Planting picturesque grapevines on your farm is a romantic notion. Established vines strategically placed along a residence can add a rustic beauty to the landscape, as well as provide fruit for eating, juicing and winemaking. Although the temperate regions of the West Coast are known for their vineyards, it’s possible to grow grapes on hobby farms across the country, though some climates may need a bit more effort than others.
Like many projects, the more research you do and time you spend before you break ground, the more likely you are to have a successful experience. If you’re considering starting a vineyard on your property, here are some things to think about before you start planting.
1. Your Goals
Do you want wine, jelly, table grapes or bird food? The clearer the vision you have for what you want to do with your vineyard, the easier it will be for you to make decisions, including what types of grapes and how many to grow.
2. Your Growing Season
Knowing the length of a typical growing season in your area may affect your vine choices. Valiant grapes, for example, grow like weeds in our northern climate, but they have a very distinctive flavor: perfect for jelly or juice, but unsuitable for wine. You’ll need to balance plant growth rates with your goals when selecting the right cultivars for your farm.
3. Your Land
Vines like warm summer sun and benefit from a slope for good drainage. You’ll want to plant vines on western-exposed, gently sloping terrain with lots of sun from the south and west. Perform a percolation test [LINK: http://www.extension.umn.edu/environment/housing-technology/moisture-management/how-to-run-a-percolation-test/] on your property if you have doubts about the sufficiency of your land’s drainage.
4. Vineyard Orientation
Orient your vineyard to maximize sun exposure. This may be north-south or east-west, depending on your location. You’ll need to take obstacles that block sunlight, such as tall trees or a large barn, into account.
5. Soil Quality
Soil pH between 6.0 and 6.5 is a good benchmark for happy vines. Test your soil before planting so you are aware of what you’re working with and amend appropriately. You can also select cultivars that prefer your native soil type.
Deer can do significant damage to your growing vines, so fencing (between 6 and 8 feet tall) is important to protect your vines as much as possible. Birds also love to pick at vines; consider using netting or other deterrents to keep them at bay.
Grape vines are susceptible to mildew and other fungal diseases. Plan ahead of time whether you’ll maintain your vines organically or use commercial treatments. Research what diseases grapes are susceptible to in your area, and select hardy cultivars resistant to those particular problems.
Use caution not to get overly ambitious and take on more than you can comfortably manage. Start small and grow the size of your vineyard as your time and ability affords.
If you’re beginning from bare ground, plan the layout of your vineyard, taking into consideration irrigation and fencing, and determine what tools you might need to get the job done: truck, tractor, post-hole digger, tiller, mower … the list goes on. The truck will come in handy when hauling the fencing. If you have to rent these items, put aside some extra money.
There are so many sources for information these days at our fingertips. Take the opportunity to take advantage of them as time permits. The Backyard Vintner: An Enthusiast’s Guide to Growing Grapes and Making Wine at Home (Crestline Books, 2011) by Jim Law is an easy read and very informative. Grape Grower’s Handbook (Apex Publishers, 2013) by Ted Goldammer is another book that makes quick work of complicated vineyard systems. Don’t forget of the abundant information available from university programs, trade associations, extension offices and the growers themselves. You may be surprised at how much information you can quickly discern from competent farmers who share your same passion.
Get more help growing and using grapes:
- Crop Profile: Grapes
- 4 Tips to Grow Disease-Free Grapes In Your Backyard
- Recipe: Grapes and Greens Juice
- 8 Natural and Healthy Canning Substitutions
- 7 Steps to Make Wine Out of Anything
About the Author: Audrey J. Brown lives with her husband on a small hobby farm in Sheridan, Wyo. Her hobbies include raising chickens, gardening and cheese making, and she also loves the peaceful, back-to-your-roots lifestyle of Wyoming.