Choosing your site
If you have a space where you wish to grow vines, it is important to consider a few points, and more importantly, what do you want to achieve. Do you want rolling hills of perfectly straight rows bathed in glorious sunshine ( I dream!) or a few vines to give you a gallon or two. Consider what you think you could manage time wise and space. We have 80 vines and the labour needed through the season is about 4 hours each week. Also consider what you want to do with your crop, sparkling wine, red, white or rosé, or even dessert. The following is a guide to help you prepare.
Lets consider firstly what you want;
- a sunny place but you don’t need direct Sun from dawn ’til dusk, generally a good proportion of the day is fine.
- a sheltered position to maintain a higher ambient temperature.
- an airy location to allow a good air flow to reduce the risk of Botrytis ( a slope is best).
- a place where frost is less likely to damage your emerging shoots.
- consider accessibility, ease of movement between rows.
Be aware of what you want to avoid
- shade from trees or buildings in the middle of the day
- exposed, windy locations which will cool the area and potentially damage leaves and supports
- stagnant air which allows disease a fighting chance
- frost pockets, observe where frost develops, generally in low points, the bottom of slopes, below wooded areas
- tight locations where you can’t move about to manage your vines, pruning, spraying and picking.
Our vines are in rows (North to South) with a Hawthorne hedge either side. This allows a good air flow but gives protection from the prevailing wind. Our only challenge is that the site is on level ground in a valley, so frost can be occasional a problem in spring.
Planting and Development
I have tried to set out some guidance which will see you through to your first cropping year (generally year 3) how you approach this is up to you as there are many different training methods. I have described the methods used at Shires, but generally the principles are the same. I would however recommend you read some books, the best I have found is Successful Grape Growing for Eating and Wine-Making by Alan Rowe (ISBN 0-9527141-6-7). Most books on the market are American, and frankly don’t help much.
Almost everyone I speak to says “don’t you need poor soil for Grapes?” I would say not, you want them to have a fighting chance in our climate and you definitely don’t want to compound the challenge with poor soil.
First and foremost, soil is a living thing and needs looking after, what ever you grow. Grape vines will grow in most types of soil, but there are some varieties which are a little choosy. Siegerrebe will not tolerate lime in any form. Generally the soil needs some drainage so avoid soils which get waterlogged in winter.
Ground preparation is important, so cultivate the planting area and incorporate some organic matter, this will support water retention, root development and healthy shoots. Add some fertiliser as per packet instructions, I would suggest a general purpose Rose fertiliser as it has a higher Potash content than say ‘Blood, Fish and Bone’. There are a couple of Nutrients which you may need to add, but I would suggest waiting until your vines are growing to see what’s needed;
- Magnesium – vines use a lot, its generally added as Epsom Salts. If you have a high Potash soil or you apply a lot of Potash you will need to add more Magnesium because Potash can lock up Magnesium making it unavailable to the vines.
- Boron – is essential but in small amounts, higher quantities are toxic to plants. At this stage, your Rose fertiliser should provide sufficient amounts for year 1. If the vine growths become stunted, and the leaves are misshapen, the likely cause is Boron deficiency.
It is unusual to find any other soil deficiency which would affect vines. Overall you want your vines to have a strong start to develop a good root system and healthy shoots.
Training system & spacing
Your vines will need some form of support or structure to ensure the following;
- maximum leaf surface area exposed to the Sun
- air flow around and below the vines
- ease of maintenance, including spraying and harvesting
You will see from the winter picture on the right, we use posts with wires to support the vines. If you are putting you vines against a wall or fence you will only need strong wires at about 30cm apart up to 1.8m. For rows as we have, your posts will need treating with preservative before installing. Also, we recommend inserting the posts at an outward angle and anchoring the posts with cable and something like a Met-post. For ease of training we would suggest installing wires between each post at 30cm intervals alternate up the post and one wire along the top. If installed correctly the structure will last several years, ours posts have lasted 8 years so far. Remember that when fully grown, on a windy day, there is tremendous pressure exerted on your posts and wires from the leaf mass.
The training system we use is called Double Goyot. This is a system where a main stem is grown, to a hight of your choosing, then two branches are used laterally. These are either replacement or permanent. We prefer permanent as there is no annual requirement to replace the canes from current years growth. Plus, if there is a late frost, replacement canes tend not to push new growth and growth begins again from the top of the main stem.
Spacing of the vines is dependant on varietal vigour and the number of buds along each branch. Our vines are 1.5m apart and generally each branch has 6-8 buds. Each bud will produce at least one rod, each rod can support two bunches of grapes.
Plants and Planting
Now you have decided where your vines will grow, the support they need and prepared the ground. All you need now are some vines. I would strongly advise going to a specialist nursery and asking them for some advise on varieties and describe your location and soil. They will be able to offer a choice but try not to make a snap decision, always consider what you wish to achieve.
Vines usually come as one year old rooted cutting or grafted stock, or occasionally as pot grown. generally you will pay a premium for pot grown stock. If you order rooted cuttings, do not allow the roots to dry out. Plant together some where sheltered until you are ready to plant in their final position.
Planting is best undertaken in late winter when the worst of the weather has passed. Plant as you would any other fruit bush, be mindful of the depth of planting ensuring all roots are well below the soil surface. As a rooted cutting, this may look as though a lot of stem is going underground, don’t worry, so long as you have one bud showing all will be fine. insert a cane next to the vine and attach to the lowest cross wire. this will help in the first year to keep growth in order.
If Rabbits are a problem, ensure you place a spiral guard or similar around the vine.