Grapes are one of Nature's oldest and most healthy fruits and are quite easy to grow. No other fruit offers so many different flavours or is more delicious. You can even make your own wine!
Grapes love full sun and will grow well in almost any type of soil, provided they are well drained and fairly deep. A slightly acid soil of average fertility is preferable because soils which are too rich will stimulate cane growth, and result in poorly formed clusters of grapes.
An environment which attracts a balanced population of insects and small creatures will in turn attract a residential population of birds who will assist in pest control and drive off nomadic fruit eaters at harvest time.
You can plant grapevines either in spring or autumn. The usual spacing is two metres by two metres, and holes for the plants should be 35 cm deep and 50 cm in diameter. To prevent the roots from drying out, leave a slight depression around the stalk to hold rainwater.
First year growth can be allowed to trail over the ground. In the winter months place posts about every four metres along the row with two wires, one about 50 cm off the ground and the other two metres above the ground. Train the vines to grow on these wires.
Grapes develop on the growth of the current year, leaving a new, year-old arm near the main trunk. This cane will provide the fruit for the following year. Cut back the branching vines at every node to about one or two buds. Also, leave a vine that has been cut back to one or two buds near the base of the arm. From this vine will grow the cane which will be saved next year for the following season. New vines will begin bearing fruit five to six years after being set out They will bear for up to 50 years.
Grapes should be harvested only when they're ripe and they will keep well on the vine if they're not picked immediately. An indication of ripe fruit is a browning of the stem of the bunch. Varieties which are suitable for your area are usually available at local plant nurseries.
Grapes are much less subject to insect attacks and diseases than most other fruits although birds can be a major nuisance. For the home gardener, a good solution to this problem is placing paper bags over the grape clusters when they have developed, and rubber banding the free end. This will protect the fruit from pecking birds.
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Black rot, visible as tiny spots appearing on green grapes, can be controlled by effective pruning which permits good aeration. Pick off any dried fruit (this disease overwinters in old dried fruit) and add it to the compost heap. Compost made from diseased fruit will help the vines resist black rot fungus. Resistant varieties are available to combat mildews and rot If downy and powdery mildew do develop, these diseases can be controlled by spraying with Bordeaux mixture.
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