   I have grown grapes for 5 years now and I have not had a lot of success, but I think I am starting to work a couple of things out.  The grapes grow OK, but getting the fruit to ripen properly without spoiling has proved challenging.

Challenge 1: the Weather

What often happens in Summer is that heaps of rain falls in a couple of minutes, followed by really humid and steamy temperatures. This causes the grapes to fill up with water really fast and split their skins because they cannot expand as quick as the grapes swell.

What I've done about the weather: To reduce the chance of the grapes splitting I increased the amount of water I give the vines during the fruit growing period.    The increased water causes the grapes to swell at a more consistent rate giving the skins time to expand as required,  rather than suddenly swelling as the Summer rain dumps 20 mm in an hour.   I simply doubled the number of drippers I have next to the vines and give a consistent watering every day.

Challenge 2:  the Ants & Fungus  

The split fruit from too much water all at once were openings for ants to get in and fungus can easily become established.   A bunch can be ruined very quickly.

Prune to help keep fruit dry: I trimmed some of the vines and leaves away from the bunches of grapes so that there was a good airflow to keep the fruit dry as possible.   This also helped to ripen the grapes because they got more sun.

Bags Kept Ants Out:  The most significant thing I did was to use bags for bunch protection.  I used a couple of different types and both covered the bunches completely and were secured by tightly fastening to the stalk of each bunch.   The first type - a paper exclusion bag  was not worth the effort.  The bunches still split and when the bag got wet it easily was punctured letting in all of the ants.   The second type was the real winner.  I used a 'pest guard'  bag made from cloth that was able to let air in easily and dried fast when it got wet.  The top was tied very tightly and no ants were able to get in.  I bought these bags  to keep fruit fly off my tomatoes and it worked well on the grapes as well.  Here is a link to where I got them from.   I will use them again next season.

The Results

I've had enough success this year to decide to keep growing grapes rather than chop them out completely and admit failure.   I have picked and eaten the last bunch from the vines this week and it was so sweet and delicious!

I have four  varieties of Table Grapes growing in my garden:

  • White Muscat - A sweet white grape that I have had the most bunches from.  Most of the pictures in this blog are White Muscat .
  • Black Muscat - A sweet and juicy deep purple grape.  The bunches ripen a bit unevenly but not too much of a problem.  Bunches were all small but there are lots of them.  A picture of Black Muscat is above.
  • White Lady's Finger  - I actually have not had any fruit off this one yet.  It is an elongated grape that is meant to be ready early in the season.
  • Thompson's Seedless - Another early grape that  has oval berries.  The grapes are light yellow and seedless, there is a picture below.

When it comes to viticulture, I know that I have still got a lot to learn. But now I can't wait to see if I can improve next season.    Watch this space, I'm sure my viticulture story is not over yet.