The Wrong Way to Build a Grape Arbor

Sunday, February 28, 2010

A Trilogy!

In Nine Different Parts!

MISTAKE #1: Deciding that I needed tablegrapes in the backyard in the first place. Who planted that crazy idea in my head? Oh yeah -- umm -- I suppose that would be me. The wife was just fine without them. In fact, as I had her searching for a shutoff valve during installation efforts on Sunday -- her first retort was "where the *##$ did you put the ##$$**% shutoff valve?"

I just knew it was gonna be a good day. There goes Cuss Free Week -- or at least another dollar or two in the Cuss Free jar. I may need a Cuss Free Five Gallon Jug to hold all the donations if this keeps up.

My friends and enemies -- I'm here today with some friendly words of advice. If -- perchance -- you get the urge to build a grape arbor and plant some tablegrapes: JUST SAY NO.

Actually -- to be brutally honest -- this is my first attempt at building such a thing. The project is half completed and so far I can report this much: Building a grape arbor is HARD WORK DUDE. It's fun -- yes. But this is no one day project.

You can see our "work in progress" in the photo to your immediate left. Yes -- that's the Bird Family Arbor. Correction: That's the Bird Family Arbor Half Completed. If you count the posts you'll see four. We have eight vines to plant -- which means another arbor project next weekend.

To put it short and sweet kids -- here's the deal. Asking someone for advice on "how to build a grape arbor" is akin to asking 50 people what they would like to have for dinner. There is no one simple answer. There is no one simple method. There are literally thousands of designs to choose from. Some may work for your yard. Some may not.

The best piece of advice actually came from Farmer Fred Hoffman -- who suggested that we pay a visit to the Tractor Supply store in Woodland. I would come to find out that Tractor Supply is actually a chain store. We don't have one in Sacramento -- yet. But think of it as a "Home Depot on Steroids." Tractor Supply serves the needs of ranchers and farmers -- not your normal backyard enthusiast.

Then again -- how many people are growing tablegrapes in the backyard?

Time was short. The tablegrape vines had already arrived in bare root form and were sitting in a planter bed -- patiently awaiting a permanent home. They couldn't stay there forever. Time was of the essence. I needed some quick help.

I didn't find it at Woodland Tractor Supply. What I found near the center of the store was a collection of T-Posts in different shapes, sizes and colors -- a collection of wood posts in different shapes and sizes and a collection of wire featuring a number of different gauges.

That's when I pulled aside the nearest floor help:

Me: Excuse me, but I need some help in building an arbor for tablegrapes?

Store Help: Well, here's what you need right here.

Me: Yes, but what do I need?

Store Help: Well, what do you want?

Me: I want to build an arbor.

Store Help: Well, here's what you need right here.

Let's just say that I was not very impressed with the first person I pulled aside for help -- and he was probably just as irritated that someone with no knowledge whatsoever came into the store without knowing exactly what he wanted.

At that point -- however -- fate or providence smiled upon us. "Dean" arrived to start his Saturday shift at Woodland Tractor Supply. "Dean" fought in World War II and was still spry enough at his youthful age to show us clueless ones exactly what we needed. He led us out into the yard section area and promptly showed off a 16-foot section of metal cattle fencing -- which you can see lying across the raised gardening beds in the photo to your right.

"If it's strong enough to stop a cow," he reasoned, "it's strong enough to hold up your tablegrape vines. I should know. I have one at home."

Thank God for Dean.

By the time we had loaded two sections of cattle fencing into the back of a rented truck (this was one fun experience kids -- but please don't do this at home) the wife that is Venus had made the decision that she didn't want T-Posts anywhere near the backyard.

What to use then? Pressure treated posts? Although my retired rocket scientist father-in-law had warned us that we would need to cement in some 4X4 posts to hold up the arbor -- I had already made the decision to ignore that good advice. Bill Bird and cement do not mix.

Besides -- the retired rocket scientist father-in-law only helped invent the fuel systems used on the modern-day smart missile. What could he possibly know about building a grape arbor?

Why not use those ordinary, pressure treated posts that are used for tree stakes? Four of those for each 16 foot section of arbor should work well enough, right?


I'd like to say that I came to the conclusion that my father-in-law was dead on right after inspecting those tree stake posts at Home Depot. But -- no. Did I make that decision after purchasing eight of them? Again, no. After I got them home? That's still a "no."

How about after I drove the first tree stake post three feet into the ground with a sledgehammer -- splintering it into about 80 different pieces during the pounding process?

Uh yeah -- that would be it. I would need those 4x4 pressure treated posts after all. And yes -- I would need four bags of Quickcrete as well. The father-in-law was right. I needed all of that.

But first I had to dig out three feet of splintered post that was stuck fast in wet, slimy, cold clay. I told you this project was "trial and error."

It's safe to say that the owner of the Home Depot chain just smiles when I walk inside one of his places. It's like money in the bank. Although he probably didn't like it when I returned seven tree stake posts (they would allow me to return the post that I splattered into 80 pieces) -- he just loved it when I left with four, 4X4 pressure treated posts, four bags of Quickcrete, a box of u-shaped nails, hooks and screws and a fancy-dancy post-hole digger!

Finally -- we were ready. We had the posts. We had the Quickcrete. We loaded it all into the backyard. And wouldn't you know it? That's just about when it started to rain. You think I'm kidding? Oh -- I WISH!

But the rain wouldn't stop us on that day. The holes were dug -- and the posts were cemented in during a project that didn't take nearly as long as I thought it would. The next weekend? We added the actual fencing. We're using metal hangers for now -- screwed into the posts with 1 & 1/4 inch gold screws. But that won't last forever.

As the weather improves and the clay soil transforms from muddy mess into hard concrete -- we'll add some real reinforcement by pounding in some U-shaped nails.

And -- yes -- that is the father-in-law's good advice.

Already planted and staked are one of two Thompson tablegrape vines, the Venus Vine (the star of the show), the Crimson and the Ruby Red. The other four will have to wait another week (or two).

Arbor Fun Continues!