Can't You Just Taste That???

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Table Grape Cluster-Thompson Vine
I know I can! Know what that is pictured to the right peeps? That, my friends, is a cluster. Not just any cluster mind you. And not the kind of cluster that Gunny Highway (Clint Eastwood) popularized in "Heartbreak Ridge." Nope! The picture to the right represents a big, fat CLUSTER of Thompson Table Grapes. And clusters just like this one are now emerging on every shoot emerging from the Thompson Table Grape vine.

Know what that means? It means a boatload of Thompson Table Grapes come this summer. And boatloads of table grapes are not a bad thing -- at least not in my book anyway.

Haircut Needed!
The table grape clusters now emerging by the hundreds it seems from the Venus, Fantasy, Black Monukka and Diamond Muscat vines, to name a few, follow on the heels of a haircut party held several weeks ago in the Bird Back 40. These vines, which emerged last year, managed to grow and cover the sidewalk you see pictured here and there. They also managed to grow right into the nearby pluot tree. Not only did they grow into it -- tendrils from these vines wrapped themselves around pluot tree branches and grew clear to the other side of the tree.

It wasn't all that unusual then -- to see a cluster of table grapes growing inside the pluot tree. And it did make for nice conversation.

Vines Before Pruning
Properly maintained? One single table grape vine will produce anywhere from 50 to 60 lbs. of table grapes. That's more than you and I can eat in any one sitting or two or three sittings for that matter. Now -- multiply that kind of production with nine table grape vines. There comes a point in the season where it's open season on table grape production, and I can't give them away or juice them fast enough.

The trick is to make sure the vines are properly maintained. The mass of vines you see pictured above looks like a really bad haircut, or someone just got up from a hard night's sleep. Most of these vines will not survive the pruning process that takes place when you're getting your mini-vineyard ready for spring and summer production. The wood that produced last years crop gets pruned away first -- along with any vines that emerged from that wood.

Vines After Pruning
The wood that you keep are the strongest vines or runners that emerged from the top of the vine, or the runners that emerged from the trunk itself. Those are the vines you keep -- and you won't keep all of them either. Some grape growers practice spur pruning -- keeping the strongest two vines that grew from the top or "cordon." Other growers practice the cane pruning method -- keeping the strongest vines that emerged from the trunks.

In my case? I practice both. Some varieties do better with spur pruning. Still others do better with cane pruning. Through the years I've discovered that the Thompson performs best with the spur pruning method, while the Black Monukka produces best through the method of cane pruning. And, as for the Fantasy vine, it really doesn't matter. The Fantasy is going to churn out ping-pong sized grapes no matter no matter what method of pruning that I use.

Piles of Discarded Vines
The vines that I choose to keep -- those that will be this year's fruit producers -- are then tied to the cattle pen fencing that we installed some years ago for our table grape vineyard efforts. It's been one of our better gardening investments. Cattle pen fencing can hold cows in place -- and can also support several hundred lbs. of table grape production.

It takes the better part of a weekend to properly prune and tie up nine table grape vines -- plus dispose of the piles of discarded vines piled nearby. That's a big investment of time and energy -- but well worth it when table grape season arrives -- which comes in late June for the Venus vine and continues right into July and August when most of the other varieties ripen up.

Cattle Pen Fencing
These vines will be sprayed to protect against mildew and other damage. Gibberellic acid, or GA-3, an organic growth hormone that promotes cell growth, will also be used at some point. Although there has been some previous research that suggests the use of GA-3 limits production on the Fantasy vine, I have not found this to be readily apparent in the Bird Back 40. And GA-3 results in large grapes that are packed with lip-smacking natural sugars. Fantasy grapes are not only the best eating -- they make the finest table grape juice.

The crop is ready when the mockingbirds who mock me begin to raid the vines with impunity. But it really doesn't matter all that much. These vines produce so much fruit now that I can share some with our fine-feathered friends. Besides -- they're taking a risk by coming in this close. Because somewhere in those vines -- hiding beneath the leaves -- is our garden patrol cat: Lenny. And when a 25 lb. Maine Coon snags a mockingbird? It's game over -- at least as far as the mockingbird is concerned.

As the wife that is Venus would say, "that's nature." Cats chase birds. It's the natural order of things. Yes -- and we can add one more rule to that list: Bill Bird likes table grapes.

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