I love Tait Moring’s sense of
gardening style. Thanks so much for opening your gates for us. Right now we’re going to talk about
growing grapes. One of the hottest topics here in Texas because of all the wineries. We have Jim Kamas with us. It’s great to have you back on the
program. Welcome. Thanks, Tom, I appreciate it. Welcome back to Central Texas Gardener. You’ve just published a great new book
Growing Grapes in Texas. Congratulations on that! Thanks a lot. It
took a couple years to get done, but I’m I’m pretty happy with it. Well you know, like I said, it’s a hot
topic. A lot of people are very interested in growing grapes in their backyard. Maybe one of
those famous table grapes, like Concord or something like that. Well Concord is
pretty tough to grow here. Concord likes acid soils which we don’t
have. And it’s much more adapted a cooler climates. If you wanted to grow Fredonia or some of the other lebrusca types, they’ll work, but Concord is a pretty tough one to grow here. Ok, well your book is filled with tips about
varieties and things like that. Let’s focus on that home grower. You know , I know for example I go out to hill
country every now and again to go to Fredericksburg, places around there. And I see wineries springing up like mushrooms now. And it kinda makes me wanna grow grapes
here in town. What does a home gardner need to know to get started? Well if you’re a homeowner and you want to grow enough vines to produce a little bit of wine my advice is plant what you like. If you’re planting a commercial vineyards we’re going to have a very different discussion. But if you like Merlot, plant Merlot. If you like Syrah, plant Syrah. For small-scale, you have no big economic
investment, so plant what you like and go with that. Yeah okay, that makes sense. In terms of the space needs, the sun, all those kinds of things, grapes are
rather particular and disease prone. Yes. So let’s give people an idea of what
the basics are that they would need to have any kind of success. Sure. Commercially our rows are spaced nine to ten feet apart, but in the backyard if you are maintaining the row centers with a
lawnmower or something, you can place the rows as close as six feet apart.
And you can also go as tight as five to six feet between vines. You can put a lot of vines in a
relatively small space. So small space is OK. When we talk about the rows, we are talking about providing structures on which the the vines can grow and support
themselves. Yes, a lot of times in California you’ll see these free standing vines that are called head pruned vines. They don’t do very well here because we need to keep our vines up off the ground because it rains here during
the summer and they are very disease prone as you mentioned. So we put them up on a trellis to try and
intercept sunlight and dry the canopy a little quicker. You mentioned some that absolutely have to have full sun. They need full sun. And again that’s the limitation of row
spacing. Six feet is about as tight you can put rows together and still get full sunlight penetration on the vine Well we have everything from heavy clay
soils which hold moisture for a long time. To those limestone soils which hardly hold
moisture at all. So what do grapes really prefer? Well grapes are pretty tolerant of all kinds of soil types. Now commercially if we’re on some high pH caliche soils,
we’ll put them on a rootstock that’s adapted to those kinds of soils. For homeowners that’s kinda hard to do
because you typically ordering those by the thousands not by the ones and twos. But home rooted varieties, if you have any kind of soil at all, their pretty tolerant of soil types. Okay so
that sounds pretty promising for a lot of folks out there. Let’s talk about the pruning a little
bit, because this is something I think that can be intimidating for the
homeowner. But this is a fruit crop that
needs heavy pruning right? Yeah they are the most heavily pruned of our perennial fruit crops. We normally take about 90% of the annual
growth off of a vine every single year. Yes. Grape vines are produced on current season’s growth, so each bud you leave will produce a shoot with one, two, or
perhaps three clusters of grapes. So you don’t need many buds, 20-30 buds per vine, to produce a full crop. Okay so prune heavily and train them so that they can be supported by the trellises or whatever you set up.
Yeah trellises can be relatively simple. You can simply have a one or two wire
trellis. Something to train, as you mentioned, the
arms out on so they get good sunlight and you get good fruit quality. What I usually tell people if I get questions about grape pruning. I say find a good source of images and look at the pictures. And your book provides that. Well you have to. And there are a lot
of different ways the train vines. But pick up pruning system that’s easy, that works for your location, and yeah take a look at some photos and that will give you queue as to how to train and prune the vines. What about fertilizing? What’s the preferred thing? I’ve always heard that nitrogen is good for grapes.
