|Ripening Fantasy Seedless Table Grape|
It will never be quite as exciting as "Battle Los Angeles" but my own personal battle against invaders from the sky is now on in the Bird Back 40. It never once occurred to me that planting a row or two of table grapes would be enough to bring an invasion from above -- I suppose you could call it a hard lesson in life.
You see -- I should have planted eight table grape vines for myself and the wife that is Venus, plus another 80 for the invaders pillaging the backyard. It's either that, or call in the United States Marines.
|Staff Sgt. Nantz: All Hands on Deck!|
The invaders in this case are the always-present, always squawking (loudly), mockingbirds. They have a love for all things table grapes, cherries, peaches and whatever they can dig into it seems. And they have no intention of leaving until harvest season comes to a close.
What does this mean? It means I need to take extra special measures to protect that ripening crop of tasty Fantasy grapes ripening above -- and those Suffolk Red grapes further down to the left. Special measures include a lot of bird netting and one very interested Maine Coon Kitten (Lenny has grown into a rather large and curious kitten).
|Table Grape Vines in Spring-Bird Back 40|
This marks the third season for table grape production in the Bird Back 40 and all eight original vines are in production. A ninth vine, the Venus table grape, was planted a year later and on the other side of the property. It's had some trouble adapting to this Northern California climate, but is slowly finding its way.
This year's crop -- I'm pleased to report -- is probably three times the size of last year's crop. And we're just getting started here children. I'm told --by those in the know -- that the size of these crops will keep increasing on an exponential level until these vines reach full maturity in five to six years.
|Red Suffolk Table Grapes|
By that time -- a true army of mockingbirds will have descended.
My experiments with increasing the actual size of these grapes has been both hit and miss -- and are probably related to the fact that each variety flowers and ripens during different times of the year. The Fantasy variety featured up top -- for example -- is now nearly dark and is slowly gaining sugar content. Estimated harvest date? The first or second week of August. The Suffolk Red variety ripens next in mid-to-late August.
Other varieties, like the time-honored Thompson, won't be ready to harvest until mid-September or later. That's provided the mockingbirds are kind enough to leave one or two berries behind.
|Flowering Grapevines: A Beautiful Sight|
There are several different actions that growers can take to increase the size of table grapes. One method is trunk girdling, which involves the removal of a thin strip of bark around the trunk. According to the University of California Master Gardener Program? This can increase the size of the berries by anywhere from 10% to 30% when done correctly.
But girdling isn't recommended for vines that are less than four or five years old. It also takes a practiced hand. One wrong move? You've got a problem. I'm not that good with knives just yet and may never be quite that handy.
|Black Monukka Table Grapes|
Fortunately -- there is another way to achieve larger table grape sizes. This is through the use of a natural hormone called Gibberellic Acid or GA-3. Although its difficult to find for the home backyard, most commercial growers use GA-3 extensively. Applying (spraying) GA-3 at just after bloom set and again a week or two after the grapes have formed should result in fatter grapes.
In my case? It's been hit and miss. Both the Red Suffolk and Fantasy grapes have that large and familiar teardrop shape. But the Black Monukka and Thompson grapes are still quite small and may never grow to a large size. This may be due to the fact that I didn't quite hit that "window of opportunity" correctly. In my case? Time will tell.
|Monster Table Grape Vines|
Why grow table grapes at home? Why not! Like anything pulled from the tree or vine at the peak of ripeness -- there's nothing quite more rewarding than growing your own. Home grown table grapes are a time-honored summer treasure to be savored and celebrated. There are trials and tribulations and battles to fight. But that sweet crunch of one berry after another makes it all worth it and more.