I bought grape vines

As usual lowes/home depot has shit on sale which is half dead. The way the one around here works is you have several display trays. Each tray has plants in various conditions ranging from “fresh off the truck” (expensive) to the next tray which is “a few weeks old” (half off) and “dead” (almost free). The quality of the plant varies according to price, the freshest ones are mostly unmolested by their untrained hands to the virtually free ones usually being devoid of leaves, broken off or somehow on fire.

I think most of the problem at home depot or lowes is they don’t give a shit about the product and don’t know anything about it. God help you if, for instance, you want to buy parts for your lawn mower.

The is a constant problem. As I’m looking through the grape vines I ask an employee if I should be using 10-10-10 fertilizer or 30-0-0. He looks at me and hands me a bottle of Home Depot fertilizer. Now, not only is the ratio and concentration of ingredients not listed, but I later looked it up and people suppose it’s 30-30-30. The correct answer for first year vines is 10-10-10, I could have diluted the stuff.

But this ties into what’s going on – the people don’t give a shit. When your stock is nonperishable this is an OK situaiton to be in. When you’re talking plants, this is not where you want to be, which is how stuff gets moved to the next table. That being said, there was a catawba grape vine which, hope against hope, had managed to live through the abuses of home depot long enough to make it onto table #2 while keeping some of it’s leaves. Not knowing if it’s self fertile or not I checked for another one – there wasn’t another one which was plausibly alive. Normally priced at $10 a vine(!), the clerk rang it up for $4 and now I’m in the wine business.

Planting is the easy part, of course. Dig a hole, fill in hole, dump some fertilizer on it and let nature do it’s thing. Next year come back and dump more fertilizer on it and if the plant is lucky train it a bit.

Grapes, as I’m sure you’ve seen the pictures, grow on something. Most people when they think grapes immediately skip to the stupid “overhead arbor”. I’m not sure who came up with this but it’s not something which is traditional; In fact it’s actually called a pergola. The tradition is to plant the vines against a T – a cross made of wood – which gives the grapes something to climb and forget about them. That being said a pergola, while not being originally intended for grapes, is what my wife wants. Grapes don’t really like being on pergolas, the foliage has a tendency to layer and this isn’t good for grapes. Pergolas have been around for millions of years but almost always stuck to flowing vines or any other plant which also made decent ground cover. Ground cover is genrally shaded under something, so when the plant eventually runs out of pergola to cover it grows back on top of itself and makes a layer.

What do grapes grow on then? Antiquity would have grapes growing on stakes. The romans would simply drive a stake into the ground, and let the vine climb that. About halfway to three quarters up they’d start the pruning. A crossmember made the top of the T and supported new growth. The vines could probably support themselves after many years but the stake was never actually removed. The big advantage to this system is the grape never really needs pruning because it can’t go anywhere. The disadvantage was also obvious – vines would eventually get so long they dropped to the ground. The French, being a bunch of boy lovers, actually made laws about how you could stake your grapes which only served to consolidate the grape growing regions into a few companies. The spirit was to force people to make higher quality grape vines, but I also tend to think the politics of the plant are what made this law. The methods of vine training are numerous and the debate about genetic copyrigt is clearly as old as western civilization.

But going back to the point – American grapes are grown on a wire and post system and this is what my grandparents had. Drive two posts in the ground, about four feet high, have wires at two and four feet heights, maybe six if you’re going for the gold, and they planted their grapes about four feet apart. As the vine grows up, you train the branches along the wires and let it grow up until it gets to the top. This gives you several layers of leaves and a lot of horizontal room for grapes. The grape vines naturally grow along the horizontal runs until they counter each other at which point they knot off (self-prune) or they continue on (less likely) until each wire has an incredible legnth of vine on it. The fruit denity is maximized here.

In fact this design of wires and posts has been how to build a trellis for vineyards in America almost exclusively. For as long as you have the space, you can make a trellis. If you’re really nuts about it you don’t even need to do this in a straight line. There’s nothing that says you can’t have a trellis which gently curves down the hillside with each successive post routing the wire a bit to the left or right. But again, my wife is not interested in a trellis, she’s interested in a pergola. A pergola sacrafices routing and ease of harvest for asestetics.

If you’re buying one commercially, they tend to start at $1000 and up. There’s a particularly ugly one you can make on instructables for about $300. There’s a small enough to be useless one which is sort of the spirit of the project. We’re going to make one completely different. It’s going to be completely custom. Why? There’s no “standard size” porch, so buying a premade pergola doesn’t do shit for me. We also have a brick patio, but you guessed it, there’s no standard size for those either. Finally because of the building code, the township has specifically enacted a program where you can’t build anything like this without inspection. However inspection only applies to permanant structures, so if it’s not concreted to the planet it doesn’t count.

You probably guessed where this is going. Standard deck parts the entire way. We need 4x4s for the posts and they fit directly into concrete footers. Because the footers aren’t going to be buried, it’s not a permanant structure. To top it off I’ll frame it in with 2x6s or bigger. But the question is, how do we actually top off the pergola?

Pergolas normally have slats for the top, as deep as they are apart. The idea is that it’s like a giant blind. The sun shines at some angle and it shades the area below it while allowing the breeze to move around. Pretty slick, but since we’re already worried about the canopy I don’t see a reason to further shade it. More on the point a grape in the sun ripens faster. Grapes in the shade are prone to all sorts of weird rot. What we don’t want are shaded grapes. More on the point when considering alternatives we need to ensure whatever we put up there is reasonably rigid. The more I think about it the more I want to do the roof with wire fencing. Not only is it rated to outdoors abuse, but it’s supposed to have animals leaning on it and generally making a mess. Also at 2×4 inch mesh (about 50mm by 100mm), it’s big enough to let grapes and leaves go through it while not being so sparse as to allow the vines to fail to find support. Most of all its incredibly thin, so it won’t shade by itself.

The big question I was left with was “will it support the weight of the vines?” Probably not. More on the point I’m not entirely sure if the mesh is open enough to really let the grapes through. Given that a grape leaf can be as big as your palm or larger, I felt there was a serious potential to create an absolutely worthless understory. Not good. What other materials are out there which are similar? In standard artisan fashion I decided to cruise the store with my grape vine until something came to me. If the grape vine could talk it probably would object, but I finally hit the far end of the store where people stop dressing nicely and start wearing torn jeans and terrible boots. By the Ghost of Kurt Cobain I found it! Turns out concrete remesh is exactly the size I need. Not only is it thick enough to pour concrete on, not only is it designed to be pulled on and pushed on, but it’s got enough space in the mesh to fit my plam through. We have a winner.

Expect pictures when I redo the brick work on the deck.

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One thought on “I bought grape vines

  1. Planting grapes on a pergola are very traditional…. You should travel more to Europe and Middle East where I have seen 100 year old trees growing on pergolas…. Just saying 😉

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