It is and again it depends on soil type and how much fruit you’re
trying to produce. I know some commercial growers that
have applied no nitrogen in five years. Their soils are simply that fertile or the
vines are simply that good at exploring the soil for nitrogen. So the answer is quite a bit it depends.
But grape vines tend to take a lot less nitrogen than some of our other fruit crops like peaches or pears. Okay well that’s good. So what do you use? If you have what you think is a
good situation with nitrogen in the soil. Really the only other element that is taken out my fruit is going to be potassium. Honestly if you just put a good compost or
mulch underneath the trellis the decomposing organic matter will
provide the nitrogen and there’s enough potassium in there to supply the need for a number of years. You mention the decomposing material underneath and that reminds me about the the disease situation. Having good sanitation under the plant is very
important right? It’s imperative. You need to have a clean vineyard floor and need to make sure that, sanitation as
you mentioned, goes a long way in keeping the fungal disease pressure down. And we face a lot of uphill battles fighting fungal pathogens in grape vines. Beware too much leaf litter, that
kind of thing in the soil underneath you grapevines. Yes in
terms of controlling, we’ve referenced the fact now several times that they are somewhat disease prone, if you’re trying to be
organic, and trying not to use all these different fungicides, what’s the best approach?
Well you we can control powdery mildew with sulfur and little bit of copper. We can control downy mildew with copper. Black rot is the Achilles heel of organic
fruit production. And again that maybe where sanitation plays the best role. If you see infected leaves
are infected fruit remove them. Sulfur and copper don’t do much to
control black rot. So it’s going to be an uphill battle. But that’s probably about the best we can do. So again good sanitation maybe a little bit of prevention or treatment is called for with copper
and sulfur. Yes. Okay, well that’s all great. Now pests? I don’t think of pests
that much when I think grapes, except for birds and squirrels. Well occasionally there’s a moth that lays an egg in the berry, called a Grape Berry Moth. We’ve seen it on occasion. It’s become
more common the more vineyards we plant. But again
that’s that kind of thing you can scout for and remove and take out of the vineyard. And if you do see early-season
infestation, there are a number of different organic sprays or inorganic sprays if that’s your mindset.
That with good time you can control Berry Moth. Okay, alright. And using netting
is adequate for birds do you think? That’s
probably a necessity. I mean you can use hawk kites. You can use, scare
cannons, you can do all kinds of things. But ultimately if you want to control birds you’re going to have to net them. Okay, alright. Let’s talk about the different varieties that are popular here and that you would recommend for trying in either a commercial or home setting. In the book you have these
beautiful descriptions of the plants, the grapes, and the kinds of vines they
produce. Syrah is one that is on your list. Why Syrah? Well Syrah is a variety that first was
adapted to southern France, and that’s really what shining for us now. Is these hot weather varietals. Syrah, or Shyrah as the Aussies would call it, makes a beautiful wine and is commonly
blended with a couple of other varietals to make some really really nice blended wines. You mention the hot weather varietals. I think of Spain and Italy. Sangiovese is another one on your list. Yes it is! It breaks dormancy relatively early and so its real risk is being caught with spring frost. But the wines that have been made from it have been outstanding. In the hill country I keep hearing
all these people rave about Viognier. It is kind of the grape of the hill country. Well Viognier and Vermentino are both becoming very popular. Viognier was first popularized because it makes these beautiful spicy wines. I consider it to be like the Gewürztraminer. The hot weather Gewürztraminer that’s
very spicy. It’s a little bit tricky to grown. But it’s being grown with wide success. Real briefly let’s give folks a couple table varieties that you think are the best for
Texas. Well really, in most of Texas we need to worry about Pierce’s Disease. And there’s a new variety that we released a few
years ago with the University of Arkansas called Victoria Red. It’s a beautiful, big clustered, big berried table grape. It’s being more and more carried by nurseries. Womack’s nursery, Double A nursery. They are both propagating this and have it for sale. Supplies are rather limited but
they will be increased in the future. Alright so people should be looking for
Victoria Red. Alright. Well Jim Kamas again
congratulations on the book. Thank You as always for being a part of Central
Texas Gardener. Now it’s time for Backyard Basics.