Thursday, July 17, 2014

Growing Grapes

I have learned a lot in the past year about grape culture. I read everything I could get my hands on about growing grapes as soon as we came here last summer and I have learned a lot more with experience this year.

The above is a picture of what our grapes look like now. It's about 500m of wine grapes growing on a fence in a straight line, more or less. Approximately 1/4 of them are dark purple, the rest are green. These are specifically for making wine and jelly, not for eating, as they have thick skins and seeds. The dark purple ones make fantastic grape jelly!

When we arrived here last summer the grapes were one big mess! 500m of a 10' x 10' ball, all the way down with many side shoots and lateral shoots from the ground and all over the trunks. It had been ignored all season and for who knows how long.

Grapes are pruned in the winter when they are completely dormant. This past February I cut them all back to just 2-3 large trunks each. That is all that a grape root can handle. You really only need one main trunk that divides into two horizontal pieces (called cordons) tied to a wire about waist high, but because single trunks sometimes die, it's safer to keep two or even three, growing if possible.

Early Spring Growth
The winter pruning also consist of leaving just two buds at each growth spot along the cordon. These will produce the next years long stems. The long stems are tied to the high wire as they reach it and trained to grow along it, above the grapes hanging from the waist high wire where the cordons are. Only the tendrils are tied to the wire. You can choke and damage that vine if you tie the main stem. I like to use tin ties for this because I can undo them and move them around as I check the grapes. 

It's important to plant your grapes on a fence going north and south. This way you can remove leaves to give them the morning sun fully but keep the west side shaded. 

The hot afternoon/evening sun will burn the grapes making them not as good for making wine and jelly. The grapes form near the buds on the cordon so they are shaded by the top vines and leaves growing on the above wire, (see pictures).

East Side of Grape Vines
Only two clusters of grapes are allowed to remain on each stem. More than that will make smaller grapes. I continually remove any others growing higher on the vine. Once the grapes form, I remove any leaves on the east side that grow to shade the grapes. 

All green growth below the waist high wire with the cordons growing on it will get rubbed off or cut off as the season progresses. Nothing should be growing below the grapes. In the spring and early summer this is almost a daily job.

Every morning in the spring, less in late summer, I walk along the grapes, removing low sprouts, removing leaves shading the grapes on the east, arranging the grape clusters to hang freely as they grow, pulling the few weeds too close to the grape trunks to be sprayed with weed killer. The new strong vinegar weed killer works very well! As the long clusters develop I will also remove the few grapes growing at the tip. This will encourage large grapes on the cluster and ensure that they all ripen at the same time. 

I love puttering along the grapes in the early morning. It's a quiet and stress relieving activity that I look forward to.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

We Have Baby Apricots

I have learned how to prune fruit trees and grapes in the past year. It's a valuable resource that I can use when I need a job in the future, maybe. In the meantime I will probably use it a lot here, where we have orchards of fruit trees and vineyards of grapes.

We also have many lilacs of various colours, all in bloom now. 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Spring Is Here! What's Growing at Our Place.

It's spring here! Finally! We do still have some cold nights, however, so the tender plants are indoors under lights or in front of the south patio doors for now. The hardier perennials and shrubs are starting to grow in the garden so those things are being planted out now, like primulas. Big, beautiful primulas are being sold for $0.99 everywhere! I plan to buy a lot of them. I love primulas for those small, shady areas on the north side  and underneath things. I have a jug full of primulas in several different varieties, wintersewed on the balcony. 

I started a lot of canna lilies from seed this year. You can see some small ones growing in the top picture. They are doing very well! I started one back in Dec. It's about 2.5 feet tall now and I assume it will bloom this summer. These were started in late Jan. Some of these may bloom this year too. I have had a few bloom from seed the first year. Cannas are great plants to grow from seed as they are very expensive to buy, but you don't know what you are going to get when growing them from seed. It's always a mixed blessing.

Canna lily seeds take some special treatment before they will germinate. You have to wear a small opening in the hard seed coat and then soak them in warm water for a few hours before planting. The first time I did this I tried many methods of penetrating the seed coat. The last was using a rasp on an electric drill while holding the seed with needle-nose pliers. That finally worked. It's very hard! This year I did it by hand with a stone sanding block. 

