A Vineyard In The Backyard? It's Possible

A Vineyard In The Backyard? It's Possible

Nothing is more lusciously symbolic of the joys of gardening as a bunch of fully ripened grapes hanging on the vine, kissed with morning dew. Nineteenth century pioneer Peter Britt grew over 200 varieties of grapes, yet today many don't try growing their own grapes because they've heard it is difficult, or can't be done without the use of chemicals.

Chris Martin, owner of organic Troon Vineyard in the Applegate, has news for you. "It's really not that much work," he says, "especially for backyard growers."

"We sell a couple hundred grape plants a season," says Dieter Trost, owner of Southern Oregon Nursery, which carries about a dozen varieties. "Most people have really good results. They aren't hard to grow. You just have to take your time in training them."

If you want to grow eating grapes, or make your own grape juice or raisins, select one of the 25 eating grapes that grow well in our region (see the sidebar). If you want to try winemaking, Oregon State University can provide you with a list of 54 different varietals that grow somewhere in our region. Wine grapes have higher sugar content and are slightly more finicky. Selecting for the right soil and micro-climate is important and it would be best to consult the extension center or a professional before deciding.

Well-drained soil is essential for most grapes, as they don't like to have wet feet. Merlot grapes will grow in clay, however, if they get enough sun. And French drains can help with clay soil, as well as with incorporating organic matter.

Marcus Buchanan, OSU viticulture advisor, says it's crucial to have good air flow through and around the plant. It's the reason many vineyards are set on slight slopes. There are two main diseases in this area that attack grapes: powdery mildew and botrytis. The latter is a fungal disease, also known as "bunch rot" because the whole bunch will mold and rot. If you have too many leaves shading the developing grapes either of these diseases may become a problem. "You have to keep the canopy open," Martin advises.

To treat these diseases organically, he suggests applications of sulfur, Stylet-Oil or Kaligreen at the proper times. Martin says varying the treatment used helps keep fungus in control.

There are no real insect problems with grapes, although Buchanan says leafhoppers are an occasional problem. The only other major problem is frosts — they are either too early or too late.

The best defense against frost is prevention. Martin advises that the vines should be pruned so the grapes are at least 3 1/2 feet off the ground — 6 feet high is better. While this is ideal for arbors, those who want just a few plants can easily use metal fence posts with three horizontal wires strung between them. This keeps the grapes above the colder air.

Whether growing table grapes or wine grapes, Martin also recommends the use of a weed mat under the vines, which keeps out competing weeds and helps spread water fully around the plant, especially when using drip irrigation.

For just a little trouble and care you can have grapes, grape juice or raisins with much better flavor than those available in stores. Or wine with your own name on the label. Hmmmm. Time to dream up label designs.

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