We were blessed with established grape vines on the property we bought nine years ago. The place had been abandoned for two years yet the plants still bore fruit. They were struggling, but that was because the surrounding trees had blocked their sunlight. We did extensive pruning and were rewarded with four varieties of grapes as a result. But enough backstory. Here’s a quickie lesson on how easy it is to raise grape vines and get some dandy (sugar-free) juice for drinking or making jelly.
Selecting Grape Varieties: Luckily, there are plenty of varieties suited for nearly every growing region. Early, mid, and late-season grapes extend the harvest. Consider seedless varieties like Himrod (green/yellow), Canadice (red)*, Lakemont (blue-black)*, Venus (pale green), Reliance (red), and Suffolk*. The * means they’re cold weather hardy. Check with your local agricultural extension service to find out which types grow best in your area. Remember: whichever type(s) you select, be sure to choose disease-resistant cultivars. This helps avoid common grape diseases like powdery mildew. Don’t be in a hurry either. Most vines take 2-3 years to mature and produce fruit.
Planting and Caring for Grape Vines: Grapes thrive best in sunny locations with well-draining soil. Space vines 6-8 feet apart in rows, with the rows 8-10 feet apart. Dig holes and amend the soil with compost to improve drainage. Soak bare root plants in water before planting. Water young vines regularly for the first two years until they establish an extensive root system. Installing a trellis system is also critical. As vines grow, train the stems along the wires. Trim away suckers and excess growth.
Ongoing Care and Maintenance: Prune grape vines before spring growth emerges. Remove up to 90% of the previous season’s growth, leaving just a few healthy canes with 6-10 buds each. Fertilize vines in early spring using compost or organic grape fertilizer. Put down mulch to retain moisture and reduce weeds. Install bird netting as fruit ripens to protect from hungry birds. Scout for pests like Japanese beetles and apply organic neem oil if needed. With proper care, homegrown grapes will flourish!
Harvesting Your Grape Crop: Depending on variety, grapes will be ready for picking from mid-summer into early fall. Snip bunches off vines when grapes are plump and sweet. Wear gloves to protect your hands from sticky juice. Select bunches that are fully ripe but not mushy. Use sharp pruners or scissors when harvesting to avoid damaging vines. Pick grapes in the morning when cool and transfer immediately to flats (don’t pile them high) out of the sun.
Extracting Fresh Grape Juice with a Steam Juicer: Once harvested, it’s time to turn those grapes into delicious homemade juice! A steam juicer allows you to easily extract pure, concentrated juice. You can leave them on the bunch, but I prefer to pluck them, making sure there aren’t any moldy ones hiding.
Fill the bottom pot of the three-part juicer with a few inches of water and bring to a boil on the stove or hot plate (I process mine outside). Place the top colander section loosely packed with grapes over the boiling water. The steam rises and heats the grapes, releasing their juice which drips down into the center section. Stir, then add more grapes as the level lowers in the colander. My unit has a vinyl hose with a clamp on it. I decant right into sterilized canning jars. I add the lid and band, then set them aside on a flat surface to sit for 24 hours, undisturbed. If the lid hasn’t ‘sucked down’ and stayed that way after 24 hours, put that jar in the refrigerator and use right away. A boiling water bath is optional. Check online to find out more.
I made V-3 juice with the steamer, too. My orange tomatoes, Vidalia onions, and Poblano chiles produced a beautiful orange drink (top picture, with the pink and purple grape juices) that has just the right amount of kick.
Did you know that archaeological evidence suggests grape cultivation began 6,000-8,000 years ago in the South Caucasus region between the Black and Caspian Seas? It’s big the world over now. I wonder if some of my time travelers ever went back that far to sample the vintages of Ancient Greece?
I’m pretty sure Big Mac didn’t. He only makes short ‘hops’ and always for doing good deeds. Check out his story while it’s only #99cents. Or read for #free anytime with #KindleUnlimited.