You can also see some of the flowering portulaca that I grew from seed this year, growing with the small cannas It's for our very hot, south, rock filled bed. It's hard to get flowers in that area because of the heat and dryness and also because of the poor soil which I plan to fix this year. Portulaca will thrive and bloom their little heads off in a rainbow of colours in the poorest, dryest, hottest locations, as long as it's dry. They don't like too much water or soggy feet. They are succulents, much like sedum, which I also have in that bed. I grew a lot of these from seed thinking that I would use them for hanging baskets because they need little water, but I think I will put all of these into the south, hot bed instead. I have a new drip irrigation system for the hanging flower baskets. 

Our tomatoes are all up now! It only took a few days and the seeds are three years old! I'm thrilled. I had some doubts about the viability of the seed but they have been properly stored, so I should have had more faith. 

These are all heirloom varieties that I plan to sell in our seed store in the fall. Our own 'Portugal' tomato seeds are big sellers. You can see why (left)!  I planted the 'Portugal" tomatoes, Reverend Morrow Long Keeper, Ailsa Craig, San Marzano, Matt's Wild Cherry and a Ailsa Craig x San Marzano cross that I have been working on for a few years. 

This cross is unnamed, as of yet, but is rapidly becoming our favourite little tomato! Its a small salad tomato like an Ailsa Craig with a pointed bottom. These little crosses are so sweet! The flavor is unbeatable and they are meaty like the roma San Marzano. I don't know if we will offer the crosses for sale this year or wait another year or two to stabilize it. 

I also planted some Manitoba tomato seeds. These are not heirlooms but are also non-GMO and organically grown. (Some people confuse the the terms "heirloom", "organic" and "non-GMO" which all have different meanings.) They are a strain developed for the short growing season in northern climates and are a good sized, sweet tomato good for slicing.

This is my one passion fruit seedling. I bought a package of seeds, soaked them in a little lemon juice, as recommended and planted them properly but only one came up out of about a dozen seeds. I have heard that they germinate better if planted with the very ripe fruit itself, rather than the dry seeds. I think that's why the lemon juice is recommended. The seeds need the slight acid to soften the coating. At any rate, I will have one vine, if it does well. Whether or not it will produce fruit here is another thing, but the flowers are worth growing for themselves! 

I also have a small pot of Virginia Gold tobacco coming up! I am only going to grow a couple of these for seed this year in the flower bed. We don't harvest and dry our own tobacco anymore, but we used to. It's a sweet, mild tobacco if cured properly. 

These make a stunning addition to the back of the flowerbed, whether you harvest the leaves or not. They get about 6'-7' tall with large pink flowers on them most of the summer. You need an especially long growing season, or lights to start them indoors very early, to get mature seeds before the fall frost kills the plants, but the flowers are worth growing! 

I'm glad to see that these seeds are still viable after three years, as well!

I have a balcony full of wintersewn seeds, some of which are sprouting now. the viola johnny jump ups and the liatris/gailardia are up! The peony poppies are up in a wintersewn jug! Surprising, since they are annuals. I think I'll bring that jug in at night if it dips much below freezing again. The jug will protect them from frost but not from freezing solid. You can see my list of wintersewn seeds in an older post "Winter Sewing". 

I considered planting the winter squash indoors early since that is what I did with them in Ontario, but I don't think it's going to be necessary here. I think I'll wait and just plant those directly in the garden. I'm looking forward to growing our favourite squash here this year. I hope those three year old seeds are still viable too, especially since they are so rare a variety! We grow Hopi Black Squash

I'm going to plant my primulas and my tray of sweet William seedlings out into the garden today! I planted two urns full of pansies last week and they are doing very well! 

Is it spring where you are yet? 

Monday, March 17, 2014

Waiting for Summer - Making Jewellery

It's spring here but it's still too wet to work in the garden. We love the sunshine and warm temperatures and are enjoying the outdoors, looking forward to the day, very soon, when we can start planting the garden! The weather is beautiful here at this time of year and so warm in the afternoon!

There is a lot of work to do in the spring in the orchard, like pruning the soft fruit trees. I have spent the past two weeks pruning the peaches and apricots and will get the plums pruned in another month or so.

In the meantime I am making jewellery to sell in our store here and online. It will soon be time to get the store up and running for the season. It's getting busy here with guests already!

This is one thing that I have ready to go, with enough left to sell some online!
Christian Earrings!  I love them! 

They are just $6.00 USD plus $2 shipping in Canada and the continental USA. (Shipping is $2 up to $25 spent.)

You can get the HERE on our website! 

We don't have the rest of the website up and running yet but hope to get it done by this coming autumn. Please check out our seed store at the end of the season! The E-Book section is fully functioning, however!