The Grape Ape

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Official/Unofficial Rain Gauge
That would be me -- aka -- The Grape Ape. Or as the wife that is Venus calls me -- APE (tis one of her nicer nicknames).

It's a waterlogged Sunday morning in North Natomas. Thankfully -- the skies are no longer pouring buckets of rain into an already oversaturated backyard. Although the Sacramento Bee bean counter is reporting just miniscule amounts of rainfall (is someone asleep at the switch downtown?) -- my official/unofficial rain gauge reports differently.

This wheelbarrow was last used during the construction of the Asparagus bed the weekend before last. It's the one "tool" that did not get put into its proper place -- and this is the end result of two solid weeks of non-stop stormy weather.

Memo to Sacramento Bee beancounters: That's a solid six inches by my count. Just thought you should know.

Ultimate Digging Machine at Play
I can't foray into the backyard much without putting on the special "mud shoes." The ground is far too saturated to work for any sort of gardening, but there are some minor tasks that can be taken care of. The Back 40 lawn ALWAYS needs attention thanks to the fertilizing efforts of the ultimate digging machine.

And -- oh - THOSE WEEDS! I see a bit of Monsanto in my future. Shhh! Yes, that's Bill Bird's dirty little secret. He is anything but organic. When a backyard screams for weed control such as mine does -- it gets a healthy shot of Roundup. It's either that, or invest in a goat.

Despite the heavy dose of wintry weather that we've been subjected too for the past several weeks -- I'm excited to report that things are not only doing great -- they're doing "swimmingly well." Sorry, lame joke alert. The Royal Ranier cherry tree is blossoming. Peaches are forming from the blossoms that appeared earlier on the June Pride and O'Henry Peach trees. And -- don't look now -- but we might even get a nectarine or two from our Backyard Orchard Culture experiment of last year.

Keep those fingers crossed kids!

Tablegrape Vines in 2010
But you know what really has my attention? It's the subject of this blog post (which I'm finally getting around too). The eight tablegrape vines that Venus and I planted last season are just now starting to emerge with new growth. Six of the eight vines will probably produce at least some fruit this year. The other two need a little more work.

You see -- I love grapes. I love grape juice. Grape soda was made for Bill Bird. Grape snowcones are a slice of heaven. Yet -- I hate wine. Figure that one out. Wine coolers? Those are good! Especially the old school California Cooler (which you can't find anymore, unfortunately). But wine? No thanks. I'll pass. I've never been able to explain this to myself. If I love grapes, I should have an equal love for wine, right? But it is the way it is.

I am most excited by the production that will be coming from the vine pictured to your left. That is the Crimson Red tablegrape -- one of my favorite varieties. It also happened to be the most productive last year in terms of growth. This was one of the two tablegrape varieties that actually survived the bare root planting season last year. The other six kicked the bucket and had to be replaced.

Crimson Red Seedless Tablegrape
But this one -- for some reason -- caught on. It grew like a weed. Although I did my best to keep it trimmed and focus on the growth of just one main vine (which will serve as the trunk) -- once that vine reached a height of six feet -- I let it grow in all sorts of crazy directions. The end result is a healthy and robust main vine (trunk) with three other vines protruding from the trunk itself.

I am told by others "in the know" that these vines will be my fruit producers this year. Although I've been told to "not expect much," other growers have seen photos of this vine and confirmed that I was the lucky recipient of outstanding vine growth last season. While other vines did reach out and grow beyond our 4.5 foot high trellis -- nothing performed like the Crimson Red.
Crimson Seedless in 2010

The other big producer? It should come as no suprise: Thompson Seedless. The Thompson is perhaps one of the best tablegrapes grown in the Sacramento/San Joaquin Valley. It is also the most productive. But while the Thompson also grew "like a weed" during its first year -- it did not develop the side shoots from the main trunk like the Crimson Red did. It will produce -- albeit not as much.

So what is the next step in growing tablegrapes in the Bird Back 40? Search me. I have no clue. I've never done this before. I'm relying on advice from friends (Farmer Fred Hoffman) plus a series of youtube videos that have been posted by the UC Cooperative Extension Service. Although those are helpful -- they don't necessarily deal with how second-year vines should be treated. The instructional videos -- instead -- focus on vines that have already reached full maturity. So -- the guessing game continues.

I did learn one hard lesson last season. Table and wine grapevines are susceptible to mold. I didn't notice the signs of mold until it had really taken hold on the two vines that did not top the grapvine trellis last season. Once I started treating the vines with the same Ortho Disease Control product that I use on my heirloom tomatoes -- our mold problems vanished. But it was too late for two of the vines. They grew a total of two to two-and-a-half feet.
From L-R: Thompson, Black Monukka, Fantasy, Suffolk Red

That's a far cry from the Thompson vine which eventually reached a height of ten feet. You can see that growth in the photos I took last September. The Thompson vine is that big, bushy vine closest to the camera. The two vines that did not produce well are to the far right.

Although first year growth produces a multitude of vines -- I did receive instruction to cut as many of the vines back and focus growth on one, main vine (the trunk). During my trimming efforts earlier this year -- I cut away excess vines and kept only the trunk -- and some vines that had developed off the main trunk. Again -- I'm told that these will be my fruit producers this year. The photos show that I've used green garden tape to tie these vines to the trellis.

Emerging fruit producer?
These vines are already starting to pop wide open -- despite our inclement weather. Fortunately -- due to the excess rainfall -- they haven't needed any additional irrigation. But that will change as the warmer weather sets in.

Is all the work of constructing the trellis and tending the vines worth the effort? I'll let you know later this summer, when the wife that is Venus and I are hopefully muching on a plate of tablegrapes fresh from our backyard-in-progress.


Winter said... currently shows the rainfall for Roseville in February as .67" with an average of 4.34". HUH???? This was one of the wettest winters in a long time... there's no way we had less than an inch of rain! I also noticed March 19th showed up as 0" of rain, and that was the day we had uber rain and hail storms!

I can no longer trust these weather reports. SOMEONE is definitely not doing their job in checking the rain gauge. When my 5gal buckets are full to the brim, and the wheelbarrow needs to be dumped repeatedly, like yours, we have DEFINITELY been having more rain than is being reported.

Anonymous said...

You might look into a walk behind line trimmer for the weeds. I got one at Sears it is a workhorse and it works wonders on all kinds of weeds on all kinds of terrain.