Saturday, August 27, 2011

Grape Progress, or, not the Grapes of Wrath

We planted two Concord grape vines two years ago. I have been bumbling along not sure how to take care of them - when to prune, what to prune, how much to prune, when to let the bunches grow, how many to let grow. This spring I built an arbor for them to grow on but the top of the arbor was a little higher than the wire on which they had been growing, so none of the bunches of grapes are hanging down from the arbor. They are, instead, hanging from last year's vines that were attached to the wires. I pulled the wire up closer to the top of the arbor and the new growth is mostly up there.

The vines produced lots of little bunches of grapes and I was pretty sure that there were far more than the two plants could sustain. I had read that I should let a small number of bunches grow this third year. I removed those that looked particularly sparse but I let most of them keep growing. They did, although only about half of the grapes in many bunches actually filled out. They started turning purple a while ago and when I walked under the trellis several days ago, I could smell grapes.

Since I have been making jam this week - peach, pear (more about that in a later post) and blackberry - I decided to see if I could collect enough grapes to make grape jam. Th
e recipe calls for 5 pounds of grapes (including stems). I began picking those individual grapes that looked ripe (nice dark purple color - none in this photo have reached that color) instead of picking them by the bunch. That would have sacrificed a lot of unripe grapes. I had a little over two pounds when I weighed the first picking. So I picked some more and then some more, eventually picking all of those I saw that looked ripe and ended up with 4.91 pounds. This turned out to be a little more than I needed so I will amend the recipe to call for 4+ pounds of actual grapes instead of 5 pounds of grapes including stems.

When the jam was finished there was a small amount that didn't fit into the seven 12 ounce jars. When it cooled a taste test showed that it actually was grape jam. So, despite my misgivings and with a lot of room for improvement, we had a successful grape harvest. I think that next year's fruiting canes are mostly up on top of the arbor. I hope that by limiting the number of bunches they will fill out better and look like the Concord grape bunches at the Regional Market. That would also mean bigger grapes. But I am happy with the result this year. And there are still grapes to be picked.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Potato Harvest and Squash Vine Borer Damage

There are good things and bad things happening in the garden. I harvested my crop of potatoes two days ago and stored most of them in a dark room in the cellar in layers in bushel baskets. I think I could have waited a few more weeks to harvest them. The leaves were beginning to yellow quite a bit but they were not close to being completely dried out. But I was looking for space in the garden to start some more pole beans since the ones planted earlier seem to be in decline. Whether this is from the hot weather and lack of rain or from a groundhog that might have been chewing on their stems I don't know. [The soy beans right next to them are pretty much gone - apparently a groundhog favorite. ] After I finished the harvest I read that one way to harvest potatoes is to cut off the plants and leave the tubers in the soil for a couple of weeks before harvesting them.

I have been looking for evidence of squash vine borers for several weeks. For the past several years the only evidence has been suddenly dying plants with the stems nearly chewed apart. I had never seen the squash vine borer. I noticed two days ago that one of my squash plants clearly had been infected and was finished. I pulled out the plant and then dissected the stem where it was clear something had gotten into it. I saw the first borer, followed, as the dissection proceeded, by eight others. In the photo there are three visible - one trying to crawl out of the picture, another just a little above my finger nail, and the third farther back. Today I checked my two other older squash plants. Both had holes in their stems and borers inside. I did my best to scrape the borers out - I only actually saw one in each stem - and the put the stems back together and covered them with soil. I expect one will not survive because I cut out a fairly large section of that part of the stem and that leaves only a small passageway for water to get to the leaves. The other one may survive, although I don't know how many borers I left inside.
One thing I did note is that the borers entered above the cheesecloth that I had wrapped around the stems when the plants were small. One obvious effort to make next year (and the rest of this year) is to keep wrapping cheese cloth around the stems as they grow. I know that one suggestion often made is to grow the plants under row cover material so that the insect that lays the eggs that become the borers can't reach the plant. But then the material has to be removed when the plant begins to flower and it seems to me that the borers come after that. Fortunately I have three other squash plants started, one of which is already producing. We won't lack for squash. This year we have either had a lot of squash at once, or none. Next year I would like to try starting squash plants at three week intervals to even out the harvest and, hopefully, limit the damage from borers.